The next morning, I woke to a knock on my door. I rubbed my eyes and stumbled out of bed. I opened the door, and Weston smiled at me. “Wanna go for a run?”
“A run?” I asked, yawning.
“I decided to start running the trail in the mornings this summer so I can get in shape. Want to come?”
“Okay,” I said, yawning again.
Weston waited while I changed clothes and went to the bathroom. When I was done, we headed upstairs.
“You’re up early,” Grandpa said, putting the newspaper down on the dining room table to watch us put our shoes on.
“We’re going to run.” Weston said.
Grandpa chuckled. “Good luck. It’s supposed to be hot today.”
“That’s why we’re going in the morning,” Weston said. I finished tying my shoes, and we stepped out the front door. “Dad said that the loop in the back is about a mile,” he told me. “I think that will be a good start, don’t you?”
“A whole mile?” I asked. My stomach growled.
“You walk out there all the time, it’ll be easy for you.”
I shrugged, and Weston started jogging towards the back fence where it led to the trail. I ran to catch up, then fell into a rhythm alongside my brother. We barely made it to the loop before I started getting out of breath.
“I…” I said,” have to… run so… fast… to keep up.”
“You got it, don’t worry,” Weston said.
We went to the right on the loop, and I was glad that he knew the trail too so that we didn’t have to run up a hill at the end. Soon, I realized that there were a lot of little hills all over the trail that were a lot harder when running, and I fell behind. “Weston,” I panted. “Wait up.”
He turned to look back at me but didn’t slow down. “You can... do it. Just don’t... let the gap... get bigger.”
I wanted to cry, but at least Weston was out of breath too.
Finally, we made it back to the house. When I stopped running, my legs were relieved but my vision got fuzzy and things started going dark. Then Weston’s arm was around me. “Breathe, buddy. Don’t go passing out on me.”
I took a couple deep breaths and managed to stand up again. Weston smiled at me and held up his hand. I gave him a high five. “You think you can do it again tomorrow?”
I nodded and managed a smile.
“Let’s go shower before everyone else is up and getting ready for church.”
Weston and I ran most days that summer, except we decided not to run before church ever again. Weston said that it was good to take Sundays off anyway, because God called Sunday the day of rest. By the end of the summer, we were running 6 miles, which Weston called a “10k,” even though we didn’t do ten laps around the loop.
Tor came over to my house every Saturday over the summer, but his parents usually just dropped him off. In July, I got invited to their camping trip. Mom and Dad let me go even though they were worried about the money they were going to owe Tor’s parents for bringing me along. When Mom asked Tor’s mom about it Tor’s mom just laughed and said it wasn’t a problem, but when the day came, Mom and Dad sent me out to the car with my pillow, my sleeping bag, my backpack, and fifty dollars in my pocket. I had thirty dollars for food, and twenty dollars to give Tor’s parents for gas.
They helped me load my things into the trunk, and then I climbed into the backseat with Tor and a big cooler. The cooler was under Tor’s feet so that he couldn’t put them down, but he didn’t seem to mind. For the first half of the drive, Tor and I leaned towards the middle where I put down my Let’s Find Pokémon! book. Weston had given it to me back in June when he cleaned out his room for our annual yard sale.
After two hours, we stopped at a gas station so Tor’s dad could fill up the car with gas. Tor and I followed his mom inside and went to the bathroom. When we came out, Tor’s dad came in to go to the bathroom, and Tor’s mom offered to buy us both a snack.
“It’s okay,” I said, “My mom gave me money for food.”
Tor’s mom laughed. “I told her that we’d take care of you. Why don’t you and Torro each find something you like?”
Tor and I went to the chip aisle. He found some that he wanted, but I wanted something sweet, so I looked until I found some mini donuts. We went up to the register where Tor’s mom waited with four bottles of water. She bought all of it for us and then gave Tor and I our snacks and a water bottle.
“Thanks,” I said, blushing. I would have to figure out how to give her some money later so that my parents wouldn’t be mad at me when I got home.
