Tamera Schlueter Exploding air mattresses deflate camp

The Schlueterville SUV was packed with a camp stove and sleeping bags, hiking boots and a brand new tent, backpacks and duffel bags. Hunka Burnin’ Hubby and I were headed to the woods for our first bona fide campout since our sons were small.

We’ve spent ample time in the great outdoors, but it had been decades since we’d slept in flimsy nylon instead of a fully equipped travel trailer. We lit out of town like criminals on the lam. It was our first trip as a couple since who knows when; a belated celebration for our 30th anniversary. Nebraska’s Chadron State Park was our first stop, and I was giddy to break out the gear. Hunka was less than impressed with our new sleeping quarters, but he was a good sport just the same.

“Look how easy it is to set up!” I chirped. “Check out the rain fly! It’s the luxury suite of tents!”

Hunka smiled doubtfully as he aired up the mattress and rolled out our ancient sleeping bags, which came complete with broken zippers and flannel flying mallard lining. The temperature dropped as fast as the setting sun, until our breath danced in vaporous clouds.

We searched for shooting stars and toasted marshmallows until our campfire died, and chuckled at our grand adventure as we crawled into our nylon castle. Wool socks, down jackets, and stocking caps added outdoorsy flair, and everything was surprisingly comfortable until a howling wind kicked up a few hours later.

“WHUMP!” flapped the tent. “WHUMPA WHUMP WHUMP!” A biting cold snapped at our faces, and turned our toes a beautiful shade of blue. The heater unit whirred on a neighboring RV, and we imagined its owner snoring loudly in his jammies.

Hunka made an announcement at the break of dawn.

“Attention campers!” he declared to no one in particular. “I dislike sleeping in tents!”

It was an opinion born from experience. We’ve had our share of long-ago tent campouts that ended with storm-lashed, ice-coated flair. So we packed our gear and headed to South Dakota’s Custer State Park, where we snagged a lovely campsite in Sylvan Lake Campground. We were, in fact, the last campers of the season before the campground closed for the winter.

Now is a good time to mention that our SUV is more space station than vehicle, capable of accommodating a queen-sized air mattress with room left over for a bowling alley. It’s a gear-hauling beast, and a crowd-moving machine. But for the duration of our South Dakota stay, it was home sweet home.

I should also mention that we packed not one queen-sized air mattress, but two; a backup in the event of a leak. Feeling clever, we inflated them both, stacked one atop the other, and like the prince/princess and the pea, crawled aboard the bouncy delight.

We donned uber-sexy headlamps, and with faces mere inches from the roof of the car, we settled in to read while the wind howled outside.

It was a welcome relief from the flapping tent, but soon our bed began to sag. Heads sank low while feet rose higher, and I imagined an outdoor view of headlamp beams slowly disappearing below the car’s expansive windows.

Mount Air Mattress shook, shuddered, and swallowed us whole with a “PFFFFFFFT,” as both bags deflated with dramatic flair. Hunka called Jammie Man in his heated RV a lucky schmuck, and we snort-laughed until we cried.

Our woodsy adventure was ridiculously fun, and one we’ll remember with great fondness. We learned a few things, too.

A tent in the cold is grudgingly survivable, but a tent in a frigid windstorm is a dance with the devil. Our monstrous vehicle may be the pits to park and fill with gas, but it is one mean and useful machine.

A sense of humor and the ability to roll with the punches are the most important things to pack on a Schlueterville camping trip.

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