Saturday, February 23, 2008

Campsite Reservations

Last month my brother-in-law Mark called to talk about setting up another camping trip like the one we went on last summer. The campsites are available for reservations 6 months in advance, so now's the time to think about it. We picked a weekend in August, Saturday through Monday (because of Mary Beth's schedule) and decided to try to get 3 campsites in a row, my other sister Becky and her husband Hal are interested in going too. We decided to go to that same campground because there was a lot to do in the area. Last time we took a walk around and noted that there were some sites that were situated so that they could see the sunsets over the lake. Those were the best ones, I told Mark, let's get one of those! Mark explained to me that it's tricky to get the premium spots at the popular campgrounds, maybe I should try to do this one. "I am on it!" I assured him. Whatever those other people had to do to get those spots, I could do too. It's all about how much effort you are willing to put into it, and if it's fair then I should have an equal chance.

I promptly went to the DNR website and read up on what is required to reserve a site. OK, six months in advance, to the day, you have to call or do it online, starting at 9:00am. I calculated back from our trip and put it on my calendar to call.

Since I'm new this whole camping thing, I'm still in the process of letting go of the impressions that I previously held about how it all works, gained from of course my reliable sources of TV shows and movies. They way I thought it should go is a family walks out into the wilderness with a couple of bags of gear casually thrown over their shoulders, and arrives at a clearing next to a sparkling stream with no other humans in sight. "How about right here, kids?" and moments later they are sitting around a crackling fire with a tent in the background. Not quite.

So last night I went to the DNR website to prepare my plan of attack. I decided to practice making a reservation, just up to the point of paying for it, so I'd know what to do. I put in Friday through Monday and hit "check availability." Green means "available." All I see is red. And a few blues. What is blue? Partially available. I figure out a way of clicking on the individual site numbers to see what nights are still available. I click on every non-red campsite. Only two are available on Saturday and Sunday night that have any lake view at all. They are sort of adjacent to each other. They back up to the highway. They are my only choice. I MUST HAVE THEM.

Now I am obsessed. In the all-American spirit of needing to get exactly what I want and beating the other guy to it, I think about what I can do. 8:45am I pull up the website and get to the point where you have to put the date in. Then I call Timmy over and show him how to do a screen refresh so he can man that while I get on the phone. I practice dialing the number, listen to the message, and then time out how many seconds it takes to get in from when I hit redial. We start watching the clocks, and I question whether they are perfectly accurate. I remember that my cell phone receives the time from some outside source, that must be the real time so I get that out. My cell phone! Another way to call! I get the rest of the family with a pre-dialed phone in their hands and we count down like New Year's Eve...3...2...1....NOW! We're all dialing and typing like mad and then Larry gets in on his cell! Hurray! I tell the lady the campsites I want and she says they're now on hold as ours. Hurray! Celebration! You'd think we just won a million dollars instead of the chance to pay money to sleep on a certain patch of dirt for two nights.

The phone reservations lady tells me that she must read me a set of rules before we complete the transaction. I politely agree. (Got this far, must not mess up now) She tiredly ticks off a long, long list of things you cannot do in regards to your reservation, such as booking ahead and cancelling the first part. I realize that these are all rules that were born from the problem of people obsessed with getting the exact campsite they want going to great lengths to get them. If you think in reverse about some of these rules it's clear that people were getting rather creative about it. And then she tells me the price that I have to pay. I try not to think of whether I could get a hotel room for that much. It includes an $8 "reservation fee" which I realize is to pay the reservations staff to be on the phone reciting the rules to prevent people from pulling tricks to snatch up the best sites....people like that are,um, like me. Never mind.

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