Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hiking in Springtime

Finding the mountains through the clouds!
 This was early on in our camping adventures.  Back when I couldn’t convince the children to come in out of the spring or summer rains when we were at home. 

We were camping in Maryland and hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.  The weather had been miserable, off and on rain.

I always try to look at things positively.  This is important when camping with kids if you want to enjoy what’s happening around you.  No one can predict what the daily weather will be like when you’re far from home.  You adjust your plans or deal with what you have.

We were telling stories at breakfast, trying to decide what to do that day.  I wanted to lift the children’s spirits, to help them see beyond the dreary weather.  I looked over at my husband, noticing that even his spirit was beginning to droop trying to figure out what to do with five kids smack dab in the middle of nature in the rain.

“Hey guys,” I began, a huge smile creased my face. 

My husband’s eyes widened.  Was it fear of my next words?

“Mom and Dad want to go play in the rain,” I told them.  “Want to come along?”

My husband breathed again and nodded. 

After all these years of camping with kids, rain happens.  If it wasn’t a thunder storm, we hiked along anyway.  Waterfalls are bigger in the rain.  Streams bubble along, rivers rage.  Trees cry, trails squish, and rocks show their true colors.  Mountains play hide-and-seek in the clouds.

Donning our quilted raincoats for warmth and protection from the rain, we sloshed through puddles that day wearing our old sneakers.  We climbed up into the clouds, spun around through rain drops in fields.  Maybe we were all pretending to be Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain—minus the umbrella.  
Iconic Kelly in Singing in the Rain

Camping is what you make of it.  Take the wet with the dry and create your own adventures.  Newspaper can be stuffed into wet sneakers later to help dry them out.  Just don’t forget to leave the damp sneakers outside the tent, under cover, to dry.  There’s a good chance they could smell like wet skunk.         

Hiking in the springtime.  Sometimes it can be like giving the kids permission to go play in the rain.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Get Gear in shape for the Camping Season

Okay, so maybe I did work the children
a bit too hard cleaning the camper. 
But now we’re ready for a season of adventure!
Ahh…the fresh air of springtime.  The flowers are popping.  The birds are yakking.  The temperatures are warming.  And the sun—glorious sun—is happy.  *Sometimes!* 

Early spring is a good time to lug all that camping gear out of the attic, basement, or garage to make it adventure ready for the camping season.  Here are a few tips we use.
Sleeping bags and tents can become musty or damp-smelling stored all winter long.  Open sleeping bags flat and flip them over the clothesline on a less humid, sunny day.  Set up tents in the backyard to air.  

If a sleeping bag must be washed, check the manufacture tag first.  Then unzip the bag to wash.  Most sleeping bags can be washed in large washing machines.  Front loaders or the high efficiency top loaders work best.  We’ve found air drying the bags on a clothesline is the best way to dry them.

            Tents, on the other hand, need to be scrubbed if the canvas is soiled. 
·       Set the tent up and stake it down to keep it taut.  This allows for air flow.  
·       Use low phosphate detergent to protect the waterproofing.  Nikwax seems to be a good cleaner for waterproofed fabric.  Follow the directions and mix it with water. 
·       Wash inside the tent and then outside.
·       Hose down the tent and let it bake in the sun on a dry day.

Lightweight nylon pup tents work best this way as well so you don’t lose the water proofing of the material and you can work on particular stains.  Kristin Hostetter, gear expert at Backpacker.com, offers 6 steps to cleaning tents

            On our Jayco Eagle pop-up trailer, the inside bed and window curtains slide off to wash, but the canvas is easier to just scrub lightly while the trailer is up and open using a weak detergent mixture.  

At one time, we had a bit of mold on the canvas because we had closed the trailer in the rain, and then our passenger van broke down.  We needed to leave both trailer and van at the mechanics, for about three days.  We rented a car to get home as we were only about four hours away after travelling across the county.  We used a weak bleach mixture to be able to kill the mold and clean the canvas. 

Open tents or trailers to air dry thoroughly as soon as possible after any rain closures to prevent mold buildup.

Wipe out any cupboards with a mild cleaner in trailers or campers and clean coolers, food storage containers, or drinking/water cavities with a disinfectant.

