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'Reflections of Family Camping Trips'

I started camping after I was married. After I had my first child. When I was six and a half months pregnant with my second child. People thought I was crazy. But I'd never had the opportunity to camp, whereas my husband had camped every summer as a child. He was feeling homesick for camping, and I – pregnant and all – was game to try it.

With a tent and an inflatable mattress, we set off for California's Big Sur Coast. I stayed awake most of the first night, worrying that a gang of misfit chipmunks, led by an intrepid raccoon, would rip through our tent walls and dive into our snacks. By the second night, my imagination calmed down and I started to get the hang of it. And by the third day, I was hooked. We've been camping ever since.

My husband, our children, and I have been making wonderful family camping memories for the past 11 years: Songs and impromptu talent shows by the campfire under the stars. Meals beneath a canopy of trees. Hikes to lakes and waterfalls. We love to reminisce about these happy, family-bonding camping moments.

Some of our memories are kind of funny, especially from those early years when our kids were little and I still didn't know what I was doing. When we camped along Chalk Creek in central Colorado, I was enraptured by the stunning beauty that surrounded us. I was also paranoid that our youngest, only 10 months old but already walking, would fall into the creek. Not that it was a dangerous creek, with its maximum depth of a whopping two inches.

But I wasn't about to take chances, so I tied a rope around his waist to keep him tethered to our site. That lasted about 12 minutes. He was miserable, and his crying let the whole campground know it. So instead I kept a close eye on him. It worked – he didn't end up in the creek. My three-year-old, however, did. She was soaked. Thank goodness for the extra clothes we'd packed.

We've had many other adventures, like the time we rented a little boat in southern Colorado's Vallecito Lake. The sky was blue and clear when we headed out. But storms move in fast in the Colorado mountains, and this one quickly interrupted our tranquil morning excursion. The wind whipped up, dark clouds surrounded us, and lightning flashed to the south.

My husband quickly put his fishing gear down and yanked on the motor. Nothing. He tried again. And again. No luck. We were stranded in the middle of the lake with a dead motor and no paddle, watching every other boater pull safely back into dock ahead of us as the storm grew at an alarming pace. Then I looked across the lake and couldn't believe my eyes. A twister had formed, spewing up water furiously as it headed straight for us.

The kids and I hunkered down as my husband kept pulling the motor's cord. The twister zigged and zagged, getting to a hundred feet away from us before changing course. It passed us by, reached the other end of the lake, and fizzled out just as mysteriously as it had appeared. As we all sat there stunned, a fisherman and his son pulled up, tossed us a rope, and towed us back. We were safe.

We've weathered more storms through the years, and we've enjoyed more blue skies and starry nights, too. And every year, when my husband pulls our pop-up camper (yes, we've upgraded!) out of the garage, we're suddenly filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation, wondering what camping fun and adventure we'll experience next.

This summer, we're taking our camper back to where it all started for me – Big Sur. I can't wait for our kids to see the surreal coastline and giant trees. This time, though, I don't think I'll be losing sleep over chipmunks.
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