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, December 11, 2011

Tubing Down the Rapids, Part 3

The rapids can be dangerous. You need full attention of where you are on the stream and what is coming up ahead. A death grip on the ropes around the inner tube doesn't hurt either.

Our second time traversing the stream, I was leading the family parade. I took a momentary glance back at my beloved family and hit rapid that dropped in level. It turned me completely upside down. I tumbled out of my tube which continued downstream without me. I was in the middle of the thickest part of the rapids, and they continued to drag me downstream. You must wear water shoes or sneakers when tubing to protect your feet if you should hit a rock or tumble out of your tube.

I desperately tried to right myself and stop tumbling. Fear penetrated my mind as the icy water blanketed my skin. When I finally gripped a rock at a more shallow section, I looked like a sheet hung outside on a blustery day. I fought to gain supremacy, to wrench my legs free from the whitewater's grip. I wanted to brace my feet on downstream rocks. But the powerful whitewater knocked me loose. I tried again to gain control of my position in midstream to be able to look around. When I could finally crouch in the knee-deep whitewater, clinging to a rock, I noticed that I was alone. The once crowded stream had been vacated just for me. All the tubers had climbed to the banks, including my family. They watched in terror, the twins tugging at my husband's suit and pointing at me.

I was smack dab in the middle of the stream, in the middle of the whitewater. My legs trembled uncontrollably as I tried to maintain my position.  My heart was pounding louder than the rapids. No tube. No way to cross the stream to the bank. Rocks everywhere. I had no choice. I had to seek calmer water downstream. I sat in the water, feet downstream as instructed in our introduction to tubing talk on the bus ride to the stream and released my grip on the rock.

I shot downstream, bouncing rump and hands off rock and rapids. The stream planed out a little and I attempted to reach the quieter bank but became trapped in an eddy. A kind tuber perched on a boulder out over the stream reached out a hand and pulled me to the bank. God bless him. He had my tube.

And God blessed us. We continued to trudge up that path to the stream head about eight times. Most times my husband struggled with three tubes as our son and the twins could only manage to lug that blasted tube up the path once. But we ALL maintained death grips on the ropes around the inner tubes once we were on the water to be sure we kept the tube rims up and us on.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tubing Down the Rapids, Part 2

Our two older girls finally decided to drag their own tubes up the pathway. Good thing the rubber is thick! This just left three young children, two adults, and five immensely heavy tubes.

Wanting to assert his independence, regardless of the strength needed to do so, our son struggled, dragging an inner tube much bigger than him up the path. He finally talked the twins into helping and the three of them lugged one tube up the mountain path.

My husband and I had our own issues carrying two inner tubes a piece up the long path to the top of the rapids. I couldn't get my arms around the tube, so I stuck my fingers under the ropes holding the wooden discs in place and dragged.

Once we got to the top, we waited our turn to wade into the frigid water and flop backwards onto the tube to allow the current to carry us downstream. The twins fit perfectly inside their tubes, folding their legs under them on the wooden discs. There's no steering in this, just floating and trying to stay on as you hit each rapid and rock along the way.

Well, the first time a twin bounced against one of those rocks, she climbed out of the tube and up onto the dry rock. Her tube continued downstream without her. Luckily, my husband was bringing up the rear and he picked her up from the rock. As I have said before, we always try to have one parent in front and one parent behind whenever we do things with the children. But this was new for us. My husband and the twin went downstream in search of her tube.

Lucky for us, a kind "Tuber" had found the empty tube as he was resting along the stream bank at a quieter part of the stream. He snatched the empty tube as it floated close by knowing it must be someone's so that when my husband and daughter floated into view, he called out, "Missing a tube?" My husband and daughter swung over to the side and the twin climbed into her own tube and went twirling away downstream.

Calm waters. Calm tubers. Calm outcomes. However, a spill in turbulent waters causes fear for all.