            Next, check out the equipment. 
·       Test the propane grills or barbeques. 
·       Check hoses and connectors for clogs or bug nests. 
·       Run water or air through them when possible. 
·       Look for cracks or holes. 
·       Use a proper repair kit found at a camping store or online if the damage is small or replace the hose when necessary.  

Depending upon make and model of tents or other camping equipment, a quick search online showed me that parts are available for purchase. 

Oh, and don’t forget to check the port-a-potty, if you have one.  Make sure any seals are firm and air tight.  Wipe it down with a disinfectant before use this season.

And remember to allow the children to help whenever possible.  Camping with kids is a family affair. 

Now you should be all ready for your next great camping adventure.  Please offer any tips you may have to maintain your camping gear.  Thanks! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Difference Between Weather and Climate When Camping

Oh sure, with the sun out it's warm.
These things are drafty!
It’s important to understand the difference between weather and climate when camping.  Simply put, weather is day to day.  Climate is not.  Climate is how a region behaves over the long term.

Case in point.  Wisconsin is just below the Canadian border.  It’s by the Great Lakes.  It has cooler summers than New Jersey, way south of it.  We forgot about this when we went camping one summer.  I mean we knew to take layers: long pants, tee-shirts, long-sleeved flannel shirts, sweatshirts, windbreakers, quilted raincoats. 

But we never thought of winter coats and hats and scarves.  It was July!  New Jerseyans don’t think of winter coats in the summertime.  We’re too busy melting in the humid weather.

When camping with the family, you need to remember where you are heading and bring appropriate accessories: blankets, warmer clothing, even heavy coats. 

We were visiting state parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota, right in the middle of the lumberjack championship competition.  We found that out once we got up there.  It was why the campgrounds were so full.  Our son and the twins wanted to go to the competitions.  This was Paul Bunyan territory, with Babe his humongous blue ox.  We even saw the huge statues of Paul and Babe at Paul Bunyan Park by Lake Bemidji in Minnesota.  But the competitions were sold out.  So the children had to satisfy their curiosity watching the lumberjacks practice at camp.  Large piles of logs were splintered daily.  The kids loved it!

But back to my climate story. 

It was maybe 60 degrees and drizzly.  The sun hadn’t shown its warm face for two days.  Then one night the temperatures dipped to 40 degrees. 

This was colder than when we camped in Newfoundland.  And would you believe, that was the only night we had rented a reproduction of a Native American Plains teepee for the family at camp—with no hook-ups.  We thought it would be a novelty for everyone. 

Oh, it was a novelty all right.

“Rent a teepee!”   My husband grumbled as his whole body shivered violently.

“It sounded good in theory.”  I tried to console him—and steal some of his heat.  But he kept moving away.  I needed contact for this heat thing to work.

We all slept in a huddle in the middle of the teepee and wore all our clothes and then heaped whatever didn’t fit over everything else on top of the blankets. 

My husband tried to roll over again.  He fluffed the blankets; and then fluffed them again.

I never knew such a disruptive heat source!  You would think with seven warm bodies inside a tiny teepee, we could produce enough heat to warm up the space slightly.

Unfortunately not.  Did you know that real teepees have open air space at the bottom?  This teepee came within three inches of the ground.  The thick canvas was attached to long wooden poles secured to a concrete pad covered in what looked like AstroTurf.  Even the top of the teepee was open, just like you see in books and Native American artwork.  You know, the flap that is peeled back to let the smoke from the fire out the top of the teepee.

Fire!  Gosh, did we wish we had the benefit of a warm fire that night.  But nooo, only the rain came through that opening.  It also dripped down the outer log poles and left puddles around the base of the teepee.  I thought for sure they’d become ice before dawn. 
My noes hurt it was soo cold.  I shivered and shook so much; I almost fell off the port-a-potty.  

It was a fluke, the locals said the next morning while wearing their winter coats—complete with hats and gloves.  It never goes below 50 degrees in the summer; they assured us. 

We learned our lesson.  When heading north, bring out the heavier coats. 

The sun finally returned to the area, though, while we hiked to the source of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota.  It burned brightly in a crystal blue sky and the temperature shot up to a toasty 65 degrees.  The next night wasn’t so cold and the week continued to warm up for us.  However, we were very happy to be back inside our camper for the rest of the camping vacation.