Tor and I ate our snacks when we got back in the car. When he finished, he fell asleep, but I stayed awake and listened to the music on the radio while I watched the world go by. The only vacation I’d ever been on until now was when we went to Chicago, and somehow I bet that I was going to enjoy camping a lot more.
Tor woke up before we got to the campground, so we picked up where we had left off in my Pokémon book. Not long after we had found one that seemed impossible to find, Tor’s dad said that we were almost to the campground. We turned on to a gravel road, and even though I was used to gravel roads, it was bumpier than any other road I had ever been on. Tor and I laughed and laughed some more when we realized the bumpiness of the road made our laughs bumpy. Even his parents started laughing then.
Finally, we turned off of the road and pulled up to a parking lot. Tor’s dad parked the car and ran inside to check in to our campground. He came back just a couple minutes later and restarted the car.
It took a bit to get to our campsite, because it was almost at the back of the campground. We could barely see the lake through the trees and Tor’s mom said that she no longer had phone service, but I loved it.
Tor’s dad parked the car on gravel and then we all got out of the car and started to unload what Tor’s dad called “the essentials.” The essentials included the cooler, the cooking utensils, a big brown tarp, and the tent. Tor and I spread out the tarp on the flattest group we could find while his parents got the tent out of the box.
“Our campsite last year was better,” Tor told me. “It actually had a flat spot for the tent. But I think this will be okay anyway.”
When we had the tarp spread out, Tor’s parents brought the tent parts over and spread them out on the tarp. Tor showed me how to put the poles together, and we put all of them together while his parents spread out the tent properly.
“We’re ready with the poles, Dad.” Tor said. His dad was squinting at the tent instructions, and he held up a finger. Finally, he looked up. “Okay, let’s find the main poles first. They’re the ones that are most important to the structure.”
We all looked at the poles, but they were all almost the same length. Tor’s dad decided that the ones that were barely longer must be the main poles, so Tor and I worked on threading one through while Tor’s parents did the other one. For some reason, it was really difficult to get the poles to go exactly where they were supposed to, and Tor’s dad started getting frustrated.
“It’s probably just because it’s a new tent, honey,” Tor’s mom said. Tor’s dad kept squinting at the instructions, then decided that the other poles were the ones we were supposed to be using. When we threaded them through, we quickly found out that the shorter poles definitely weren’t the right ones, so we took them back out.
By the time we got the whole tent up, another car drove up to our campsite and parked behind Tor’s car.
“Come meet my cousins,” Tor said while his parents went back to the car to get all of our sleeping stuff.
I followed Tor to the new car. The doors opened, and four people got out. “Hey, Torro!” the oldest man said, coming forward to give Tor a hug. “You’re definitely taller than last time we saw you.”
Tor smiled and pulled out of the hug. “Thanks, Uncle Moe.” They turned to me. “This is my friend Gray.”
“Very nice to meet you,” Tor’s Uncle Moe said. “If I can call you Gray, you can call me Moe.”
“You can call me Gray,” I said, not sure whether I should laugh.
“Then you can call me Moe.” He walked around Tor and I to talk to Tor’s parents.
“Hi Aunt Veronica,” Tor said, waving at the woman on the other side of the car as she put on a hat. “Hello sweetheart,” she said.
“Tor, want to see something cool?” the boy from the car asked.
“Sure,” Tor said. The boy pulled out a pocket knife. “I’m going to carve a walking stick for myself. I learned how to do it in Boy Scouts.”
“That’s so cool,” Tor said, taking the knife. The boy showed him how to open it and close it, then Tor turned to me. “Gray, this is my cousin, Seven.”
“Seven?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Seven said, smiling, “Because I was born on July seventh, and my mom already liked the name.”
“Cool,” I said.
“Seven is eleven,” Tor told me. “And he’s in Boy Scouts, so he’s really helpful on camping trips.”
Seven smiled. “I should go clean up the fire pit. People usually leave trash in there at this place.”
Tor and I said goodbye and went to find Tor’s girl cousin. She was sitting at the picnic table near the firepit, so Tor and I sat down across from her. “Hi Memory,” Tor said.
“Hi,” she said, looking up from her book.
“What are you reading?” Tor asked.