Monday, October 3, 2011

We Paid for This Adventure: Part 1

Our babies, the twins, were 8 now, our son 10, and the older girls were 12 and 14. It was time to pay for a challenge, as if camping with five children wasn't challenging enough.

My husband came back from the camp store office all excited, the younger kids trailing behind.

"I've got just the thing," he told me, enthusiasm twinkling in his chocolate malt ball eyes.

"And that 'thing' would be," I turned from washing the dishes with the older girls.

"Tubing down the rapids in the Great Smoky Mountains." My husband's smile was wider than the Appalachian Mountain Chain. The three younger kids were giggling.

"Wait!" I struggled to gain control of the excitement that erupted in the tent.

"It's billed as a 'family' activity according to campground personnel," he informed me.

"But our family's from the north," I reasoned. "We don't have much experience with rapids in South Jersey." I was breathing hard now.

"Well, you know how we always try what the locals do," he said.

"But the children don't know how to ride--or steer--an inner tube!"

"It's a normal pastime in North Carolina, and our campround personnel said it was safe."

"Safe," I questioned, "safe for whom?" I started saying a rosary in my mind right away, for I couldn't convince my husband or the children that I didn't think we were quite ready for this...yet.

Well we found our first "challenge" when the bus dropped us off along with many other people and a huge pile of heavy, fully inflated truck tire tubes made with rump-saving wooden discs tied in the center at the lower part of the stream [Deep Creek]. While the other people just plucked a tire from the pile and lugged it up the path to the top of the section of rapids to be able to "ride" down, we just stared--dumbfounded--at the mountain of seven tires left behind.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Busy Summer!

I have not forgotten my Camping with Kids blog. This summer, I have been very busy writing other manuscripts and busy with the family…especially those five kids!

Please forgive me. I will be back...and soon! Thanks for following my blog.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Art of Fine Dining

Every camper thinks a screen house will give them bug-free meals. Campers also believe that those three burner stoves can make meals quicker. Let me just say that you should never wait until you are famished before beginning to prepare a meal when camping...especially when you have children in tow.

Let's start with the screen house. Seven people, a picnic table, extra chairs with pool towels draped over them, cooking utensils, pots, dishes, etc., ice chests and food bins for the duration of the meal. Never leave ice chests and food bins in a screen house when not at camp. Keep any and all food in sealed containers or bags in the camper if it is secure during the day and in the vehicle at night. If you are in a canvas tent, place the sealed food in a pack and hang it from a nearby tree, at least 5 feet from the trunk or any substantial branch and at least 12 feet up in the air. Before hanging, cover the food pack with a rain poncho to keep moisture off overnight. Take the hang rope tied to the pack handle up through the neck hole of the poncho. Some campgrounds have metal bear boxes available to place foods in although you may have to share a box with other campers.

Try as I might, I can't get the children to take out the excess chairs and supplies from the screen house while my husband and I prepare dinner. It doesn't make sense. The children are in and out of the screen house 70 times during meal preparation. You see, they don't think that sound can travel through the screen and must come in to tell you something--especially if it is about a sibling. And NO ONE can come in or go out at the same time. Hence, there are usually more bugs inside our screen house than there are in a hundred mile radius. Plus we wear out the zippers before we wear out the screens of the house. But it is a good thing that there are screens, for air when we all squeeze into the tiny screen house to eat.

Now for the three-burner cook stove, a three-burner cook stove that only really cooks well on one burner. No one likes the same thing, requiring at least three different foods to be prepared--usually one at a time. Meals take at least three hours. No one volunteers to clean up, necessitating a forced labor team schedule to be made and posted of washers and dryers.

And this is called fine dining while camping.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Family Togetherness

Sometimes I need to be reminded why we camp with the family. Please allow me to step back and reflect...

You need to go camping in 110 degree weather in a tiny camper with seven people and no air conditioner to truly appreciate "family togetherness." Why we put ourselves through this each year, I'll never know. Why did we buy such a tiny 23-foot pop-up tent trailer and how in the world do we cram seven people plus supplies in it?

