Thursday, July 17, 2014
This one's for you, Mal. :D
Little known fact about me: I'm immune to the allergic-like reaction one gets from the saliva secreted by the all-hated mosquito... true story. It's not that I don't get bitten by them, I simply don't have any reaction whatsoever. A strange wonder for a boy who never camped a day in his life until I served as a counselor and, later in the summer, a section head for the boys aged 7 to 9. Up until that fateful summer - one with stories that could fill dozens of pages in the story of my life - I'd reacted as any normal person would to a mosquito bite... swelling, itching, cursing, wanting to scratch through straight to my bones if it would relieve the discomfort. That summer of 2000, this 19 year old version of myself realized halfway through that I wasn't reacting to their hated bites! At first I figured it was maybe because I was encrusted in a nice thick layer of dirt all the time (it was a boys' camp after all, lol - mind you the showers got AWFULLY busy every time the boys' camp staff and the girls' camp staff would join for an evening here and there) but truthfully, I was a bleached blond wind surfing instructor who spent a lot of time in the water teaching kids... so I was usually the cleanest guy in camp, lol. No, it just so happened to turn out that something had changed in my chemical makeup that summer, which has since rendered me immune to their bites. That's fourteen years of not having to deal with that awful business! Well. Clearly, the universe had decided that I was meant to spend my days in the great outdoors, and who was I to argue. By the end of that summer I'd begun a love affair with the great outdoors that still captivates me to this day. Nights spent sleeping under the stars. Canoe trips. Campfires. The breath-taking beauty of the sun rising over the lake, against a horizon hued by mist and fog. It's easy to see how Native Americans drew such intense spiritual connections with nature when you spend any considerable time beholding all of it's wonders.
I had camped a few times every summer since then until my wife and I had our first baby in 2010. He was such a handful as a baby, and so tough to get to sleep at night, that we just didn't have the will or desire to attempt camping with him. By the time he reached an age where he was super manageable (last summer), we had just had our second kid, and although she was SO much easier, my wife spent much of the summer at her parents' trailer-house up north while on Mat leave. I was focused on my weight loss journey at the time too, so we just simply did the cottage thing with family that summer (also a super fun thing to get to do now and then). Heading into this summer though, we really were craving the opportunity to get out there and camp again. Our oldest being almost four now, was primed and ready for his first camping experience, and we just thought it could be a great time. We chose to do luxury camping over hardcore camping though, as I think the kiddos are still a bit young to do something more primal like that. If there's one thing we know how to do brilliantly as well, it's luxury camping, lol. Over our years we've amassed a wide collection of camping gear as hand-me-downs or wedding gifts, and so we don't suffer for anything when we go. Our tent is a ten-man tent that friends have affectionately named "The Mansion", and we have a fold-up queen size bed frame and self-inflating mattress to go on top of it (the sleeping bags we have also can zip together to make one big queen sized sleeping bag). We've got two camping stoves and a camping grill, with a two way hose splitter that attaches to a propane tank. We've got tarps. We've got dishes, pots, pans, cutlery, knives, mallets, a hatchet, flashlights, a stove-top coffee percolator, a 5 gallon water container... we even have a fold-up Coleman Kitchen table with a little sink in it to wash your dishes, lol. We have everything you could imagine for wanting to make your camping experience as comfortable as possible. Luxury camping, it's good times. :D
We brainstormed how long we might want to camp, and felt that as a first time experience with the kids we should limit it to four nights. The thinking being that if it went horribly, then it was only a few nights to get through, and if it went wonderfully, then we'd be left wanting to get back out as soon as possible this year or next. The biggest concerns with kids is really A) will they sleep through the night without any fuss, and B) will they be entertained enough during the day to keep them out of trouble. The campground we chose to go to is a place called Sandbanks Provincial Park, and they have some of the most beautiful beach areas in all of Ontario. They also have these cool sand dunes that are naturally occurring, and provide some of the most luxurious feeling sand in which to play or even lay down upon. The water deepens very gradually as well, so it manages to stay quite warm (relatively speaking). Between going to the beach every day, going on some walks around the camp, and having brought some toys and art supplies for the kids to play with while we were prepping meals and what not, it all proved to be the perfect recipe for keeping the kids happy each day. Add to that the fact that they slept each night without issue, and we definitely found ourselves in the category of wanting to go back out camping as soon as possible.
