PART 2 of a Rookie Camping Experience
We are home. Sleeping bags are still piled in the living room. Memories are made - some good, some not so good!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, we are new to camping. Now that our first trip is behind us I can fill you in our our lessons learned and answer the question - will we ever camp again?
Just to give you a little background, we set off on our first family camping trip in search of the total eclipse and then supplemented our journey home with some fun natural wonders along the way. Our initial plan included one camping stop, one night with the in-laws in Asheville, and then 4 more nights camping.
In the days before we left, I seriously questioned the sanity of camping. For years, I have known families who loved camping and I wanted a taste of this romantic, adventurous pastime. But the prep work almost did me in. The shopping! The packing! The cooking! The loading! What were we thinking?
I have to admit, I had fun looking for new recipes to try out at our campground (look forward to a blog with recipe ideas). But, because of the nature of camp cooking, there is a lot of prep work to be done. It is almost as if you have to take time off to to prepare for the vacation!
Because we live in Maryland, we had to travel over 500 miles to see the total eclipse. Apparently, a lot of other people had the same idea as we did - causing us to arrive at our first campsite in Virginia in the dark. Rookie mistake #1! Luckily, we had read enough camping blogs, recommending doing a trial run of setting up the tent before we left. With flashlights, headlamps and lanterns in hand we got the tent set up in relatively good time. Other than knowing there was an RV in the adjacent campsite, we had no idea what else lurked in the dark around us.
Next hurdle - finding the bathrooms! Again, with flashlights, headlamps and lanterns in hand, we set off in search of the promised toilets at this campsite. It took us a couple wrong turns and about a 10 minute walk and we had success - Little did we know until morning that there were much closer ones right across the way! Rookie Mistake #2!
Camp coffee and breakfast cookies (and pop-tarts) down the hatch, we launched off to Asheveille. After a wonderful sleep and homecooked food, we headed to the zone of totality! Warned that there might be 90,000 other eclipse viewers coming to town, we got an early start. Much to our surprise, there was hardly any traffic. Undeniably, the most entertaining part of the ride was getting a response from our homemade sign on the window:
Southern hospitality was at its finest when we parked at the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Dillsboro, North Carolina as our viewing area. Not only did they have great food available, they opened up their air-conditioned fellowship hall and gave us full use of their bathroom facilities. Amidst a party-like, expectant atmosphere we witnessed the unfolding of the eclipse with others from around the country. I didn't know what to expect but it was truly spectacular.
Wonderstruck by the eclipse, we headed to our next stop - HurricaneCampground in Mount Rogers National Recreation area - determined to get there in daylight. We did it! We found our picturesque campsite, set up our tent and began the task of making our first camp dinner. Given the task of choosing our first dinner, our son selected hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls roasted in foil over the fire. No problem!
No problem, unless the wood is damp and it takes an hour to get the fire going! Darkness slowly snuck in, Hangry children wanted food, now! Rookie Mistake #3 - trying to cook in the dark! Once we finally ate, we stashed our dirty dishes in the car, too tired to deal with them that night. Camping wasn't looking so good. Especially to one of my teens.
The next morning, however, my son was up playing in the creek in his pajamas while we cooked eggs and bacon on the campstove. With camp coffee in hand, the smell of bacon swirling in the air, surrounded by nature, a peaceful feeling set in and camping was beginning to grow on me.
My husband had researched and found some great day trips for us. We spent the middle part of the day exploring Grayson Highlands State Park, hiking among the wild ponies. After a great day, we made it back to camp in plenty of time for a gourmet dinner and s'mores. But, there was dissent in the ranks.
One of my daughters was not enjoying camp life. Unable to articulate what she didn't like, we had a family meeting and made a compromise. Rather than tent camp for two more nights, we would rent a cabin and hike a trail we had picked out to finish out our week.
Feeling a little bit like a failure, I have to admit it was nice to sleep on a real matress, and have running water inside! Looking back, I think we should have tried a shorter trip with the kids before we set off for 5 nights. In addition, I have to wonder if we hadn't made our rookie mistakes at the beginning, if my daughter might have not had a negative reaction to camping.
So, will we camp again? Time will tell. Four of us liked it. One didn't. Maybe she will be open to try it again - or maybe she can stay with Grandma.
Something I kept asking myself on the trip was, why put this much work into a trip - and it was a LOT of work - when we could just check into a hotel and eat at restaurants? I have to say, it makes me appreciate the conveniences of life a lot more. The fact that I can wash my dishes in a sink is a luxury - there are people in the world who can't! Being able to spend time with the family away from distractions is an even greater luxury. No wi-fi, no housework, no normal responsibilities stand between the simple act of just being together and making memories.