The thrill of adventure? Each day is an adventure camping with our family. I find myself saying the same things year after year.

"First we set up the trailer; then we go swimming."
"What shall we have for dinner?"
"I only have three burners!"
"Whose turn is it to clean up?"
"Why can't you work with your sister?"
"Put the dirty clothes in the laundry bag!"
"I slept on the dinette bed last night."
"Where are the Cheerios and peanut butter?"
"She sat in the middle last time."
"I'm not sitting next to him!"

Family togetherness? All we want to do is to show the children the beautiful world God made. It's not supposed to be this difficult. Every year we plan a three-week camping trip, away from telephones, televisions, and computers. To explore nature and enjoy the family. To work together as a team. Share stories, hopes, dreams.

We roast hot dogs and toast marshmallows by the campfire. Play charades. Climb playgrounds, rock formations, and mountains. Cross rocks in crystal clear streams; wade into icy mountain lakes. Tube down swift, sparkling rapids. Ride horseback into national parks. Observe wildlife, when the children are silent long enough to allow us a view. Echo our voices from the mountain peaks and canyons. Watch the stars pop out at night, vivid and bright.

Adventure? Family togetherness? Now I remember why we cram into this little tent trailer in the heat of the summer. To experience the thrills and joys of family life amid nature.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Entertainment at Camp: The Keystone Campers

As I said before, everyone should help when camping no matter how small the task. It may take longer this way, of course, but it can lead to some great entertainment...for the other campers I mean.

In the beginning, the children watched us set up the trailer, for how else could they learn. Our son squatted down to watch Dad pull out the legs of the trailer. All the children watched Dad flip out the canvas and poles of the collapsed tent. They even studied Mom as she lugged supplies from station wagon to trailer. Then we added a screen house to be bug free for meals. Unfortunately, all the screen house poles looked the same...to Mom.

Then the entertainment steps up a bit. Remember, camp set up occurs after driving for numerous hours, usually in the heat of summer. Now the children are ready to "help." As Dad tilts the 500 pound trailer, a brother sister team pull down each leg, pausing to count the slots to make it even while Dad's face turns red, his muscles bulge.

"My leg is shorter than yours," one member reports.

Dad doesn't care anymore. "We'll deal with it later," he tells his helpers.

Next the team of children attempts the unfolding of the tent canvas. The object is to lengthen the poles little by little, Dad instructs. Suddenly, the children are screaming inside the tent as it collapses a third time before the wing nuts are properly tightened.

The rest of the crew attempts the screen house spider skeleton with Mom. "A" goes to "B," no that's "D" Mom tells a twin. The problem is that the other twin is riding around camp on the fourth straight piece, using it as a stick pony. And now the oldest girl can't find the "E."

It is a good idea to string lights around your campsite. This helps you distinguish your campsite from another when heading back to camp in the dark from the rest rooms. Unfortunately, one of the twins becomes entangled in the lights as she feeds Dad a string from the knot.

We are almost finished setting up camp, we tell the children. We just need to unload the turtle on top of the van and the interior of the van. A production line forms. Mom tries to be on the receiving end into the trailer to distribute and organize supplies, but things move too quickly because the children wish to go to the pool. Possessions are shoved haphazardly into the trailer. No one can find the toilet paper or toothbrushes when necessary.

"What are we going to do tomorrow?" the children ask.

"Can we just get finished with today, please," the exasperated parents reply.

Camping neighbors are wonderful. They enjoy the show we put on setting up camp. One time, we received half an ice cold watermelon for our performance. We enjoyed it at dinner.

Setting up camp does take patience and time. Trust me. It gets better with practice and age.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gotta Have-a Campfire

It isn't camping without a campfire according to my children. All campgrounds, even primitive ones [without electricity or water hookups], have fire pits or rings, usually old truck tire rims, in which to place seasoned firewood purchased at the camp store. Star gazing is another nighttime camping family favorite. The two go hand in hand, and both need to be performed BEFORE the children become too tired to enjoy them...and the parents become too tired to put up with the children enjoying these activities.

