In 2005 a boy I'd known for only a few months invited me to go on a backpacking trip to Wyoming with him. I'd never been backpacking. I'd never been to Wyoming. He promised me he was practically an expert. So (mostly because I was 25 and ready for adventure) I checked out some books from the library on how to pack for a ten day trip and called a friend to borrow a tent. She loaned me her KELTY Riverbend 4. I had no idea one should not backpack with a 4 person tent. I didn't know how to set it up. I knew nothing about ground covers or rain covers or stakes or bear bags. All I knew was I had a plane ticket and a tent, so I was ready.
Spoiler alert: we survived. There were some questionable situations for sure (like the time a bear wandered around outside our tent for two hours while we sang Christmas carols because our guidebook said to make noise) and some memorable moments (like the night a moose ran through our campsite just as we were finishing supper). I became an expert at putting up that sweet little (too big) tent. I learned all about hanging our food bag and staying hydrated. We did nine nights in Grand Teton National Park. By the time we left we were both backpacking experts. And I knew that boy a little better, too.
One of the best things about extended time in the woods like that is all the free form thinking that happens. On our last day in the woods that boy asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I answered right away that I wanted to spend my time working in foster care. He went off for a little walk by himself and when he came back he said, "Okay. Me, too. Let's do it." So we flew home and became licensed foster parents together.
Of course we took kids camping. Teenagers that had lived in the Western North Carolina mountains their entire lives and never been into the forest at all had their first camping experiences in that KELTY Riverbend tent. I was such a pro at setting it up I made it look easy to all those first timers. Lots of tears were shed in that tent. Lots of time was spent with headlamps aglow, trying to convince little people that sleeping outside was actually fun. Some of those kids actually believed us and the ones that still weren't so sure made it through all the same.
After a while that boy and I got married, realizing our adventurous life together was shaping up to be pretty good. The friend that loaned us the tent gladly gifted it to us permanently as a wedding present. We decided to hit the road for a while. After all, we had a tent; what more did we need? We went to music festivals and state parks. We camped in every season in all kinds of weather. We kept a piece of paper tucked into the side pocket of the tent with a list of all the times we camped: the date, where we stayed, who was with us. Our tent was the scrapbook of our life together.
I can't tell you all the nights I've spent curled up in that Riverbend tent with a dog on one side and that boy I married on the other. When we had a baby of our own, we took him camping. We figured that he could cry all night in the woods just as easy as he could cry all night in our apartment. We were right, and cry he did. But it didn't take long before he knew that tent as well as he knew his bed at home. When we moved to Canada to take another job in a residential group home with autistic youth with severe behavioral disorders, the tent went, too. More kids had their first time in the wilderness with the KELTY Riverbend as their shelter. When we road tripped back to the States, we stopped at as many National Parks as we could along the way. I can remember lying in Zion National Park, pregnant with our next little baby, looking up at the sky through the tent roof so in awe of the life within me and the life around me. Never have I been more thankful for the open-mesh design on the ceiling of that Riverbend tent.
Those two babies are now big enough to set up our Riverbend on their own. There are some places on that open-mesh ceiling that let in more bugs than starlight these days. We've seen more music festivals and national campgrounds over the years. The four of us barely fit inside anymore, but we've yet to let that stop us. The dog stays home more and more when we decide to set out on a camping adventure. Our kids go to a fantastic school where camping is part of the curriculum and they are always thankful that the Riverbend is quick and easy to out up and they can be back out splashing in the river in no time.
This year marked ten years of marriage to that boy that talked me into backpacking so long ago. We decided to celebrate a decade of togetherness with a new tent. We've yet to make the purchase because neither of us is eager to let go of our "scrapbook tent" all the way quite yet. Last week went went on a class campout with our kids and next week we are off to a music festival as a family. Our tent usage isn't slowing down a bit, even though we are a little cozier every time we snuggle up inside. Our next tent will be a KELTY tent, no doubt about that.