Memory held up the book, and to my surprise, it was Captain Underpants. I had never seen a girl reading Captain Underpants before.
“I love that one,” Tor said. “Have you read it, Gray?”
I nodded. It was one of the few books I had liked.
“Cool name,” Memory said.
“You too,” I said.
“Memory is eight like us,” Tor told me.
“Can’t wait to be double digits, though,” Memory said. “That’s when Mom and Dad said I don’t have to have a babysitter anymore, and I can stay home alone and read.”
“My parents won’t let me do that ’til I’m probably sixteen,” Tor said, hanging his head.
“Me too,” I said. My parents always got a babysitter for me and my sisters.
We talked with Memory until Seven got a fire started, and the three of us joined everyone else by the fire. Tor’s parents and aunt and uncle had teamed up to bring eight folding chairs, so we all had one to sit in while Seven and Moe made burgers over the fire. It took awhile for all of them to cook, but once they were done, they were delicious.
“The beef is fresh from my friend’s farm,” Moe said. “He hooks me up with some when he needs a favor at work.”
By the time we were done eating, it was pretty dark. It would have been darker, except we had the fire, and the people two sites over from us had a lamp outside of their RV. We sat in the chairs and talked about the stars and how amazing the universe was until our fire got low and Tor’s dad said it would be good to get some sleep. We all got our pajamas out of the car, and the girls walked to find the bathroom while the guys changed in the dark tent and peed in the bushes across the road from our campsite.
Since it was a nice night, Tor’s dad took the cover off the top of the tent, leaving just a little bit of mesh between us and the sky. I had trouble falling asleep because I couldn’t stop looking at the stars, and because my sleeping bag kept sliding down the hill under our tent. Eventually, I ended up asleep and didn’t wake up until everyone else was already awake.
Even though it was only 6:40 in the morning, everyone was tossing and turning or looking around. I lifted my face off of my pillow to look around and realized that my pillow and blanket were damp. Tor met my eyes and stuck his tongue out in disgust while pointing at his pillow. I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help it.
“I think we’re all awake,” Tor’s dad said, stifling a yawn.
“It would be super cool to go watch the sunrise,” Seven said.
We all agreed, and after we put the cover back over the tent, we all left and headed towards the front of the campground. Even though it was really early and I was tired, we were all in a good mood. We talked in hushed voices as we passed other tents until we got to a little beach area within the campsite. We all walked down to the rocky sand and stared out over the water, where the sun made a pink and yellow line across the sky, just above the water line. I thought it was beautiful, and Tor begged his mom to take a picture with her cellphone until she did. While everyone else was watching the sunrise, Seven and Memory ran off to explore a big dock that was attached to a cabin.
“I hope no one is trying to sleep in there,” Veronica said.
“They’re being quiet, it’s fine,” Moe said.
Seven and Memory came back a few minutes later, and we finished watching the sunrise. We were all hungry, so we went back to the campground and made bacon and eggs for breakfast. Tor and I watched Seven make the fire so that we could start learning how to do it, which was really cool.
After we ate, we all decided to go on a hike on one of the nearby trails. We all grabbed water bottles and got in the cars. It didn’t take long to get to the trail that Tor’s mom wanted to hike, and when we got out of the car, we could hear horses whinnying in the distance.
“Can we find the horses?” Memory begged. I thought it would be pretty cool too, but Veronica said, “Probably not.”
We walked the trail, which was rated medium difficulty, even though it was super easy and mostly flat. We all took turns talking to each other, and Tor told me and his mom how he wanted his own camera, and I said I wanted more friends at school.
Near the end of the trail, Moe called out, “There are ticks all over my legs!”
Everyone started freaking out except me, because Weston and I got ticks all the time from running in our backyard. I tried to tell everyone that it would be okay, but we walked really fast to the end of the trail anyway. In the parking lot, everyone started taking off their shoes and socks and trying to knock the ticks off of them, even though most of them were the super tiny ones and it was hard to get rid of those without rubbing alcohol.
