It was the second day of school and only a half-day of classes. Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer, was a mere three days in the past and we had only returned from our jaunt to Toronto two nights prior. The dizzying end of summer whirlwind came to an abrupt halt. The school uniforms and hefty backpacks laden with homework were pressed back into reluctant service. Summer had run into the wall of the school year and stopped, dead in its tracks. Or had it?
I had planned months ago to involve not only the kids but Grandpa, as well, in the Girl Scouts Father-Daughter Whitewater Weekend. I had envisioned it as the summer's last hurrah. My wife could take a day or two to relax and prepare for the coming school and scouting year. Grandma could have a weekend of quiet to read, relax, and plan the future of her retirement. The girls could play in the water and sing around the campfire one last time before the school year truly got under way. Grandpa could joke and complain and mess with the kids without being scolded by Grandma. And I could run around and make sure everything goes well and enjoy a camping trip with the kids and my dad.
The rafting center is a quick two hour drive straight from the house along Route 80. It is straightforward and, if you leave before rush hour, stress free. The check-in at the Girl Scout pavilion is organized and painless, even problems are really not problems as they are resolved almost instantly. The campground is well laid out and, as long as you aren't placed within a small tent community, peaceful. Even within the tent groups, the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. We were assigned a private spot with our own fire ring and picnic table. We really didn't need the table as all of our meals were provided in a large buffet-style arrangement. The fare was standard camper cuisine; hot dogs, sloppy joe, watermelon, pancakes, powdered eggs, and the like. From the time we arrived the schedule was filled with activities, from crafts to paintball to geocaching, until your bus is ready to ship your group to the whitewater put in.
The river was cool. The water was swimmer friendly, almost inviting. The kids timidly tested it at first but it took only a few dips for them to become comfortable with the flowing water. They enjoyed floating down the river holding onto the raft. They laughed as water fights broke out between rafts, buckets of water being flung by giddy dads, water guns wielded by giggling Girl Scouts. The guides acted as safety nets, road signs, storytellers, and entertainers. We gobbled down a riverside lunch of cold cut sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. Towards the end of the trip, after paddling and bouncing and splashing, the guides rewarded the rafters with a chance to leave the rafts and actually float down the rapids themselves. The kids jumped at the chance to challenge the white water with only a life jacket. To float down the churning water, bobbing like two rubber ducks in a washing machine, created silly smiles that could not be wiped away.
Our return to the campground brought a few moments to relax beside a small campfire and dry out from the wet day. The relaxation was short-lived, however, as the activities returned with the setting sun. There was a dance pavilion, a magician, and an ice cream social. We were all quite content with the campfire and were ready to retire for the night, the kids' eyes heavy from the day on the water. The only thing left to do was visit the outhouse before crawling into our sleeping bags. My oldest daughter wanted to visit the more elaborate camp bathroom near the camp store. As we walked through the camp, passing by one of the pavilions, we spotted scouts protecting large Styrofoam bowls. Upon Grandpa's investigation of the origin of the bowls, he guided us toward a line of people between two bushes. As we entered the clearing through the bushes, there were large bowls of ice cream awaiting toppings and we were more than happy to smother some of the bowls in chocolate syrup and sprinkles. How could we have possibly snuggled into our tent without a treat of this magnitude?
For the kids, the trip was a grand success. They went camping (always popular). They had a campfire they built themselves (even more popular). They rafted and swam and floated and challenged the river (a new favorite). They ate ice cream and geocached and goofed around with Grandpa (all perennial favorites). For Grandpa, the trip was a chance for the grandkids to keep him young, if not exactly without a price (his words and his sore muscles). For me, it was a chance to enjoy them both. A chance for me to stay young, camping with my dad while being a dad and camping with my kids. A chance to relax and enjoy the goofing around, the silly stories, and being a family of three outdoors generations. The water will always run and the memories of that water will last a lifetime.