HERE COMES THE SUN

Looking across river to the trees and rocks

Gina was getting her camping legs back at Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer of 2015.

When the fog rolls in it can be hard to see what is right in front of us. Even though our memory tells us where the solid ground is, we find it hard to trust our instincts and it feels as if the fog will never lift. Gina, a native of Ohio, experienced a deep fog when her daughter was assaulted in college. The crime became public fodder and quickly took its toll on the normally happy-go-lucky Gina. A darkness rolled over life as her family had known it and even when justice was served and her daughter regained a healthy footing, Gina struggled to embrace a positive outlook. The ordeal had taken a toll and she found herself hiding from the world. That’s where Gina’s hero husband and the Girl Camping community came to the rescue.

Portrait of RV couple Gina and Chris

Hero Husband Chris hatched a plan to help his wife “camp” her way into a new life!

Gina’s husband Chris recognized that a change of environment was needed. He knew his wife needed to have fun, but how? Everything in their lives felt tainted by the events that led to her current condition – how could he find a way to change the vista without changing their permanent location? Camping! He returned to a time in Gina’s life that was simple and happy – family camping as a kid.

He went out and purchased a teardrop travel trailer and they began camping locally together. Chris is an airline pilot with a flight schedule that permits four and five day stretches between flights, which is perfect for a getaway. Getting outdoors was great therapy for the couple and brought back wonderful memories for Gina.

She recalls now that she could, “Never forget the smell of a campfire and sleeping under the stars.” It was always the simple pleasures of camping that stirred the fondest childhood memories. “I remember one particular trip where we stopped at a roadside fruit stand and my mother purchased fresh corn on the cob, peaches, melons, and tomatoes for dinner. It was simple, delicious and I have never forgotten it. I love fruit stands and farmer’s markets to this day and have a hard time passing by without stopping.”

Gina fly fishing in Estes Park, Colorado

While they enjoyed their camping trips together, Chris worried about Gina when his flight schedule took him away for several days at a time. He knew she was isolating and still wanted to help her find a way to get her footing back. Chris is an avid podcast listener and stumbled upon the Girl Camper Podcast. As he listened to the show, which encourages women to get outdoors and do things, he thought it was just what his wife needed. Girlfriends, camping, hiking and adventures!

He found out that there were women who did all those fun things without husbands and he encouraged Gina to learn how to tow their little teardrop by herself. That seemed incredibly daunting to Gina and her initial reaction was a resolute, “No way!” Chris persevered and got Gina listening to the podcast on a regular basis. In it she heard all of her fears addressed and interviews with women who had done it! They towed! They leveled their trailers! They dumped their tanks at the dump stations! She began to think she could possibly do this thing called Girl Camping.

On the podcast she heard about an upcoming trip to Blackwater Falls in Davis, West Virginia. It was months away and was a “girls only” weekend of camping. She had been helping Chris unhitch, stabilize and level the trailer and felt that she could do all of that. The stumbling blocks were the five-hour drive towing alone and the process of backing the trailer up, unhitching it, and then hitching it up again when it was time to leave. Enter hero husband. Chris made a plan for his days off to ride shotgun all the way to West Virginia with Gina towing! As I said, “hero husband!”

They set off for West Virginia with Gina behind the wheel. The tricky route had been mapped out making it somewhat longer than necessary, but avoided the steepest, most winding roads West Virginia offers. There was a crisis moment when Gina had to merge from a dead stand still on a construction ramp into full speed traffic. There was no easing into the speeding traffic in the construction zone – it was pull out and hit the gas. Gina started crying and saying she couldn’t do it. Chris calmed and encouraged her and she did it! Each successful obstacle overcome was a confidence builder and when they arrived with their trailer at the campground, Chris practiced backing in with his wife. They found an empty site and kept practicing until Gina felt confident that she had a few tricks under her belt.

Gina and her hero husband Chris were looking to upgrade their trailer at the Hershey RV show. They chose a 28’ Airstream

Gina made the five-hour trip alone to Blackwater Falls and I remember greeting her when she had successfully pulled into her spot and was busy leveling her trailer and setting it up. She was so excited that she had made it and she had so much fun on that trip. Meeting all the other women who were also making that maiden solo voyage inspired her to sign up for other trips. She became a member of the Sisters on the Fly and found a few local women to camp with when Chris was traveling for work. The sun was peeking out from behind the clouds for the first time in a long time.

I kept in touch with Gina and watched her comments on the online communities. She was becoming proficient and began helping others gain the confidence they needed to make their dreams come true. They say that real healing takes place when you are able to help others. Gina has become a volunteer advocate for assault victims and also for solo women travelers. I had the pleasure of camping with her in Ohio in September and what a difference four months had made. The nervous and shy Gina was gone and the old Gina was back.

While sitting around on that sunny Saturday afternoon I received a message from Chris wanting to know if his wife was alright. He had been trying to reach her for hours and she wasn’t answering her phone. I was sitting with Gina when the message came in and she rushed to her camper to retrieve her phone and call her husband back.

Yes, she was more than alright. The formerly quiet and isolating Gina had come to the campsite coffee station in the morning for a cup of Joe and was still chatting at 2 pm with all of her new friends. She was having so much fun sitting around in her flannel jammies with the pink flamingos and vintage airstreams printed on them that she had completely lost track of the time!

Gina and Girl Camper friends at Beaver Creek State Park in East Liverpool, Ohio

For Chris and Gina, the healing that happened for them in the RV community was so profound that it became life changing. In October they sold their little teardrop and bought a 28’ Airstream. With both of their children on their own and flourishing they are able to hit the road to destinations near Chris’ scheduled flights. When Chris is flying Gina stays at the campground in her new home on wheels and meets up with other Girl Campers to compare notes and explore new destinations. When Chris is back they pack up and move on to a new site traveling the back roads and relishing the sunshine they live in now. The smiles have returned to their faces, the sun has come out and it is all right!

Chris and Gina’s brand new 28’ Airstream Flying Cloud