Naughton family camping trips are never boring affairs, especially when we travel with Bethany’s twin sister Charla and her family. Severe weather, equipment malfunctions, mechanical breakdowns, and threats to life and limb are to be expected whenever our families get together for “relaxing” RV adventures. Last weekend’s foray to Smithville Lake was no exception.

Travis Naughton

Having said many teary goodbyes to my second grade students on the final day of school last Thursday, I was ready to get out of town for a few days and focus on my family. I spent all day Friday packing up our camping trailer and hooking it up to our new truck. After making sure everything was ready to go, I did what any camper would do before embarking upon a grand adventure: I officiated a wedding.

As soon as the marriage license was signed and a delicious wedding cupcake was in my belly, I changed out of my ministerial robes and into a comfortable t-shirt and some faded blue jeans. Then I climbed behind the wheel of Thor, our magnificent, new-to-us, 2015 Chevy truck, with our pull-behind camper in tow.

I had been dreaming for nearly a year about what it would be like to feel the power of a Duramax diesel engine as it towed our 7,000lb, 27’ long camper up and down hills at highway speeds.

Let me just say that when the big moment finally arrived, I was not disappointed. Let me also say that I love our truck so much that I want to marry it and have its babies.

Thor’s 765 pound-feet of torque was more than up to the task at hand. With the cruise control set at 71 MPH, our speed never dipped below 70—even as we climbed hills that our old Suburban, rated at a respectable 360 lb-ft of torque, struggled to ascend at 50 miles per hour. And where the Suburban’s gas motor averaged seven miles per gallon pulling the same camper on the same trip last year, Thor’s mighty diesel maintained an even 10 MPG average.

Of course, no Naughton family vacation would be complete without some adversity and/or brushes with death along the way. Our sojourn down Interstate 70 was utterly enjoyable, but Highway 291 North? Not so much. As we passed through Independence, it started raining. My first thought was about the annoying water spots that would be left on Thor’s otherwise gorgeous black paint.

As we approached Liberty, however, my thoughts turned to genuine concern about safely making it to our destination in Smithville. At 7:00PM, the sky was pitch black, and the heavy rain reduced visibility to only a few feet in front of the truck. I realized, after a time, that I was only able to see when lightning flashed overhead.

When the streets of Liberty became rivers, water splashed in front of our headlights, making it impossible to see the road ahead. I was forced to pull over onto what looked like a safe place on the side of the road. Unfortunately, there was a steep drop-off separating the road from the shoulder, which was invisible in the deluge, and when Thor went over the edge, everyone along for the hair-raising ride shrieked in terror. Thankfully, Thor’s high ground clearance prevented any catastrophic damage from occurring.

Eventually, the rain died down a little, and after composing myself, I continued our drive toward the campground. By the time we found our campsite, it was completely dark outside—and still raining—which made backing our trailer into the cramped site a nightmare. With the help of Char’s husband Doug, I eventually parked our rig in the space adjacent to the Hecker’s RV and set up camp in the steady downpour.

The following night was even worse. Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued that called for torrential rain, damaging wind, and large hail. As we got ready for bed that evening, we discussed taking cover in the campground’s brick shower house in case things got really bad.

At midnight, things got really bad.

Strong winds rocked the RVs. Heavy rain and an occasional hail stone pummeled the campers. One bolt of lightning struck so close to us that the blinding flash of light and deafening crack of thunder happened simultaneously. But with no tornado warnings, we decided to ride the storm out in the camper where I drifted off to sleep with visions of a hail-ruined Chevy truck running through my head.

Luckily, our vehicles and RVs showed no signs of damage the next morning, but the accumulation of rain over the previous two nights caused Smithville Lake to creep into low-lying campsites and over the bike path that runs along the shoreline. The rest of the runoff is currently making its way into the Missouri River watershed, which as everyone back home in Boone and Cole Counties knows, is the last thing we need right now.

After seeing photos of the flooding and tornado damage in mid-Missouri and surviving two nights of violent weather on a Missouri campground, I couldn’t help but wonder why I still live in this state. Then I reminded myself that Missouri is a state full of raw beauty. Missouri is where my family is. Missouri is where my former students are. Missouri is where I randomly bump into happily married couples whose weddings I officiated. Missouri is my home. Missouri is my everything.

There’s no place I’d rather be.