When you want to try something unique at camp, make sure you know what is provided.  Somehow we missed the fact that the teepee was just that, a teepee…with nothing inside.  We had our camping gear, but we didn’t know it would be so airy.  Of course knowing about the climate of a region you plan to camp in helps too.

            I hope spring returns soon to your area.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Snow And Sand Are More Alike Than You Think

My husband trying to be a tree and shade
 the children as we hike to the top of
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The snow piled up in New Jersey last weekend, painting the world in a beautiful whiteness.  I couldn’t help but think about how the ice crystals were like fine grains of sand in the wind as the snow drifted and swirled.  As I made my prints on the freshly fallen canvas later, the ice crystals stung my face whenever the wind kicked up.  Snow is ephemeral, I thought, although my neighbors wouldn’t believe it.  Not yet, not while we are all still shoveling slush and ice, leftovers from Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.

            I’ll admit it.  I’m odd.  I love trudging through the snow. 

            But the patterns I saw displayed in the snow from this storm on my walk with the children reminded me of another element in nature: sand.  Lots and lots of loose sand, undulating and dancing in the wind.             

We were camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.    

My husband, in his great wisdom, announced, “Let’s hike to the top.”

The children and I stared at the enormous sand castles.  I looked over at the kids.  Nuts!  They had smiles on their faces. 

“Where’s the trail?”  I asked, grabbing my canteen for another drink.

“There are no trails,” he informed me.  “Nothing to worry about.”  He moved forward, the children following behind.

I wiped my brow and trudged along behind.  Nothing to worry about, except miles and miles of thick, loose sand, blowing, sweeping, giving way under my feet. 

Closed footwear is essential.  This sand can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit according to the park rangers.  It’s best to hike the dunes in the morning or evening in the summer.  We hiked in the morning. 

            We climbed and climbed, stopping constantly, it seemed, to rest and drink; sand stinging our flesh in the breeze, sticking to our sweat-drenched, sunscreened bodies.  I would always instruct my children to wait in the shade whenever we hiked the mountains.  Sand dunes have no shade.  My husband and I provided the shade for the children when we could, using our shadows.

Because the sands shift constantly, the trek is different each time.  That’s why the trails aren’t marked.  There’s nothing to mark, just shifting sand.  We blazed our own trail.  There’s no need to worry that you’ll get lost.  It’s open 360 degrees around.  You can see the world laid out before you on top of the Great Sand Dunes.  It’s breathtaking for two reasons:  climbing in the loose sand and gazing at the view.

            I was the last to make it to the top of High Dune, the tallest peak, breathing like an old nag on her last legs.  Wait!  I did feel as though I was on my last legs.  I felt like I was standing—barely, mind you—in the middle of the Sahara, except I could see the magnificent Rocky Mountain peaks in the near distance. 

It just stuns the mind to have all these sand peaks—waves really, about 700 feet tall according to the park ranger—with a backdrop of the mighty Rocky Mountains.  The Rockies are green with trees and shrubs, capped in rock and snow, decorated in lakes and streams.  The fragile Sand Dunes are trapped between two huge mountain ranges:  the San Juan Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.  The Sand Dunes rest at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Of course, the Lees crew still needed to get down from these mighty sand dunes.  The children had a blast racing straight down the dune sides.  I, on the other hand, wished to survive this endeavor.  I plodded along the edges of the dunes when I could, like that tired old nag.  I took “straight downs” only when absolutely necessary.  You see, I knew there was a “straight up” on the other side.  Over two hours to climb to the top; we made it down to the small creek from which we started in about 40 minutes.     

Recreation?  Trudging through soft sand for almost three hours…uphill…both ways!  Yes, we could see forever, but the trek up nearly killed me.  I didn’t learn about a “dunes-accessible wheelchair” until after we made the trek to the top.  This wheelchair is loaned out free of charge for those in need at the Visitor Center. 

I made my husband buy ice back at camp.  And while they all swam in the pool, I bathed my feet in ice.  The eerie moon scape of the Great Sand Dunes invaded my dreams at night for days, at least until my feet stopped throbbing.  

I hope the weather is good where you are.  I always enjoy my seasons.  Okay…maybe not shoveling the snow.  Just hiking through it. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Visiting Family During Holidays or at Vacation Time

Slow and easy does it--even on a quad!
Happy New Year, everyone!

