I’m a huge fan of camping and I camp, in a tent, often. I’ve had countless, amazing camping trips, far and near, in the past. I’ve also had my fair share of not-so-great nights in a tent. One night stands out above the rest, without a doubt, when it comes to particularly bad camping experiences. No, it was not a night while camping miles out in the wilderness. No, a bear did not come and rip apart our tent. Rather, we were in a crowded campground, comparable to a KOA, outside of the Grand Canyon – complete with public restrooms, hot water showers and a convenience store. I mean, what could go wrong?
My husband and I were on a road-trip throughout the U.S. southwest with four of our friends in late November. Our one friend, John, bought an old Ford, ten passenger bus that he remodeled into a pretty retro camper-bus (we named her Gladys). Gladys was our ride throughout this road-trip and though she DID disappoint many times (that is a whole other story), this night was not entirely her fault. It WAS her fault that we ended up at the Grand Canyon – she forced us to rearrange our travel plans due to many mechanical failures along our journey. We were suppose to travel further and spend more time in areas such as Page, Arizona, Monument Valley and Zion. Thanks to Gladys, we spent unforeseen time in B.F.E. (aka Yuma). With a deadline to be in Vegas at the end of this trip, for Doug and I’s wedding, we had to nix Zion and Monument Valley. Since the Grand Canyon was along our route from Yuma to Vegas, she was our next best option and became our spontaneous destination.
Gladys only slept (yes, past tense… may she rest in peace) four people so each couple took their turn sleeping out in the tent every night. Our first night at the Grand Canyon was Doug and I’s shift for tent duty. When the time came to set up the tent (already nightfall at this point), I discovered that it was still wet from its previous use (thanks Joe and Maddie, haha). Oh, did I mention it was only 18 degrees (F) outside?! YES, 18 degrees and our tent was WET! Oh, joy! To give perspective, the tent immediately morphed into an igloo – that’s how bad it was. To make matters worse, since the Grand Canyon was not in our original plans, Doug and I only brought along mummy sleeping bags that went down to 40 degrees – it was suppose to be in the 40s/50s where we were originally headed. Again, it was 18 degrees out and we had sleeping bags that only went down to 40. Yup.
Extremely displeased at this point in the night, I accepted I would be cold and very uncomfortable. Yet, remaining optimistic as true to my nature, I chose to be proactive. I chose to drink lots of wine in order to pass out quickly and get this night over with. I thought I’d have a grand old time around the campfire, taking shots out of our shot ski and telling funny stories, then crawl into my igloo and fall into oblivion (like I typically do when drinking more than the norm). Yeah, yeah… I know that drinking alcohol while freezing is one of the worst things you can do. But, I didn’t think I was at risk for hypothermia so I figured no harm, no foul.
I was partially correct. I did fall asleep rather fast with all my layers on – literally ALL my layers – including my huge ski jacket and hiking boots. What I had not accounted for was being woken up mid-sleep.
Not long into the night, I woke up to coyotes howling and running through our camp. I shook Doug awake, exclaiming “Doug, our camp is being raided by wolves” (I mean..it kind of was?). Doug and I sat there listening to the coyotes outside our tent for a couple minutes, with knife in hand, too cold to move. But also too cold to be scared. In no time, they ran off into the night. However, at this point, I was wide awake and realizing JUST how COLD I was. I couldn’t feel my feet and my head felt frozen – a sensation I had never felt before. Words can’t even explain it, other than my brain felt like it was a solid ice block. You know how you get a brain freeze from eating ice cream too fast? Well, it felt relevant to that but.. I had not eaten anything cold. That definitely freaked me out.
After shivering HARD for a couple more sleepless hours (that dragged on for days), I had to pee. I went into the bathroom and, while doing my business, felt MAGIC. The magic was coming from a heat vent on the bathroom floor. Not giving it a second thought, I sprung up and locked the bathroom door. I sat on the floor in all my layers (gross, I know) and soaked in the heat – basking in all its glory. I slept, uncomfortably, for an hour sitting up on a campground bathroom floor – feeling very sick (two days before my wedding, mind you). That was really the only sleep I got; that hour and the hour in the igloo before the coyotes.
The moment I felt the first ray of the morning sun was the MOST glorious moment – a celebrated feeling. Never in my life have I appreciated a sunrise more. I never knew what cold was until this night. And to this day, I still use this night as a reference point saying, “Well, at least I’m not as cold as when I was sleeping in that igloo tent at the Grand Canyon”. Think about it: I was so cold that my survival instincts told me to sleep on a grimy, public restroom floor. I’d rather sleep in a bat infested cave and be warm vs. this scenario. I’ve had a giant, furry spider beside my pillow in a tent while camping. I’ve camped during a crazy lightning storm and tornado winds in the Badlands. I had to do my lady business in the middle of Slab City, nothing to cover me but a chest-high, bare bush (by lady business, I mean ‘time of the month’ stuff. That was no fun). Sorry if that’s T.M.I. but what I’m getting at is…none of that was as bad as how cold I was this Grand Canyon night. I would rather cuddle with that giant, furry spider than experience this endless, freezing night again.
LESSON LEARNED: Never camp unprepared. If it’s going to be considerably colder than your sleeping bag limit, don’t do it. Never, ever rely on a 40 degree sleeping bag in 18 degree weather, even with all your layers on.
Also learned: A pack of coyotes only want your campfire food scraps, not your flesh (thank you to whoever spilled their plate of spaghetti on the ground by our tent!).
There you have it folks! My worst camping experience to-date. If I have a worse one in the future, believe me, I shall share it! Regardless, this was not a fun night and I was truly worried that I would be deathly sick for my wedding. Turned out: not the case, praise the heavens!
The morning after this crap night was Thanksgiving morning and it was divine. We spent the best Thanksgiving exploring Grand Canyon National Park. We even made Thanksgiving crafts to hang on Gladys and ate a full-on Thanksgiving dinner around the campfire. So, thankfully, this story has a happy ending. 🙂
Now, time to answer my question: What is the worst camping experience you’ve ever had? Feel free to share in the comments, I’d love to hear ’em!
Much love and happy travels!
P.S. Check out my “Travel Vlogs” page and scroll down to the video titled “Western Wandering: Thanksgiving at the Grand Canyon” to see some of this day unfold.