PART 1 of A Rookie Camping Experience
Confession time....I have never been tent camping, until now. Yes, I know I am a nature blogger and it doesn't seem consistent, but it's true. Being outdoors is one of my favorite things but there are some valid reasons why I have avoided this outdoor-lovers pastime until this point in my life.
What led us to this momentous family milestone of going tent camping is the upcoming eclipse. The closest vantage point for us is about an 8 hour drive from home. As we discussed where we could see it and how we could squeeze out a memorable last hoorah vacation before school starts, we landed on camping.
Bear in mind that my three remaining kids at home are teenagers. My son couldn't have been more excited - his mentality is that we FINALLY get to go camping. My daughters on the other hand are less enthused. Picture eye rolling, lots of sighing and questions like, "Are we hiking EVERY day??"
Needless to say, it has taken quite a bit of planning and discussion to get everyone on the same page. Two days from now, we will be heading off to North Carolina, car loaded to the hilt with camping gear for the inaugural family trip. Whether it will be the first of many or an experiment that failed miserably is still to be determined. Stay tuned for Part 2.
In the meantime, let me tell you why I haven't been so keen to tent camp up until now:
1. The whole bathroom thing.....
I am just not excited nor talented at peeing in the woods. (Don't even talk about the other kind!!) My first attempt at peeing in the woods out of desparation ended up with urine soaked underwear. Yes! Disgusting! My husband tells me its a physics thing. I prefer to say that I am just not designed for toilet-less bladder relief.
I have to tell you, though that I did have success last year when my husband and I took a backpacking trip in Banff National park. Before we left, my older daughter had proudly presented me with a plastic device that was sure to solve my problems. Basically a female urinal, this device was an epic fail when tried at home! Realizing this device was not going to be my savior, I had to go device-free. Success!
The key, ladies, is positioning yourself uphill, deep squatting and getting your clothing around your ankles. Peeing in the woods made me feel like a real outdoor girl.....sort of. In all honesty, I'd pick a smelly outhouse to dropping my pants in the woods!
So, that said, on our first camping trip, we have selected campsites with bathrooms. Maybe next time we will try the backcountry....You never know!
2. Equipment out the whazoo!
UPS deliveries have been streaming in at our house in the last few weeks with camping equipment - thanks to end of season sales. Do you know how much gear it takes to go camping with a family of 5? (We actually have 4 more kids who have moved on to adulting - that is 4 less people to drag,,,,I mean take...camping, which may be why this is happening so late in our parenting life.)
Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, stoves, pots, pans, lanterns,wash tubs ......The list is endless. Camping is not a cheap or simple endeavor. Reason #2 is a big one. Let's just say, I hope this is fun because we have acquired a lot of "stuff."
Another aspect of why I have been avoiding camping is the whole sleeping bag situation. Sleeping in a sleeping bag for me is akin to being put in a straight jacket! I am a side sleeper and there just isn't room for that and sleep just doesn't happen. With that said, my research-gifted husband thinks he has come up with the ultimate camping solution. It is some type of "sleeping system" composed of self-inflating bed pads that hook together, quilts and pillows. I will let you know how it works out.
3. Hours of Food Preparation
Having witnessed friends who have gone camping and seen them preparing food for days ahead of time, I did not see the value of camping. THIS is vacation?? Camping is not something you can pull off without some serious planning. Sure if you go last minute you can grab some hot dogs and a can of beans, but who wants to do that for a week? Not me!!
So, I have been doing some research and looking on Pinterest (probably a mistake) and I am determined to have some yummy, non-packaged food meals on our first camping trip. Aside from the traditional S'mores, we should be doing some fine dining. I will let you know how it goes. (And by the way, my son got to plan a meal and he chose hot dogs! But we are going to be wrapping them in crescent rolls for a more refined approach. And we are avoiding the beans, because you know what they do......)
Given the option of having maid service and a comfortable room or setting up a tent, prepping meals for days, peeing in the woods, I would probably choose the first option. But I am looking forward to making memories with my kids that we will talk about for years to come. I am thrilled to be spending some time away from the rat race, immersed in the woods, building connections with my kids. I can't wait to tell you how it turns out.
What were some of you favorite camping experiences? Give me the good, the bad, and the ugly!
Hi! I'm Ann - mother of seven, grandmother of two and occupational therapist. My mission is to provide the support families need to raise thriving children and to help you build a family environment that supports healthy development and a pathway to success.
Great blogs to check out:
Rain or Shine Mamma
Children & Nature Network
Follow us on Instagram