Apologies to Betty.

Well, I’ll just say it: We’ve gone soft.

And I’m pretty sure it’s all Betty’s fault.

For months now, we’ve been talking about camping trips, reassuring Betty that she will, in fact, see the light of day at some point this summer. Labor Day weekend, for sure. And then we were slackers and didn’t reserve a campsite on the busiest camping weekend of the year. So we changed course. And the worst part- we snuck away for an overnight without Betty.

We cheated on her with a tent.

It’s been three years since we visited our property in Logan Canyon, a two-and-a-half hour drive from home. This is rugged land– dusty and dry, sagebrush and red scrub oak polka-dotting the only area accessible by four-wheel drive truck. The tracks of the dirt road were overgrown and impossibly rocky three years ago. This was no place for our beloved Betty. On past trips to the land, we’d simply made a bed in the open bed of the truck and crawled in when the campfire died down. But with a 50-pound bed-hog with us this time, we opted for a tent.

We conveniently forgot that the reason we found Betty in the first place was due to a hellish, windblown camping attempt in Southern Utah. We’d decided then that we’d outgrown the “roughing it” thing. We’d decided we were ready for the kind of camping that involved finding a site, unhooking a mobile shelter, and pouring a drink. Still, for this one-night-only excursion, a night in a tent sounded fun. Adventurous. We were no strangers to camping- we’d spent 8 weeks on the road, just two summers ago. We spent Saturday afternoon cooking and prepping, anxious to get away.

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Our plan was to rise early on Sunday morning, pour to-go coffees, and head north. We’d stop in Logan for a bite to eat before heading up the canyon. After quickly setting up camp, we’d have the day to hike and fish and relax. John wanted to hunt grouse and I wanted to check out the ski resort across the valley. After happy hour, we’d grill up some dinner (Peep’s sandwiches with barley-feta salad), watch the campfire burn, snuggle into the tent with our books, and fall asleep to the sounds of nature. On Monday, we’d sleep in, then cook up one of our fabulous camp breakfasts before a bigger hike to the Bear Lake overlook. We’d make some turkey-pesto wraps for lunch before breaking down camp and taking the long way home.

That was the plan, anyway.

The fact that this was a one-night-only situation actually made it more difficult. We still needed ALL of the gear. While Betty is self-contained with everything we need tucked inside, ready for use, John played Tetris in the back of the truck to fit all of our stuff. Camp chairs. The kitchen crate. The prep table. The Adjust-a-Grill. The tent and our sleeping bags and pads. Pillows. Hatchets, axes, a shovel, a rake. Our guns. A box of clay disks for skeet shooting. Our food bag. A couple of coolers. Cholula’s food. Had we decided to live in the hills for a month, we’d have enough STUFF.

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As we rolled out of the garage on Sunday morning, coffees in hand and the truck packed to the gills, I glanced at Betty. I was feeling nostalgic… and guilty. We took the back way, down the dirt road, and the drive was lovely. Fall colors dotted the hillsides- flashes of orange or fiery red among the green.

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We rolled into Logan at 11am, tummies rumbling. We stopped at what Yelp reviewers called “the best brunch in Logan”– an Italian joint called Gia’s. We were treated to fresh berry smoothies and hot Utah scones with honey butter before our tasty plates were served. The reviews were right- it was delicious. We were off to a great start!

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Our journey continued up Logan Canyon. This is a beautiful part of Utah. We stretched our legs on the lower part of the land before heading to the upper area where we’d camp.

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I never see the turn-off until John veers off the road. There it was, the old gate, chained and locked. I held my breath while John jiggled the key in the padlock and held on to everything else as we bounced up the road. John said something like, “You’re right- Betty couldn’t make it up here.” The view was just as I remembered it, vast and gorgeous. The fire ring John built three years ago was still in tact, a stack of faded firewood next to it. What I didn’t remember was how HOT this hillside could be. We decided to set up camp later, in case the building clouds sprinkled a little. John would quickly clear a tent pad and then we’d go play.

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It took longer than expected. I huddled in a patch of shade, throwing sticks for Cholula. The sagebrush and dried weeds coated the land. John took turns with the pick-ax and the shovel and the rake, rustling up dust and pollen– and apparently a wicked allergy to something. His nose turned red, his eyes watered, and his hard work was halted repeatedly by violent sneezing fits. Have I mentioned that Cholula is afraid of sneezes? There was a muggy, dusty hour of calling “Bless you” to John and beckoning a freaked-out dog back to camp. And then we decided to go fishing.

