In honor of the fact I put away my summer clothes and laid flannel sheets on my bed, I’ve decided it is the right time of year to tell you the very true story of why I will never, ever go winter camping again. Because, yes, dear reader – at one time in my life it seemed like a good idea. I had looked through too many outdoorsy catalogs, full of pretty people building snowmen and having snow ball fights. What fun they were having! I could have fun like that too. I am hardy. I like snow. I like cozy sweaters and snow boots and gloves that I can warm by a fire while making s’mores and telling stories to my adoring family and friends. Winter time fun, fun fun! That’s me alright.

So when my church congregation asked for adult women volunteers to staff the next summer week long girls’ camp, I signed up without hesitation. My girls went to camp every summer and loved it. I was 100% in support of wholesome outdoor activities. This was a new church for us; we had recently moved to the state and had never experienced the joys of camping in the Midwest. We had camped extensively in the West, so how hard could it be? Camping is camping, right?

In January of the year I was going to attend the summer girls camp as an adult leader, I received notice of an Adult Training Camp that all new leaders needed to attend. We would learn how handle weather emergencies and other things I had never considered before signing my name on the dotted line. It was going to be held at the same camp, in February. I needed to bring a tent, sleeping bag and clothes for one night. Food would be provided. One night of winter camping? Done.

I was so unconcerned about this Friday night camp that I didn’t mention it to any of my new church friends. I also didn’t bother to pack my own gear. I told my die-hard Boy Scouting son, who winter camped all the time, to pack his tent and whatever I would need for an overnight stay. I worked in my office right up until my ride showed up to deliver me to the Winter Wonderland. With all the confidence of the ignorant, I waved goodbye to my loving family and cheerfully faced what I have come to call “The Night Heather Reconsidered the Meaning of Life and Other Important Thoughts”.

Upon arriving at the camp site, which was nestled in a grouping of trees surrounded by corn fields, I finally came to my senses and realized this could be harder than I thought. The camp leader and her husband, both outdoorsy types who sported only name brand winter clothes and gear, scoffed at my Wal-mart one-person tent, along with my generic gloves and heavy coveralls that my husband wore to work on our cars outside in bad weather because we were too poor to take our car to the auto shop. They told me I was woefully unprepared for the conditions, since it was expected to be -7 degrees that night. They asked to see my sleeping bag and I unrolled the mummy-type bag my son had packed. It wasn’t a brand name bag, but it wasn’t off the discount rack, either. My bag passed inspection. At least something did.

After having my feelings hurt and seeing every other camper sporting the proper fancy-smanchy expensive gear, I decided to prove them all wrong. After all, Mormon pioneers walked across America in the 1800’s with way less gear than I had and managed to survive just fine, thank-you-very-much. I may not have the most expensive camp gear, but I had the most important things, guts and determination. At least that is what all the movies I have ever watched said was the most important things. Stupid movies.

After suffering through an evening of 100 stories of Ways to Die While Camping, I staggered off to my now incredibly tiny looking tent to get some sleep. As I crawled inside to make my nighttime nest, I repented of my obvious neglect of my son. Who could possibly sleep in such a miniature tent? I should have paid the extra $10 for a two person tent since this tent was made for one person the size of a newborn, not an actual walking and talking human. I had no idea how Ty, my almost-as-tall-as-me son, ever folded himself into the thing.

I decided to keep my coveralls on for the night because the flashlight was dying and I wasn’t sure I had enough light to find my nightclothes and change while still keeping battery juice in reserve just in case I had to go potty in the middle of night. Yes, women do plan ahead for those trips. Besides, the wind began picking up and it was getting cold. What was the temperature supposed to be tonight? As I shimmied my coveralled-self into Ty’s mummy sleeping bag, I discovered a new truth. Did you know there is a reason they make men’s mummy bags and women’s mummy bags? Mummy bags are made for colder weather because they are supposed to fit your shape, thereby trapping body heat and keeping the sleeper warmer. Did you know there is a difference between men’s and women’s shapes? I do now. Ty’s mummy bag fit fine, until it got to my hips. I could not get his skinny boy sleeping bag past my three-times-giving-birth-mommy-hips. Damn. Double Damn.

My choices were: A. Crawl to the camping gurus tent and beg to spend the night in their van with the heat on. B. Freeze to death. C. Remain in my toy tent, half in, half out of my son’s boy-sized mummy bag, sitting up to hug my upper body for warmth so I could live to tell this tale.

I chose C. (Really, are you surprised? Nothing, I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G was going to make me humble myself to admit unpreparedness to those two obnoxious, spoiled campers.)

As the hours crawled by, I had the opportunity to experience many new things. First, at about what I estimated was 11pm (I didn’t have a watch and this happened way before cool cell phones with internet and clocks and emergency numbers to call to rescue stupid women who need to go to a hotel with a whirlpool bath and cable tv.) I got to overhear crystal clear, an argument between said Perfect Camper husband and wife. Did you know that when the temperature drops and the wind dies down, you can hear everything for miles, including a super interesting argument about who was egotistical and selfish and who is petty and small-minded? It was very entertaining and made the rest of my long night bearable.

I also heard snoring and a bit of rustling at 3am when someone did a potty run. Other than that, I spent the nighttime hours dosing fitfully, swearing that if I survived this I was going to be a New Person, whatever that meant.

When the morning finally dawned and a couple of hours later, everyone else woke up, I casually joined the group and pretended I slept just swell, like everyone else. After a quick breakfast, the camp leaders decided we needed to take a hike to explore the area. Really? I was counting on just packing up and heading home. But noooo…….silly me! This was a test of our stamina and fitness.

I begrudgingly followed the chattering group of women as we climbed ice- covered hills to prove our manhood. My face got severely wind-burned from the cold, and my toes were numb. At least the 99 cent knitted cap I bought at the Dollar Store kept my head warm. Or maybe it was the steam generated by my slow-boiling anger at having to spend one more sleep-deprived second in the middle of nowhere in below zero weather. Either way, my brains were warm and working.

After two hours of hiking, the camp was finally called to a conclusion and I was allowed to go back to civilization. As I told my family the miseries of my adventure, showing them the windburn and the blisters I got on my feet from hiking in snow boots, I got lots of sympathy. Crazy Mid-Westerners. What do they know about camping?

Being the forgiving/forgetful type, it didn’t take long for me to let go of the trauma of my winter adventure. That lasted until I went to the official summer girls’ camp later that year and talked to the other leaders. Someone mentioned how they didn’t go on the winter time camp training and how they thought it was silly, anyway. What would camping in the winter do to prepare you for tornados, mosquitoes and heat rash in the summer? I protested, “But it was MANDATORY training! You had to go or you wouldn’t be allowed to attend the summer session!” One woman (who later became my dearest friend and Life Mentor because of her reply) scoffed, “Yeah. Like what are they gonna do, fire me? We are v-o-l-u-n-t-e-r-s. They are just grateful I agreed to do this at all.”

My understanding of the Universal Truths of Life immediately deepened as I appreciated the collective wisdom of women smarter than me. I reached my hand over, covering the patch I had carefully sewed on my jacket that said “ I Survived The Blizzard of 19__”, my only remaining proof of my Winter Camping awesomeness.