            Holidays are a time for visiting.  Families and friends get together to catch up on each other’s adventures during the previous year.

            So it can be during camping trips.  It’s easy to combine visiting family or friends who live in different states or even countries with your vacation plans.  You build your camping trip around the parameters of the visit.

You must remember, though, that you can’t assume your relatives or friends will be able to accommodate your family.  This much I know.  I have seven.  It is a burden to the hostess to expect her to provide shelter for your family.  So when we visited my cousin in Michigan, we camped at Metamora-Hadley State Park.  This is a beautiful park available even in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  There’s a cross-country ski trek by candlelight on January 23!      

We visited in the summertime and one evening our son—ever the fisherman—caught yellow perch and catfish in Lake Minnewanna.  Ohmygosh!  There is nothing like fresh fish prepared and eaten within an hour of catching.  Since we were camping, we coated the fish with egg and crushed cornflakes.  It’s true.  When camping, there is no need to crush the cornflakes.   

             Camping and vacation are for trying new activities.  This can be done while visiting friends and family, too.  At my cousin’s home, she has over an acre of land…and an ATV.  Immediately, six people lined up in her driveway to ride.  Luckily my husband, who has a motor cycle license, decided not to get in line.  It took me most of the afternoon to get my turn!  The children enjoyed “driving” the ATV—albeit slowly—through a field complete with manmade hills and bumps.  Yes, I drove slowly too.  You couldn’t see all the moguls through the tall grass.    

Another good reason to visit people when camping?  Delicious food prepared by someone else…who has a full kitchen and oven at her disposal to bake homemade macaroni and cheese (my children’s favorite!), and whose husband has a fully operational barbeque grill that cooks in less than an hour what would take us days to cook on a propane stove, barbequed chicken, with zesty homemade sauce.  We ate like we had been camping for two weeks eating only hot dogs and hamburgers prepared at the campfire or on a propane stove.  Wait…we had been camping for two weeks by the time of our visit.  Aside from our son’s fresh catch of the day, this meal was a godsend!

            Visiting family and friends while on vacation can be beneficial for other reasons.  No one knows an area like the locals.  My cousin tipped us off about another great Michigan state park in the Upper Peninsula, the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  She pointed out that there was nothing like the tawny brown Tahquamenon Falls.  And she was right!  This state park is also open in winter for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing with breathtaking views.  They’re having a snowshoe race in February!  

I hope your holidays are full of family and friends and visiting.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is Camping Gear on Your Christmas List?

The troops putting up the Jayco Eagle pop-up. 
Notice how happy they are?  
Our oldest  
wears the smile.  It was her turn to crank.
If it is, remember that a lot of used gear can be had on local Craig’s Lists by just typing in your location and then “camping" in for sale.  This is a great idea for used large items, like campers, trailers, tents, or stoves that you want to inspect personally.  It’s best not to buy used personal items such as sleeping bags, bed rolls, or climate clothing.  They are always better bought new.  However, the internet does hold a wealth of equipment and information, to which I am about to add my small share from personal experience.
At the time we bought our Jayco Eagle pop-up trailer, it was new, a leftover from the year before.  Our Eagle is a hard-top, manual crank-up camper that you’re supposed to turn slowly, and pause to pull out the beds on the ends of the trailer little by little.

Patience.  The five children needed to learn patience and how to work together.  They needed to crank slowly and not fight over whose turn it was to crank, for which I kept a schedule.  See “Keeping the Peace with Schedules.”  The non-crankers yanked out—carefully, another learned concept—the two end beds and jammed in the support poles underneath. 

The two dinette tables had to be set up.  They convert into beds, which helps when you have five children.  There is no bathroom or shower in it.  We use a small camp potty when absolutely necessary—another thing to buy new although potties are usually plastic and completely washable.

While researching for this blog post, I came across a wonderful website for campers and outdoor enthusiasts.  Everything Outdoor Camping is a highly useful site where you can not only purchase what you need for camping and hiking, new, but also engage in conversation with an expert about the equipment or the camp trip you are going to take.         

Please remember that you needn’t purchase thousands of dollars worth of camping equipment before venturing out upon a family camping excursion.  We started out with a 1960’s patched up canvas tent on a trailer.  See the photo here.  Besides, amenities abound at many campgrounds.  KOA Kampgrounds offer basic to deluxe wood cabins, all with electricity and some with full kitchens.  KOA’s are located just about everywhere and all you need do is bring bedding, food, and cooking and serving utensils.   

