Posted in Stories

Camping coffee crisis!

It was our first time out in a new camper trailer, a Forest River Rockwood Roo hybrid. We didn’t go far, just about a half day’s drive to Red Top Mountain State Park in Georgia. It was late October, a little early for peak color, a little late for the best apple picking, but still a pretty time of the year in northern Georgia.

The weather was a bit warmer than we expected, but enjoyable until Thursday night. That’s when the remnants of a hurricane that had come up through the Gulf of Mexico blew through the northern parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The wind and rain really picked up over night, and somewhere around two or three in the morning, the power went out. Lots of mall pine boughs and cones hit the camper, but nothing big.

As the dawn approached, we got word about the big stuff that had fallen. When the storm blew through, the hosts who were camped about half a mile away heard some big trees cracking and took refuge in the shower house. A few forty foot maples fell and took out some of the power lines that ran through the campground. No one was hurt and no campers were damaged, but there were lots of close calls!

We weren’t too worried. We had water to drink and propane to keep the refrigerator cold. What’s a little power outage?

Until I went to make coffee. We had was a Keurig and pods. It must have tried to draw too much current because I couldn’t get it to work with either the camper battery or the truck’s inverter. As you might have guessed, we were not happy campers.

I really impressed my wife when I declared, “I know what to do.” I put a saucepan of water on the stove while I opened up five or six coffee pods and threw them into the water. When my brew reached a rolling boil, I let it simmer a bit, threw in a cup of cold water to take the grounds to the bottom and filled our first cups of the morning through a paper towel filter. I think some call it “cowboy coffee.” It tasted great! I was proud and basked in my wife’s praises for my ingenuity. I even brewed another batch later on and the next day before we broke camp.

For the future we’ve got a pour-over coffee maker we’ll stow in our camper, just in case.

Posted in Moments of grace

The security of a tent

Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts!
    Your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent,
whose stakes will never be plucked up,
    nor will any of its cords be broken. (Isaiah 33:20)

I’ve always liked the idea of crawling into a tent for the night. It feels snug. Secure. Even in a rainstorm. Isaiah’s prophecy made me think of some of my tent experiences.

While working at Bell Labs in West Long Branch, NJ, a few colleagues and myself decided to do an overnight century ride through a hilly central part of the state. My friend Ted mapped out a loop that included a place where we could camp at around the fifty mile point of the one hundred mile trip. We each brought a small personal tent and sleeping bag, some cooking gear and freeze-dried food and set out with everything tied to our Blackburn rear wheel racks. Nothing fancy, just what we needed for the night. It was cool to crawl into the two-foot high tent and zip up for the night, then roll it all up and head back home in the morning.

I went along to chaperone two trips to the Florida Keys with my son and daughter when they were in middle school. Their science teacher Mrs. T. led a trip every other year for seventh and eighth graders in a program for gifted learners. The campground was on Marathon Key, just before the seven mile bridge. Each time we took a bigger tent that was pretty comfortable for two people. Another chaperon brought his boy scout troop’s camping trailer, and we set up our own little mess in the center of our little tent community for the week. The most exciting part of the first trip was a tremendous thunderstorm that tore through the campground the morning we were scheduled to leave. We were pretty secure in our tent, but I remember unzipping a few inches and peeking out to see other tents, some still occupied, being blown across the clearing. It was actually pretty funny watching people stumble out into the storm. Thankfully the storm lasted less than half-an-hour, and we were able to pack up all our soaking wet stuff and head home.

I got my first taste of Disney World in the summer of 1994 when our family spent a week doing all the parks. We traveled in my in-laws RV and camped at Fort Wilderness for the week. The RV wasn’t quite big enough to sleep all of us, so my son and I slept in a tent. We had a great time, even though torrential rain showers came through every afternoon. One night the rain waited until dark, and the downpour pummeled our tent. We pretty much stayed dry. The RV, however, leaked! Life can be ironic.

I know we did a tent camping trip to Cape Cod sometime during my first few years in Connecticut. We either had one or two little ones with us. What I remember are the sights and sounds of Provincetown, not unlike the unique folks and lifestyle one experiences in the Florida Keys. The tent, cookstove and lantern were wedding gifts that we still stored in the attic thirty-six years later.

I count our popup camper outings as tent-camping experiences as well. We had a twelve-foot that we pulled with a Chevy Astro van. When cranked up and pulled out, we had plenty of sleeping room for our family of five. We took short trips to the Keys, Savannah, GA and Orlando, FL. Then we took our big trip to Maine, stopping in North Carolina, the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania, somewhere in the eastern Connecticut hills and finally in Old Orchard Beach and Bar Harbor, Maine. That was a fun trip, even if it seems like we were always setting up or breaking down camp in the rain. Being up off the ground is definitely a more comfortable experience. Coming home we stayed at my parents’ house in Philadelphia and then a hotel somewhere in Virginia rather than campgrounds.

It’s been eighteen years since that trip. We sold the popup soon after. Now we’re getting back into it, sort of. We just bought a hybrid travel camper. It looks like a travel trailer, but the ends fold down to magically create screened-in canvas sleeping areas. It the best of both worlds since it feels like a tent, but also has a kitchen, dining and bathroom inside. I’ve got much to learn about pulling and parking something this big, but a few short initial trips will give me practice before we head out for something longer.

The bible often mentions tents. The tabernacle was basically a big tent. The Hebrew people celebrated the Festival of Booths by living in tents. Jael became a hero when she killed the enemy general Sisera who fell asleep in her tent. Psalm 91 promises no disaster will come near your tent. The apostle Paul worked as a tent maker. Our bodies are referred to as the “tents” we occupy in this life. A better tent awaits at the resurrection. The Word became flesh and “tented” among us.

I’ll be thinking about all that when I once again crawl into my “tent” for the night.

Posted in helping, Ministry

“All we need is a campsite.”

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Photo by The Digital Marketing Collaboration on Unsplash

It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but some who are seeking help knock at the door of the church. One family I remember in particular wasn’t in search of food or fuel, but just a campsite.

As most are, they were on the way from one place to another, and just needed a place to stay for a week while in Florida. I’m not sure why it was a week, but that was their story. They had a running car, a couple of kids, a tent, a propane stove, camping equipment, and food. They had everything they needed except for a place to pitch their tent for a few nights. But there was a campground just a few miles away, and they wondered if I could help pay for a site.

Not a problem. I drove down with them, went to the camp office and said I wanted to pay for a site for them for a week. It was pretty warm that afternoon, but it was cold, oh so cold in that office. The icy stare I got from the woman behind the desk would have made Frosty shiver. “We don’t usually do that.”

I said, “I just want to pay cash so this family can camp here for the week. I’m a pastor here in town.”

Her look softened every so slightly for just a moment, but then she held form, “We don’t like to do that.”

“I don’t understand.”

She stood up and walked from behind the counter, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’re doing. It’s just that when the weeks up, we won’t be able to get them to leave. The we have to call the sheriff and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I just looked at her. She looked back. “But OK, I’ll do it this one time. It’s just that we don’t like to do this kind of thing.”

The campground wasn’t full or anything. No big events were coming up. But I understand. If you don’t want to have to kick them out, it’s better to not let them in. She must have had that experience before. I never thought of that.

It often isn’t as simple as we think. It usually isn’t easy helping people, no matter what anyone else might tell you. It’s rarely a “one and done.” There is sometimes another chapter to the story. Or someone has to clean up the mess later.