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We hopped back into the still-packed truck and stopped at Beaver Mountain ski area, just to check it out. Then we went on the hunt for a good stretch of the Logan River for fishing. At one turn-out, we could see the river below, gently curving around a bend with a trail alongside it. Bingo! I filled a backpack with a hat, magazines, and a bottle of wine, grabbed a chair, and started down the semi-treacherous trail toward the river. I’d find a spot by the river to read while John fished a few holes along the bend. Heavenly! After scouring the area, we realized there was less river bank real estate than we thought. But we’d already trekked down the hill, so I plopped the chair in a shallow eddy, poured some wine, and kicked off my shoes. Cholula pranced happily around the river rocks, dragging sticks out of the water.

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John sat on a rock and prepped his fishing line, but before he could cast, some gnarly hornets buzzed in. First, there were just a couple of them, so we swatted them away. Then Cholula chased one and acted like she was getting stung. Suddenly, there was a little swarm around us. John hadn’t even gotten his line wet and we were high-tailing it back up the sketchy trail. We’d find another spot.

We drove along the river, pulling off when we thought we’d found a spot. There were no nearby areas on the river that were away from the busy road. Frustrated, we decided to drive up to Tony Grove Lake. Years ago, we’d attempted to spend the day on the lake but when we got there, it had been drained for some kind of maintenance (which would surely be finished by now). Instead of the river, we’d set up shop by the lake for the afternoon. We drove the 7 miles up the road, ready to find a spot on the shore to relax by the water. We paused for a cattle drive to cross the road- giggling, because the same thing happened the last time. As we pulled around the bend to the parking lot, we both gasped- it was overflowing with people. Even if we could have found a parking spot, we’d never find a spot along the crowded shoreline. It was a circus. We decided to cut our losses and head back to the land to set up camp, stopping to take in the view along the way.

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John set up our happy yellow tent- tarp, tent, blow-up sleeping pads, soft blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. Cozy– with a view! I got to work making camp homey– the prep table, our chairs, a couple of citronella candles, and my camping signature- a tiny vase filled with local flora. The smell of sage was dancing on a light breeze. Between John’s sneezing fits and calling the dog back to camp, it was lovely. Our day was a series of failed attempts, but it was pleasant now. We munched on cheese and grapes and poured happy hour cocktails.

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Because it was so dry, John spent some time building up the walls of the fire pit (pausing occasionally to sneeze and then call back the dog). By the time we lit the coals to make dinner, the sun was setting behind some thickening clouds. The coals took longer than expected, and we made dinner by the light of our headlamps. Every few minutes, one of us would say, “Did we remember the _____?” or “You know what we forgot?” We told ourselves we were just out of practice and didn’t mention what we both knew- that everything we needed was at home, just waiting inside Betty. It was 10pm before we ate. (The Peep’s sammies were scrumptious.)

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We sat by the fire for a while, and then I snuck away to the tent with my book while John put out the fire. When John and Cholula came down, I’d just read the last pages of Wild– an incredible true-life tale of a woman spending three months hiking the Pacific Coast Trail alone. I silently acknowledged, there in my cushy tent, that I’d never last in the wild. I carefully scooted over a few inches to make room for John. The manufacturers of this “two-person” tent lied– we barely fit (and we are not big people). Cholula may as well have been a Great Dane as she uncomfortably circled inside the tent, sniffing through the screened door at our heads and then the one at our feet. We laid there, trying to be comfortable, marveling at the unlucky day. Tomorrow would be better- a good night’s sleep, a tasty breakfast, a hike, and a view.

It was warm in the tent. One of the sleeping bags was meant for freezing weather, which it was not. The breeze had stopped. The clouds had made the air thick. Cholula was panting. I tried shoving the sleeping bag to the side, but there was no room. It grew more and more unbearable. Where was the breeze?

And then John started sneezing.

With nowhere to go, Cholula stepped all over us. John finally got up in frustration and took her for a walk. It was after 1am by now. I tried to get some sleep, but I kept imagining my little family coming upon a wild animal, out there in the dark wilderness. I finally started to feel cooler- the breeze had picked back up. I pulled the sleeping bag back over my legs, and was just starting to relax when I felt the first drops on my head. The tent’s design is arched, so the two screen doors left my head and feet exposed to the rain, which had started falling steadily. As I frantically tried to zip the doors shut, I saw John’s headlamp bobbing in the distance as he ran toward the shelter of the tent. Over the next couple of hours, a pattern was established: Africa heat, open tent doors, sneezing, light breeze, rain, shut tent doors, Africa heat. We discovered later that we’d both debated packing up and leaving in the middle of the night. We slept little.