When people stopped panicking, we drove back to the campsite for lunch. We made sandwiches and then we all took showers to help get rid of the ticks and make us not smell as bad, since we hadn’t showered the night before. After showers, we decided that we wanted to go canoeing or kayaking, but when we walked to the rental place, they were all out of everything except one canoe. Since we couldn’t all fit in one canoe, we went back to the campsite and changed into swimming suits. Then we got in the cars and drove to a bigger beach area on the lake where we swam for a couple hours.
Tor, Seven, Memory, and I spent some time playing in the sand and serving each other “pizzas,” which was when we took our shovel and threw some sand in the air. We all laughed every time.
By the time we left, we were all super tired because we had barely gotten any sleep the night before, so we went back to the campsite and Tor and I helped Seven start the fire. It was a little early for dinner, but we were making pizzas over the fire and we could only do two at a time, so we knew it was going to take awhile.
While we cooked, Tor’s dad took a nap in the tent, and when he woke up, there was a pizza waiting for him.
Since we liked watching the sunrise over the water in the morning, we decided to head to the same spot to watch the sunset. When we got there, we discovered that we couldn’t really see the sunset there because it was on the other side of the sky, but we all sat and talked until it was dark anyway.
Back at our campsite, we made s’mores and then went to bed early because we were all exhausted.
The next morning we ate cereal and then headed to the canoe and kayak rental. We got there early enough to get boats for all of us to use for an hour. Tor and I were together, and then Seven and Moe, Tor’s mom and Veronica, and Memory and Tor’s dad. Seven and Moe were the first to get in the water, followed by the women, and then Tor and I. We all paddled away from the dock and convened where the lake branched out to wait for Memory and Tor’s dad. After a couple minutes, we saw them speedily paddling towards us, so we headed out to the left to explore more of the lake.
My arms got tired really fast, but Tor and I figured out that if we said “row” outloud, it helped us do it together. At some point, we looked back, and Memory and Tor’s dad were nowhere in sight.
“We should slow down!” Tor yelled to the rest of his family.
We all met up in one spot again, lazily drifting around each other and joking about where Memory and Tor’s dad could be. Finally, they came around the corner slowly. Tor’s dad was paddling much faster than Memory, so they would go in a straight line for a couple of feet, then start rotating. None of us could help but laugh, and when they got in earshot, we laughed even more.
Tor’s dad was clearly frustrated and kept yelling, “Why are we turning?” whenever their kayak started rotating. Memory gave up and sat with her paddle across her lap until Tor’s dad said something about the importance of teamwork, and she stuck her paddle back in the water.
By the time they reached us, everyone was saying “Why are we turning?” and Tor’s dad didn’t even seem to notice. Slowly we paddled back to the dock where we had started and pulled the boats out of the water to return them to the rental place.
We walked back to the campsite to make sandwiches for lunch. Veronica and Tor’s mom told Tor’s dad and Memory about how funny it was watching them, and Memory seemed to be somewhat embarrassed, but if Tor’s dad was, he didn’t show it.
“I had a great time,” he told Memory. “Didn’t you?”
She laughed and shrugged.
After we ate, we got in the cars again and drove to a place called Ha Ha Tonka, which is this castle that someone started building until it burned to the ground. We hiked a long trail that even had some stairs, which made us all out of breath and thirsty. When we got back to the parking lot, we went to see Ha Ha Tonka itself, which I thought was really cool. We walked inside of it and marveled at the scale of it.
By the time we were done, we were all ready to eat dinner. We didn’t have anything but cereal and a couple pieces of ham left at the campsite, so we decided to go out to eat. After being on trails and in the lake for two days, I felt weird going to a restaurant, but the food was really good. We were all very tired after dinner, so we went back to the campsite, took showers, and sat around the firepit, even though we didn’t have a fire going. It was supposed to rain that night, so Tor and I helped Seven cover the tent with a tarp that wasn’t big enough to go over the whole tent.
We went to bed, and in the middle of the night, instead of hearing rain, we heard what we thought was a raccoon going through our trash. In the morning, we cleaned up the mess that the raccoon had made and took down the tent. Memory sat at the picnic table and read instead of helping us load, which made all of us a little mad, but I was too tired to really care. I was asleep in the car before we got out of the campground.