The Great Camping Experiment of 2015

The Great Camping Experiment of 2015

We didn’t get a family vacation this summer. We didn’t get one last summer, either, because we moved, and moving and buying a new house and starting a new job pretty much screams, “You don’t need no stinkin’ vacation.”

But I’m not bitter.

…in a near deserted-destination town just a few days the winter-side of tourist season…

There just hasn’t been enough time for a proper vacation. B did take me away for a couple days just after Mother’s Day. It wasn’t to an all-inclusive tropical resort where we were pampered night and day. It was to Northern Michigan beach hotel in a near deserted-destination town just a few days the winter-side of tourist season and where most of the restaurants were yet to open. Somehow we managed to find a few restaurants. At the first restaurant, it was us and another couple, who just happened to be on their honeymoon. B and I ate a delightful Italian meal and ordered an extra pizza to take back to our hotel room so that we wouldn’t have to search for another restaurant or leave our room if we didn’t want to. I loved our time away, just me and B. It did seem a little indulgent, but not to worry, I spent plenty of time thinking about my kids and the sitter at home eating school-bought lunches, pop tarts, and instant ramen noodles. (It’s what they requested for meals, and as long as I didn’t have to watch them eat, I could just pretend that they were eating fruits and veggies.)

Could have gone for a few more days.

Just after school was out in June this year, we took the kids to one of those indoor water park hotels. The best part of that family stay was the fact that Monkey Boy was old enough and tall enough to go on any water slide by himself. After we checked into our room, we ran down the hall to the water park where he asked, “What are we gonna do first?”

I said, “You can go do anything you want.”

And then he ran to the nearest water slide. Ash ran after him, and I didn’t see them for two whole hours. B and I went to the outside pool where we had a fruity drink with whipped cream and sang along with the 80s classic rock playlist blasting over the loudspeaker. It was almost paradise. Could have gone for a few more days.

It was almost paradise.

Our mini vacays this year are a far cry from a few years ago when we would spend the last two weeks of summer in Orlando. We starting going when Monkey Boy was 1 year old. Our last year was when he turned 5 years old. Those were the non-stop, action-packed, theme-park vacations, where my goal was to simply keep Monkey Boy and the Girl so busy that they actually slept at night. On the days when we weren’t exploring the sprawling theme parks, we were at and in the resort’s pool, complete with kiddie fountains and play areas and water slides. Those days were both glorious and exhausting. By the time we returned home and the kids went to school and B went to work, I would just lay on the couch for hours. Unpacking and laundry be damned.

The other day, B and I were talking about vacations and how we both really needed another one. And then B started reminiscing about his vacations when he was a kid. His family did a lot of camping, and he has fond memories of tent camping. There was just something about being in the woods, he said, eating food cooked over a campfire, and exploring trails and rivers, and discovering nature’s secrets. He also said he misses tent camping. He wants to go.

He also said he misses tent camping. He wants to go.

We did a lot of tent camping when I was a kid, too. One of my earliest memories was tent camping at Big Bear in Southern California. The tent was a dark green, heavy canvas monstrosity. My parents were well equipped for our camping adventures, with all the camping gear, including large red sleeping bags that weighed about 10 pounds each, a propane stove, coffee pot, and melamine plates. We even had a portable kiddie potty in the tent for those middle of the night urgencies. Apparently that particular trip, not only did the tent leak, the potty got kicked over in the middle of the night. Shortly after that, my parents got a trailer for camping.

And a few years later, they bought got an RV, in which we traveled all across the United States.  

After my parents retired, they bought a camper, and a few years after that, they bought themselves another RV, a big one.

B and I got their camper.

Before the kids came along, B and I would load up our two dogs and go camping, in the camper with the giant air conditioner and a TV and VCR and a cabinet full of VHS movies. We usually ended up on the Washington Coast, but sometimes we camped in the mountains. That camper also took us to the Great Salt Lakes, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and Dallas, Texas and the Grand Canyon. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we drove the camper across the northern United States to our new home, and after a couple of years, and no camping at all, we sold the camper. There was simply not enough time in our schedule to get away for weekends.

But we missed camping. Well, B missed camping. I missed the getaways.

Before we had the camper, B and I didn’t really camp. We went tent camping once the summer after we were married. We pitched a borrowed small dome tent along the Columbia River in Washington, right where it meets with the Pacific Ocean. We explored the river’s edge and the tide pools and built sandcastles on the beach and sat in the sand watching the sunset and waiting for the tide to take our castles to the sea. We cooked our food over a campfire, and the one night rained, B cobbled together a really long stick so that I could sit in the tent to stay dry and still roast marshmallows over the fire. That was the same night that our air mattress lost all its air, and we woke up with nothing but tent and a flattened air mattress between us and hard rocky ground. But we were young and flexible and madly in love.  

After that, when we did venture to the great outdoors, we stayed in rustic cabins with bathhouses several hundred yards away that made that midnight bathroom break a quick sprint. (I was also known to just find the nearest tree and hope there wasn’t a bear waiting behind it.) The whole cabin experience was almost like tent camping excpet for instead of canvas or nylon, there was plywood or logs with spaces large enough for the wind to blow through. And there were beds, if you could really call them that. Again, we were young and flexible.

B and I took the kids tent camping a few years ago, because B wanted to go and because every kid should go tent camping at least once in their childhood. In the heat of the Pennsylvania summer, we packed up the kids, the dog and half of our kitchen into the car, and pitched a tent along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. It was the first, and only time I should add, our kids have been tent camping. And when we got home, I needed a vacation from that vacation.

So the other night, with nostalgia in his voice, B brought it up again, the whole tent-camping idea. He said that we wouldn’t be able to take an extended vacation again this summer but maybe we could take a couple days to go tent camping.

“The kids would love it,” he said. “Fresh air, starry nights, campfires, pine trees.”

“We have a fire pit and pine trees in our yard, “I said. “You could pitch a tent in our backyard and sleep out there with the kids anytime you want. Unfortunately, someone needs to stay inside to keep the cat company.”

 Yep, I’ll take one for the team.