The best time to start a campfire is right after dinner clean-up, while it is still light out. And once again, everyone needs to be involved for family fun to happen. Even when the twins were three, they gathered sticks and twigs for Dad, the guardian of the fire, to feed the fire. The best sticks became marshmallow sticks. The older children gathered dry leaves and bigger kindling while I offered a few left over used paper plates from dinner.

The fire needs to burn a while and settle a bit before S'mores can be attempted. This is when we discuss the day's adventures, play charades, and gather the S'mores supplies. You remember S'mores. Our children love them. First the children eat all the chocolate, usually on the sly so that when Mom looks for chocolate for her S'more, there is none. Then the children eat all the graham crackers...again without Mom's knowledge. And finally, the marshmallows--usually untoasted. For some reason, the children believe that it is the stick that makes the marshmallow "toasted." If the marshmallow is on the stick, it is toasted whether it is near the fire or not. Then the children become full but still wish to "toast" marshmallows, so they prepare them for Mom and Dad.

However, we prefer the marshmallows a little darker...okay, actually toasted. So we attempt to demonstrate to the children exactly how to toast marshmallows.

"The marshmallows need to get warm," Dad explains to the children.

"But not catch on fire," I added as our oldest daughter's marshmallow becomes flames and she drops it into the ashes of the fire.

"Patience," Dad cautions as he holds his daughter's hand with the stick and marshmallow a little closer to the coals.

Once my husband and I have our fill of the charcoaled wonders made especially for us by our beloved children, I announce that it is time to star gaze, which usually distracts the children long enough for my husband and I to discard some of the more ashy-type marshmallows. We douse the fire with a few pots of water to be sure it is completely out.

With less light pollution, the night sky opens up and God fills it with a few billion twinkling stars. We usually take a blanket or beach towels to the lake beach or field, whatever the campground has to offer, and just lie there in wonder, pointing out particular constellations that seem so clear while camping. We purchased a star chart and take it camping with us. We keep it in the tent trailer to always have it on hand.

Then after the children brush their teeth, wash their faces and hands, change into p.j.'s, and the family says prayers together, it is story time. Mom or Dad recounts life as a child or tells a story about the children as babies. A bit of family history to close out the night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nippy Nights in Newfoundland

It did take me three nights to realize that it didn't really go down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit in Newfoundland, but rather 15 degrees Celsius/59 degrees Fahrenheit. It was nippy at night, but we didn't need the long underwear that I had previously wanted to purchase. This is where layering clothing and packing for all kinds of weather comes into play when camping. Even though we predominantly camped during the summer, I brought long-sleeved as well as short-sleeved shirts, long and short pants, sweatshirts, and windbreaker jackets as well as quilted-lined raincoats.

It was so cold one Newfoundland night in July that, by dawn, everyone had climbed into Mom and Dad's bunk, nearly toppling the new trailer. With pull-out ends for bed bunks, you can't have all the weight on one end. As the trailer wobbled on its four spindly legs, my husband shouted for everyone to climb to the tables at the center of the trailer. So there we all stood, shivering in our p.j.'s and socks, wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags wondering why we decided to camp in what felt like "wintertime."

Chilly nights aside, we usually tried things that the locals do. Well, not everything. Parents draw the line at swimming in glacial lakes. The temperature was about 18 degrees Celsius in the evening. My husband and I don't venture into glacial waters when it is only 64 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, we approach frigid waters with trepidation even in 98 degrees Fahrenheit with the sun blazing down upon us. But our children? They plunge right into the frigid waters no matter what the temperature.

So my husband and I sat on Deer Lake beach, huddled in blankets and extra towels, waiting for the children to come to their senses. You see, we were warming up the towels for any "ice floes" who happen to shiver too close to the edge of the lake where they could be caught and wrapped in the warmth of welcoming arms and held tightly to arrest those uncontrollable shivers.