Start with basic equipment, nothing fancy, no extras.  Go on nearby camping trips for a short amount of time.  Campers can be rented for the weekend or for a week at Cruise America or another RV rental place.  Read the rental contract; calculate the insurance expense and breakdown insurance.  Always get the rental insurance, whether you are renting a car or a camper.  Practice handling the rig as it will most likely be larger than your vehicle and definitely handles differently. 

            Camping is the perfect way to see the world, be it close by or at opposite corners of the country or adjoining countries.  Steve Trommer, an award-winning seasoned Boy Scout Leader and Owner of Everything Outdoor Camping, says that “Any time spent in a tent, opens the world to bigger adventures.”  And he’s right.  In our little home away from home, in our blankets and bedding, pots, pans, and potty, we explore the world one camping trip—and family adventure—at a time.  Maybe you should try it, too.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Finding Dry Shoes in a Camper When You’re Visiting a Land of Waterfalls

Okay, so maybe the children
still have some growing up to do,
like their mother.  Notice the “bunny ears.” 
“And the huge bear swatted at the earth,” I told the children one early spring night as we ate dinner, “as if scratching at tree bark to get at the insects underneath, catching New York in the west and leaving deep gouges that filled with his crystal clear tears when he found no bugs to eat.”

Nothing!  The children continued to chew their chicken and stare at me.  Finally our second daughter, the brainiac of the group, spoke up.

“Mom,” she began, “we’re not little kids anymore.” 

*Sniff!*  True, they were tweens and teens now.  The camper is getting cozier.

“Bears don’t live in space, so they can’t scratch the earth like that,” she continued.

“But,” I countered.

“Mom,” our son added, scratching at a mosquito bite.  “There are always bugs on the earth.  It’s their home”

“Yes, but…”  I liked this explanation of the Finger Lakes Region in New York State.

“They’re glacial-formed gorges gouged out of the rock,” my husband, the realist, told the children.  “With tremendous glens and waterfalls.  Would you like to see them?”

A round of “yeses” filled the room.  The direct approach seems better now.  My husband smiled at me and I stuck out my tongue.

Well…at least the children are growing up.  So is our laundry, by the way.  It grew tenfold this year, stinking up the little trailer.  We still use the old sea bag for laundry and throw it under the dining table as a foot rest. To discover one of our laundry experiences, please go here.

We traversed the trails at Watkins Glen State Park.  Lush green forests and ferns climb over thinly-sliced strata stacked in piles of charcoal and black, crying and dripping in front of us as we climbed to the top of the waterfalls. Gorge Trail is a manicured trail; perfect…except for the steps—over 800 of them!—rising more than 500 feet in a mile and a half.  We traipsed behind waterfalls, over waterfalls, and next to waterfalls.  We climbed into a cool cave, over stone bridges. 

From the narrow, ragged gorge of Watkins Glen to the towering Taughannock Falls, a steep-sided trough in a lighter shade of soft sedimentary rock, Finger LakesRegion is full of lakes, gorges, and waterfalls. 

Whenever you hike—especially with children as they like to run everywhere to show how much faster they are than you—wear sturdy closed shoes such as sneakers or hiking boots. 

Water sculpts and cuts the rock as if it were mere material for a Halloween costume.  It can even paint the rock a darker hue.  We marveled about the turquoise waters of this region and waded into frigid crystal clear streams at the base of waterfalls.    

By the time we returned to the cozy camper, we were happy to have dry shoes to change into as we prepared dinner.  The only problem was finding a matching pair.  I told the children to tie the extra pair of sturdy shoes together.  This way, we merely had to find individual sandals for pool and shower, not individual sneakers too.

But no, the sturdy shoes get nasty if you tie them together.  At least ours did.  They tripped us constantly in the trailer.  So we released them from their tethers and they wandered about the camper aimlessly.  Sometimes we’d kick them all under the other dining table during dinner, but they never stayed there long.  And whenever we went looking for the shoes, they went into hiding.  Sometimes it’s easier climbing mountains and steps than trying to find two matching shoes in a camper. 

            Do your shoes—or socks for that matter—have a mind of their own?