A ruined trip is not always a bad trip

On July 3 rd , I decided to take my wife and 3 boys on a float/camping trip. I had the 3 rd and the 4 th off and we didn’t have plans for the 4 th until later on in the evening. I first began by searching for the right spot that would be secluded(I hate camp grounds) but not so hard to get to that my 6 year old and 11 year old could not paddle their own kayaks to the location. After finding the perfect spot, I then checked the weather to make sure that there wasn’t any chance of rain or anything like that. All things were good to go and it was time to begin packing. 

I paddle a Big rig, my wife paddles a Coosa HD and my 2 older boys paddle Skippers. The baby usually rides with me or with my wife. Needless to say, we SHOULD have had plenty of room for gear but the boys insisted on packing every extra square inch of the kayaks with the -all too essential- “camping toys”. I grabbed our tent, fishing gear, sleeping gear, camp fire cooking tools, 4 kayaks and the plethora of toys that my kids had picked out and loaded everything into my truck. Since my truck was full, my wife and kids took the family van and followed me. On the way to the river, we stopped at the grocery store and picked up food and drinks to fill my Orion Coolers with and then we were on our way! 

When arriving to our put in, I found it still beat up from the incredible “1000 year flood” that we had endured earlier in the year. The banks were washed out and everything was covered in dried mud. The waters had, for the most part, receded but was still kind of high. The lake that the river flowed into was also high and they weren’t letting any water out of the dam because all of the surrounding lakes were flooded as well. This caused there to be absolutely no current at all in a place where there was usually a considerable amount. This is a very good thing because we were going to be paddling up stream to our camping spot. Now for the unpacking and getting on the water. 

I began taking the kayaks out of the truck while my wife kept the dog and 3 boys occupied. I secured all seats to their boats, assigned paddles to each boat and then began to load up the boats with gear. This seems to be the most stressful part of any trip with the family because I inevitably find some important item that I have forgotten. This was not the case on this trip, though. I first pushed my wife out into the water on her kayak with our 2 year old, Uriah, riding with her. I then pushed out my 11 year old, Keaton, followed by my 6 year old, Corban. After everyone was in their kayaks and out in the water, I got in my own kayak and started paddling up stream with our frenchie, Chubs, attacking every leaf he saw in the water along the way. What a perfect start to a family camping trip!

After a 45 minute, ¼ mile, paddle up stream that should have only lasted about 20 minutes, we reach our desired gravel bar. It was perfect. It had a very large flat area with some fine gravel/sand that had some large shade trees covering the location. This was THE spot to set up the tent! I have one of those “speed frame” tents so this happens very quickly and rather effortlessly. We un pack all of the kayaks and then begin playing in the water. To me, this is the American dream! The boys are playing in the water with the dog. The wife is watching them and occasionally throwing rocks in their directing and telling them it was a snake, only to watch them scream and run out of the water. I finish setting up camp and get out the fishing gear. I tie on a Ned rig for my wife and kids and give them their poles. Immediately my son, Keaton catches a nice little spotted bass. He is ecstatic! So is the dog… haha. My wife casts and catches a pretty nice 16 inch small mouth, which we figured was the fish of the day! My wife then gets in her HD to paddle out a little way from the boys. She has an issue with her reel and after getting it unwound, just throws the line over the side of the kayak to finish fixing the issue. After fixing the issue, she starts to reel up her line only to find that a fish had taken her lure! I am helping the boys with their stuff when I hear two screams. One was my wife screaming for help. The other was her drag…..screaming for help! She fought and fought that fish and played it very very well but it was fighting her so hard that I was fairly positive that she was going to loose it. She was only using 6lb test on a medium action rod. After about 20 minutes, she was able to work it over by the bank where I netted it! A 19 ¾ in monster SMALLIE!!!! WOW!!!! 


Now that we had settled down from the fishing fun, it was time to build a fire and get ready for dinner/ bed time. All four of us boys began searching for wood. After about an hour of searching, we found enough to last us through dinner and the night. We had the basic hot dogs cooked on a skewer over the fire. There is just something about cooking over a campfire while out in the middle of no where that makes everything taste better, though. After we were done eating dinner we made smores and got ready for bed as the sun had began to set. We all sat around the fire laughing, talking and taking in the beautiful Ozarks skyline. As the sun was fully set, the stars were bright in the sky. It was the perfect night. So pretty, with the moon high in the sky and a light breeze, I couldn’t picture a better night of camping. 

Everyone had laid down except my wife and I. We stayed up by the fire, talking and enjoying the night. I noticed that I had a missed call and several messages from friends, all asking if I had checked the weather. I assured them that I had and that all was good. I then received a few more messages from other friends and decided that I probably need to check and see what all of the concern was about. When we left our house, there was a 20% chance of rain on the following day that started at noon. No big deal. There is now a 70% chance of thunderstorms starting at 1am. It is now around 10:30pm. I am in the middle of a river with my wife, 3 kids and a bunch of camping gear on a river that is already somewhat high. This is a dilemma. Do I stay or do I go (que the song)? After several minutes of deliberating, I decided that it was just too much to leave to chance and that paddling back to the take out –in the dark- in the middle of a thunderstorm- was just not an option. We were going to have to pack everything up and head back to the take out immediately. Our camping trip was over. 

We begin packing everything up, leaving the tent for last because the two younger boys were asleep inside of it. Under the glow of a flashlight and an electric lantern, we get everything loaded. It was time to wake up the kids, pack up the tent and let them know what was getting ready to happen. They are not going to be happy. We load the tent up and put the kids in their kayaks. Our 11 year old was very apprehensive about paddling back in the dark. Corban, the 6 year old, had fallen back asleep….on his kayak…..in the middle of the river. His apprehensiveness had be overpowered by sleepiness. The baby and the dog also fell asleep. I ended up having to tie a strap to Corban’s kayak and pull him behind me because he could not stay awake. He slept the entire way back to the take out. At this time, it was about 12am and clouds had started moving in. The once bright moon and starts were completely blotted out and the river was pitch black. I had a head lamp on. It guided my way as I ran point on the way back to the ramp. I put the LED lantern in the
tankwell of my kayak so that everyone else could follow directly behind me. After a very nervous 30 minute paddle, we arrived to the take out. We were disappointed but we were safe. We then loaded up our gear and began the drive back home. We arrived back house at around 2am. We were tired and let down but tankful for the memories made during our attempted family camping trip.

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