Monday, April 1, 2013

Camping with our Boys, Ramping Up

It's April 1st, and camping season is right around the corner. Being the father of two young boys I know how excited those boys are to go camping again. I also know how quickly a pleasant camping trip can turn south and end up with tears and frustration. Over the past 3 summers my wife and I have developed a lot of good habits, and uncovered some bad habits, all in the hopes of developing the same love of the great outdoors in our boys that we already have.
With that in mind here's a handful of tips we've come up with that may help you out the next time you head out to camp:

1. Preparation.
As I said it's April 1st and for us our camping season has already begun. Have we been to camp? Unfortunately not yet, but since about mid February, when we visited the Erie RV and Camping Expo, we've been plotting out our summer activities.

Our primary location is a cabin that has been in my family for nearly 50 years now, so our first order of business is circling the weekends we want to go there. My uncle uses the camp regularly as well, so to maximize everyone's enjoyment I work closely with him to secure our weekends.

Next we look at other weekends, and types of camping we want to do this year. My father has a small camper that's truly built for 1 or 2 people, but our boys are so young we're going to give it a try. Figuring on the 7 year old sleeping on the fold down table, and the 2 year old sleeping with us, it will be cramped quarters for sure. It will also be the perfect reason to keep everyone out in nature, and not huddled up inside a camper. 

We also want to attempt tent camping this year. We've had a few failed attempts at this in the last couple years, but now I think we're ready to try it. I've scouted a couple campgrounds with lots of amenities and with any luck we'll have a good time. With all of this in mind we've got to take a close look at the type of gear we have and make a list of what we'll need to buy

2. Organization
The natural next step is getting everything organized. There's nothing worse then forgetting that critical piece of gear, or hustling around the house trying to fide it, when you wanted to be on the road 30 minutes ago. My wife and I have a supply of camping goods that we keep segregated in a rubbermaid tub. This includes old housewares that we no longer use in our kitchen, but are in good enough shape to go camping. By having these set aside, we can immediately grab that tub, inspect that everything is there, load it up, and our camp kitchen is ready.

Since a typical camping weekend has been on our minds for months before it happens, getting organized the week of, is just part of the excitement. We'll typically leave Friday afternoon, so clothing is packed Thursday night, with Friday's clothes laid out and ready. Toiletries will have to be packed up after they are used Friday, and then they are placed in the top of the bags for ready access. Food was typically purchased several days before, but anything cold will need to be packed into coolers the day of.

**My wife and I have learned that being organized, and getting packed up is really one of the most critical steps. Almost no matter what else happens, if you have what you need, and got off on a good step, you can always salvage a camping trip. Take your time with this step, it absolutely will pay off.

3. Activities
"The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray."
No matter how well organized you are something will throw a monkey wrench in the plans. That's exactly why we like to have a few more activities planned then we actually have time for. We won't stress out and try to cram everything in. Instead we'll roll with what we have time for. Within all our plans we'll have to have a few rain activities planned, becuase a rain day eventually happens to all of us. That weatherman was wrong and the low pressure system shifted, dumping rain on your perfectly pitched tent. How are you going to handle that? What other activities can you do?

Rain days are great days for roadtrips. Your initial intent of this trip may have been to hike down to an unfamiliar river and drowned a couple worms, but since the weather isn't cooperating, why not hop in the car, and put some miles in the rearview. My wife and I did exactly this on the 2nd day of our summer vacation camping trip last year. The rain blew in, so we loaded up and headed towards a campground I had circled on the map, but never had the time to scout for a future trip. Not only did we find one of our favorite public campgrounds, with great views of Kinzua Resevoir, and cute little cabins, but we also found an amazing butcher, who produces 22 varieties of sausages. We tried 2 last year, and plan on going back to try even more this year.

4. Advocate for each other
I have never claimed to be some super amazing father who never gets frustrated. For better or worse I do. This is where as parents we need to advocate for each other. When my wife's patience wears thin, I make an effort to step in and find another activity for the boys to do, while she gets a drink of water and clears here head. She'll do the same for me. Parenting is tough, and parenting in a confined space and time, when everyone wants to do something different is tougher. You've got to have each other's back, and not let a couple bad attitudes ruin the whole weekend.

5. Enjoy it! 
With everything else in mind, the most critical thing to do is to enjoy it! You're out in nature, a place that most of us only get to visit. So who cares if you forgot to pack the extra socks, or if you didn't bring that special dessert you had planned on, or if you end up with the wettest weekend of the entire summer. Shake it off and find something to enjoy. Maybe it's a card game around a small table. Maybe it's a drive down an unfamiliar road. Maybe it's sitting on the porch swing watching hummingbirds feed. You never know what little memory will really stick.

Happy Camping
Scott M

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