This was going to be the year everything would come together for something memorable. Two new cameras to catch all the action on the field, as well as sideline profile pictures of the incoming class. Lowered expectations for the team, which with their past history, could be the signal of a serious run in the PAC-12. An earlier reporting date to Camp T, thanks to an anonymous donor’s gift of cellular service allowing the student athletes to study. And on a personal level, the traditional weekend of camping along the Mogollon Rim without the in-laws. Having missed the Camp T tradition for five years while living in Utah, this 2016 trip, my second since returning to Arizona, was lined up to be something special.
A week before the Camp Tontozona vacation brought rain pretty much every day in Northern Arizona. It wasn’t the usual five to fifteen minute monsoon storm rain, it was the all day, varying levels of intensity, street flooding rain. Despite the gloomy weather, positive vibes were a plenty as the camping reservations and Camp Tontozona were located about two and a half hours to the Southeast. By Thursday, the day before departing, a sense of negativity was hard to ignore. Not only had the rain been dousing Flagstaff, but the skies had opened up along the Mogollon Rim forcing ASU to move their Wednesday practice to Payson. The news of Thursday’s practice actually being held at Camp T brought a little hope, until the pictures of sand being dumped on the field were shown. Weather and common sense be damned! This was going to be the year; new gear, highly rated newcomers, and no in-laws. Bags were packed and camping gear was staged in the garage on Thursday night, the family truckster would depart on Friday by 11am.
The snub for this year’s trip didn’t sit well with the in-laws, especially with the father-in-law that relished a camping trip with the grandson. The week of departure brought many calls and quite a few trips of guilt, but the ground was stood, and the invite was not granted. This year’s trip would just be about the wife, kid, Jake the dog, and working the assignment at Camp T.
Awakening to clear blue skies on Friday morning provided rays of hope to the beginning of a grand weekend. The shot sheet for offense and defense arrived in the inbox and was saved for offline viewing. Batteries were taken off their chargers and the camera gear bags were reviewed for the necessary tools. The packing and preparing to leave the home front for the weekend meant no time to check twitter for the Camp T weather update. The top of the family truckster was packed and secured, just needed to finish the inside and attach the hitch basket. Suddenly the sky was no longer blue, but an oh to familiar shade of black and dark grey. While attaching the basket to the hitch, a flash of light accompanied by a loud crack and an ensuing heavy bout of rain was either meant to be a sign or an outlier for the weekend.
The father-in-law has a bit of vindictiveness when not getting his way. No harm is ever truly wished upon anyone, but negative karma vibes will be thrown in the direction of what stands between him and the desired result. Several college and NFL kickers have been awarded with the ‘hee bee jee bee’ curse while attempting the final game winning kick. The failure to provide the invite to this year’s camping trip, was definitely ‘hee bee jee bee’ worthy.
For this trip, a new route would be taken to explore some sights along historic Route 66 and Route 99. One problem, it poured all the way to the first stop, a quick check of the hitch basket and some drinks for the road. It continued to pour at the next unexpected stop, a loose bungy cord holding the camping gear on the roof. As the truckster sped past old Route 66 run down gas stations along Interstate 40, the rain and wind did not let up. While in Winslow, the rain turned to a steady drizzle as the statue of Glen Fry standing on a corner was passed. Route 99 provided a future weekend destination in McHood Park, future destination as it begin pouring again while passing. As Route 99 split through the open grazing pastures of the high desert between Winslow and the Mogollon Rim, the rain continued to fall. The pavement, with cracks of green grass in the middle, finally gave way to a narrow mixture of dirt, clay, and mud. The Woods Canyon campgrounds were just a mere forty miles away, the rain however, continued to fall. The curse was on; ’hee bee jee bee, hee bee jee bee.’
The remnants of a recent heavy storm could not be ignored as puddles and the humid conditions greeted the family truckster’s arrival to the campground. A high spot was located for good tent placement, and the weekend’s accommodations were set up. Unexpectantly, the phone had cellular service and begin to blow up with notifications. As time finally allowed a check of the messages, the ‘hee bee jee bee’ curse finally reared it’s ugly head. All of the messages were from friends to inform that the Camp T scrimmage on Saturday was cancelled due to the week of rain on the Mogollon Rim.
All the build up, all the preparations, all the nostalgic feelings of taking the long walk down Camp Tontozona Road; washed away by the rain and the father-in-law’s curse. A parking spot furthest away from the entrance wasn’t necessary, Chariots of Fire wasn’t playing in the background, and there was no moose to punch at the front gate with a message of closure. But the feeling that Clark Griswold and his family had at Wally World a little over thirty years ago, truly hit home. True, there was no Aunt Edna, a hot blonde in a Ferrari, or a walk across a hot barren desert. But the sheer disappointment of something held so close to the heart and so looked forward to not happening, was devastating.
The argument of the tradition that is Camp T will undoubtedly continue to be a topic of discussion moving forward. While its lore in Sun Devil football history is strong, the realization that it may be well past its prime is hard to ignore. Currently, there appears to be no sign that Graham and the AD are ready to end the traditional week of Camp T, but massive improvements are needed. Drainage upgrades to the playing surface appear to be the biggest priority, but those will be costly. More improvements are also needed in the cabins and dining areas to meet the demands of today’s student athlete. As the completion of Sun Devil Stadium is another year away, fundraising for Camp T improvements will take a backseat. With that said, here’s to hoping the ‘hee bee jee bee’ curse doesn’t strike the 2017 edition of the Camp Tontozona family vacation.
While the curse may have cancelled the 2016 Camp T experience, it didn’t ruin the weekend. The rain only appeared again for an hour or so on Sunday and the new camera gear captured the campground’s wildlife. Special thanks to ASU Devils Den twitter follower @ChinLee for the inspiration to put this experience into words.