Just joining the story? Get some background here and the first installment here.
The car was speeding through the darkness, and I was praying we would make it to the state park in time to get a camping site. It was a few minutes after 7:00pm, and we had until 8:00 before the gates closed. Before our hopes were dashed. Before we were left homeless in the cold and dark in the middle of nowhere.
At least, that's what I thought. So I was starting to sweat.
The four-lane freeway began to shrink to two-lane highway, then to verified country lane. We drove through the small town whose name was on the mailing address of the state park headquarters, which gave me hope. But it was 7:17 and there was no time to lose.
My better half used a flashlight to read off the directions to me. These directions, provided by the state park, gave no distances between turns, so every minute or so I would ask, "Turn here? Is this it? I can't see that sign yet... wait... no. OK. Turn here? Is this it?"
I am the most fun person, ever, for whom to navigate.
Finally, at just about 7:30, we saw the sign for the state park. Hallelujah! We wouldn't be stranded! We pulled up to the tiny, lighted guard house at the end of a gravel driveway, and a blond woman opened a little service window. I was feeling very confident, now that I'd gotten us to the park on time.
I leaned out of the car window and said, "We'd like a tent camp site!"
The woman asked, "Which one?"
So, long, confidence!
I stammered: "Uh... one for... a tent? We don't have a camper."
I'm fairly certain she rolled her eyes. "We have 60 sites open tonight. You can drive around and pick one and let me know what you want, but I'm leaving at 8:00."
"Oh... OK, we'll be fast."
"If you get back here after 8:00, you can just write down where you're staying and put your fee in that box out there."
She pointed to the box that was located just outside the guard shed. We both stared at it for a moment. The woman looked like she wanted to yawn.
So, apparently I didn't need to have four conniption fits on the drive up. If we had rolled in at 8:02, we would not have been homeless, we would merely have been deprived the experience of annoying a college student.
Suddenly faced with loads of time, we drove slowly around the grounds and found a remote camp site, and drove back to the guard shed. I walked inside. It was 7:50. The woman was reading a nursing textbook that was roughly the size of her desk, and she seemed annoyed that we hadn't taken ten minutes longer so she could go home without dealing with me a second time. I got through our campsite reservation formalities with time to spare, then we bought some firewood from the nearby woodshed and headed back to our new little home away from home for the weekend.
At a few minutes after 8pm in rural Wisconsin in October, it is very, very dark. It is also, you may not be surprised to learn, cold. We had chosen an uncharacteristically frigid weekend to go camping, so the process of putting up our tent - in the spooky glow of our car headlights - involved some fumbling with numb fingers. Once the main portion of the tent was up and we'd discovered two of the non-structural tent poles were broken, I set about starting a campfire while my husband devised some temporary pole repairs that involved cannibalizing one of my hair elastics. He's crafty that way.
Some differences from our first (disastrous) trip were already showing themselves: Though the drive had been stressful, we were now getting settled and feeling good. Thus far, no sore throats or wonky stomachs had shown themselves. We began to chitchat and joke around. We took note of the stars overhead - something we rarely see in our daily lives in the metropolis. We sat close together on the picnic table, warming our feet by the crackling fire and allowing ourselves first to relax, and then to get sleepy.
Things were looking up.