I love the moment when I first arrive at the spot where I'm to camp. I love the thought process of eyeing up a plot of land and deciding how best to set things up given the trees, the type of terrain, and even the grading. I love laying every element out in my mind and then going about the work of executing it all. I love taking my time and just enjoying the process. Tarping is a particular specialty of mine. If you ever plan to camp in one spot for a length of time, you always have to consider the weather. To ignore the potential for rain is to find yourself having a very unpleasant time should the weather turn. If you live in a particularly arid environment, that's one thing, but here the weather guy proves to be a total dunce quite often, and we also had the forewarning of some severe weather a couple of days prior to heading on our trip. So covering the essential parts of your camping area with a tarp overhead is an absolute must. If you're camping out in the wilderness, then you can survey the best place to setup everything quite easily, but when you go to a Park, you get a site and you simply have to work with whatever mother nature provides you in that specific plot of land. Tarping can be difficult in that sense, as trees can be few and far apart, giving you nothing to tie off to and string everything up. They also don't tend to be the kind of trees you can just climb up and tie off your rope to whatever height or branch you desire. This is where a small rock, a bit bigger than your fist, becomes your salvation. Tying off your rope and wrapping it around said rock, provides you with a lovely weighted projectile that you can skillfully pitch over the higher tree limbs that you desire. You also need to consider drainage. You want your tarp to have a downward slope that drains off at one spot, onto ground that also has a slope away from your campground. Thus, the water pours off the tarp and doesn't pool in the grounds beneath you. Pitching a tent is a science as well, as your want to consider where your head will be while sleeping and what the slope of the ground is... sufficient to say, it's uncomfortable sleeping with your head at the bottom of a downward slope, lol. Clearing sticks and big rocks out from where the floor of your tent will cover is a smart idea as well, since bare feet don't appreciate waking up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break, only to step on a sharp stick left underneath the tent. Much cursing ensues. Much, much cursing. :D Anyways, it should be clear by the length I'm willing to detail these somewhat boring thought processes, that I love it all. :D
The first campfire of our trip was a really cool experience. My son has seen many campfires before in his three years of living, but he's never seen his old man build one. It's another one of my specialties, but it's also one of those things that EVERY guy ALWAYS wants to be in charge of building. Unless it's a life or death situation, I tend to be the kind of person who likes to let others have their fun, even if they stink at it, lol. :D Building a fire really isn't rocket science, and mostly comes down to needing dry dead wood, and some kindling that will catch first and help the larger pieces catch after. Ensuring space between the wood is a must as well, since fire hungers for oxygen, and if air can't flow through your stack of logs, then it simply won't burn that well. Anyways... lol, I continue to ramble about the minor details, sorry about that. :D It was fantastic to watch the awe in my son's face as the fire caught and grew into a large and steady flame. I sent him off to bring back a nice marshmallow roasting stick, and it was hilarious to watch him bring me small twigs and ask if they would work. Eventually, he brought me back a nice long and sturdy stick, and he watched in amazement as I pulled out my camping knife and went to work on it. Breaking and cutting off the random branches on the stick, I then whittled a nice clean point at the roasting end of the stick. It just blew me away how fantastic he thought all of these simple little things were. I'd never grown up seeing these things, so it wasn't as magical to me in my older years, but to him it was all just so marvelous.
The kids turned in so perfectly that first night (as they did every night following). Evan was so excited about sleeping in his new sleeping bag that he kept saying how sleepy he was as early as 4pm, lol. You could tell by his voice that he was only saying that because he knew that sleep meant he could go into his sleeping bag. I got him a bag with pictures of planes from the movie "Planes" on it, and again, it was all just so special and exciting to him. After they turned in for the night, my wife and I pulled out a bottle of wine and enjoyed a spectacular color show in the sky, courtesy of the setting sun and the stormy clouds that had been moving in and out of our region all day. The colors of orange in the sky were unlike any I've ever seen. Their depth, and their vividness, just incredible.
The next day began with the typical and often obnoxious birds cawing away as they awoke to the sun around 5:30 in the morning. It's always the first morning that proves to be the worst, as it seems my ears and brain adjust to their calls, and I usually sleep through it all after that. The kids miraculously remained dead to the world through it all each morning! Breakfast that morning was the classic scrambled eggs and bacon - a staple for camping breakfasts. I began cooking it, but soon found myself severely swarmed by mosquitoes. It was bad. If I wasn't immune, I'd have been COVERED in bites for sure. The only time I've ever experienced more mosquitoes was once while hiking through the woods up near Sault Ste. Marie - they were so bad that one time that you literally couldn't open your mouth to breathe, or even open your eyes all the way without them clumsily flying in. We knew that some severe storms were being forecast to run through our region that day, but not until around 2:30pm, so we decided to hit the beach, and then run into town later that day to invest in a nice dining tent to protect us from both the impending rain, but also those damn mosquitoes. As we got back to camp, the skies looked something fierce. My wife took the kids and put them down for naps, while I took off my shirt and went about setting up our new fortress of solitude before the heavens opened up. The shirt came off simply as a precaution over my assumption that it would pour before I had a chance to finish setting up. My foresight proved to be correct, as not one minute passed before a biblical amount of rain poured from the heavens. The amazing thing though, was that it was so wonderfully hot outside, and with the kids all taken care of, I had absolutely zero cares in the world. I was wearing my swim shorts, and honestly felt like a kid again. I even stopped for a minute and just stood there with my arms out, letting the rain caress all the parts of my body. I had a moment. It was a good one. :) The tent went up nice and quickly after I set back to work, and my wife stayed under it's dry protection while I transferred chairs and gear into it's 15' x 14' space. The kids slept... the adults drank... and we enjoyed the serenity of the rain colliding against the world around us while we stayed dry. We also broke out our classic vacation game: Skip-Bo. It's a fantastic card game that was part of a wedding gift from a friend of ours. It's been with to Panama, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Switzerland, and numerous campgrounds across Ontario. Playing it with some booze in your system is an absolute requirement. :) It continued to storm and pour up until 6:30pm that night, and the kids managed incredibly throughout it all.
The rest of the week was sunny and warm, and the beach was our best friend during the days. The nights revolved around a steady regiment of dinner, dishes, campfires, and relaxing over beer and s'mores once the kids were in bed. It's a good thing my wife and I enjoy each other's company as much as we do, lol, cause when you rid yourself of all other distractions, it was just us and that fire. :)
I'm going to finish this post in a second part tomorrow, cause I have to go now. Stay tuned!!!