John left the tent earlier than I did the next morning, leaving space that felt luxurious. Cholula and I dozed for another hour. When I unzipped the door, I heard birds singing and spotted a patch of blue sky between the scrub oak.

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My sweet husband brought me a cup of coffee, just like at home, and delivered the news: it was about to start hammering rain. When I emerged from that wretched tent, I saw that he was right- huge, juicy rain clouds were approaching. John estimated we had a half hour before getting wet. So much for breakfast. It took approximately 3 seconds for us to agree that after the night we’d had, we were over it. The last thing we needed on almost no sleep was to be caught in a downpour. We broke down camp as if we were in a competition, downing hot coffee like water and eyeing the clouds. As we bounced down the dirt road, John spoke the words that had been swirling in my head since we arrived: “I miss Betty.”

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We locked the gate behind us and recapped our misadventure. The heat. The swarm of hornets on the river. Cholula getting stung. The unbelievable crowd at the lake. The sneezing fits and freaked-out dog. The slowest coals known to man. The worst night in recent memory. The rain. There was no skeet shooting, no hunting for grouse, no autumn hike to a glorious view. We’d been SKUNKED. If we hadn’t just lived it, the story would have been funny.

We drove toward Bear Lake in silence, exhausted. John stopped at an overlook, the icy-blue water of the lake below us. A fluffy Golden Retriever puppy waddled over and licked my hand. The breeze was refreshing, chilly enough to wake me up.

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John came over and hugged me. And finally, we laughed. It had been a ridiculous 24 hours- but it wasn’t all bad. There had been the gorgeous view. The wildflowers. My toes in the river. A happy, dirty dog. That cowboy rustling cattle. Our perfect happy hour at sundown. The crackle of the fire. Delicious chicken sandwiches. And that first morning view when I unzipped the tent door. Away from it all, we had a better perspective.

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John stopped at a burger shack near Bear Lake and ordered two amazing fresh raspberry shakes for breakfast. We drove home in a rainstorm. For awhile, we followed an RV whose vanity plates read, “PARTYTM.”

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Even a bad day of camping is still camping.

We pulled into the garage and decided to take a nap before unpacking the truck. We glanced lovingly at our sweet little trailer before heading inside. Our one-night-only fiasco had been a good lesson in staying positive. But I doubt we’ll ever sleep in that tent.

Dear Betty,

Please forgive us. We’ll never cheat on you again.

**More vacation fun (and misadventures) can be found on the Travel Bug page!**

23 replies »

  1. Beautiful COUNTRY – loving your captures:) We cheat on the trailer every once in a while too – ha! I am sorry but I was laughing about the dog freaking out over sneezing – poor hubbie and poor pup – quite an ADVENTURE.

  2. One thing I’ve learned about tent camping: lower expectations. Some of my favorite stories are from tent-camping. What would a camping adventure be without crazy windstorms laying a tent down on your face as you sleep, a wayward skunk walking around on your chest as you sleep (yeah..that happened!!), or flash floods threatening an awesome grotto location forcing asses-and-elbows to get EVERYTHING up and into the truck in 10 minutes or less? Camping stories. They’re the best.

    It’ll make you appreciate Betty that much more. At least the views were beautiful. Your photos are always amazing and make your stories — however frustrating — beautiful.

      • Ha! Never funny when you’re in it. But you, my dear, have a healthy sense of “in the moment” versus “in the past.” Best to look back with loving reflection and laugh it off with friends and a glass of wine!! Never dwell in the yucks. It prevents future bliss. 🙂

      • “Never dwell in the yucks.” YOU ARE SO WISE. 🙂 I am still working on learning to live in the moment instead of looking forward to what could be… but I’m pretty good about not living in the past. Lessons learned!!

  3. I LOVE this story, Amber! Tent camping is always an adventure—and the inside of a tent is always smaller than they promise! I keep begging my boyfriend to get a giant, 6-person tent for just the two of us so we can spread out in there. 🙂 You make me want to ditch this city and head west!

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