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Where I have the bright idea to take my toddlers camping

by John on June 25th, 2012

I’m someone who never seems to be far from a computer, so you might not think that I enjoy camping . . . but I do. A lot. Being amongst nature makes me happy — you have to step back and live more simply, lead a less-complicated life, and that makes me happy1.

First, there was time during college, where a group of us would grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and head out to a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. If we were lucky, we remembered a blanket or something – but that’s about it. It was a great time – but hardly “camping.”

Then, after I became all adult-like and graduated, Duffy & I would to get together with two other couples couple of times a year — we’d pick a place, gather our stuff, and head out into the woods for a weekend. Well, I shouldn’t talk much about “my stuff,” because, at the time, I wasn’t really a camper. I mean, I enjoyed camping, just as much as I do today, but I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Fortunately, the friends we’d go with did know what they were doing, and had camping supplies to spare.

Then, kids happened. And the camping basically stopped. And that is ok, because kids are kids. A few months ago, though, Duffy mentioned that she missed camping, and wondered if we thought the kids might be old enough for camping, and I said “sure, why the hell not?” and we arranged for a weekend.

In the years between camping trips, I’ve actually picked up a few things — last year, when I went to #RAGBRAI, I kind-of camped from location to location. I’d bike into town, set up my tent, and then find beer and a restaurant. While there were no campfires, I had to get pretty good with a tent. By the end of the ride, I would have my campsite set up within 15 minutes (because the faster I got things set up, the faster I could head out to find the beer). And, of course, to set up a tent means that I had to have a tent to begin with.

So now, since I have everything I needed to camp2, I started planning the trip.

I picked my location carefully:

  • I wanted anyone who wanted to, and could, join us, to join us, so I needed a camp site that wasn’t overly booked, hopefully with several campsites adjacent to each other.
  • I wanted a campsite that wasn’t too too far from civilization, because camping with toddlers meant that we’d likely need to get something from a Walmart or even possibly “camp” at a hotel room.
  • I wanted it to be in Delaware3
  • I wanted it to be far enough away from the actual beach so that we weren’t camping on the beach, because one of the people I wanted to join really, really hates the beach, so I tried to accommodate — it turns out she couldn’t come, anyway, but I was still very happy with the campground.

Taking all of my rules into account, I found Killen’s Pond State Park, and there was something even better with this — they had primitive camping. Normally, when I go camping, I’m used to setting my tent up among a whole pile of RV’s . . . and, not to take anything away from RV “campers,” but, well, if you’re going to head out into the woods, why not go the extra little bit? Part of camping was to “unplug” from the week, and the last thing I needed was my kids crying because they could see somebody watching cartoons within their camper while our best entertainment was provided by the campfire.

And? Killen’s Pond State Park has a water park associated with it. And water parks are like bow-ties, they’re cool.

After several emails, we had 3 families who would be joining our family of four:

I took Thursday off of work to get all of the stuff that I needed to go camping, but didn’t have, then traveled down with the males in the Deeds clan to pitch our tents. Simply, it was decided that there would be a lot less frustration going around to have campsites set up without toddlers getting in the way — though, hearing stories, from the mothers in question, of how bedtimes went Thursday night, I’m not sure that was the case.

Anyway, Thursday was hot. Really freaking hot. I believe the temperature got to 97°F (36°C for those of you on better systems of measurement), but the heat index pushed well past 100. And these primitive sites? They’re so primitive that you can’t even drive up to the campsite. You park in a lot, and then you lug your stuff . . . and, of course, I chose a site that was the furthest from the lot. And it was hot.

So, we lugged. And we sweat. And we lugged some more. I had to stop and sit down while setting up my tent just because I couldn’t see — sweat was pouring into my eyes and that was it . . . salt blindness. But, we managed to get everything established and then went out for dinner . . . because, well, cooking on a campfire when you feel like you’re cooking, yourself, isn’t all that appealing5.

We found a little pizza place, ordered wings & pizza (I, um, may have had a beer or two), and then some beer to go . . . because, well, Kirsten wanted a beer when she got there . . . and I wanted a several beers that night.

CampfireThe night was spent with a campfire & ghost stories, and zombie stories, and John drinking beer, and heat. See, the temperature never broke. I might have fallen asleep around 3, but I’m not so sure. I woke up at 5 because my internal clock is a motherfucker but then I crashed hard. After waking a second time, the males of clan Deeds and I went exploring around a bit – just seeing what might be around the campsite, and then, as the girls got closer, I realized that I could nap. So, I did.

Then girls (and CJ) arrived just before noon on Friday, and it was, again, really hot. We schlepped the stuff that they brought down (toddlers require a ton of stuff, no matter where you’re traveling – it’s just a rule) and decided to pack a lunch before heading to the water park. Because, hey, hot day? Water park!

So we put on our swimsuits (they frown at public nudity in state parks, apparently) and journeyed to the water park.

Only, if you read the sentence where we talk about heading to the water park, you’ll notice the “pack lunch” bit. Yeah, we didn’t do that — all of us, four adults, two tweens, and three toddlers completely ignored the fact that we should think about what we need to eat (not, necessarily, that we rely on the toddlers to do our remembering for us, but it would be helpful if they would start “pulling their weight” and fill in their parents’ mental gaffes).

The kids had an absolute blast. The adults did, too. But, when hunger set in, it was time to head back, so we did, breaking toddler hearts as we did so.

Soon, though, Dann, Karen, and their boys arrived, and, basically once they got themselves set up, it started to rain. And rain hard.

Toddler Friendship

Duffy documents the effects in video better than I can hope to put in words, but, well, getting rained upon, while camping, isn’t so bad when you have toddlers who are stomping in pudles, screaming about, and laughing their heads off. I’ll admit, when the skies opened, I was worried that out weekend would mimic an adventure with Calvin & Hobbes & Calvin’s dad, but things weren’t too bad. And the rain forced the temperature to break. And most of our tents kept from getting too flooded. And, again, the toddlers had a blast — a dirty, dirty blast.

Calvin & Hobbes, Camping

We cooked shish-kebabs over the campfire for dinner. Hooray for simple foods.

Then Fran & Jamie & the nerdling arrived and all was good with the world.

I should say that it’s impossible to not get dirty while camping — it’s just part of the territory. And, to that day, I had never actually taken a shower while camping (I don’t count #RAGBRAI as actual camping), but I took a shower that night with CJ. Because, damn, he was muddy.

S'MoresSoon after the shower, we did s’mores before the skies opened up again. I took care of a few things that needed to be taken care of (dishes that needed to be washed, trash that needed to be thrown out) before heading back, ready for rainy alcohol-driven hijinks . . . but every one was asleep. Boo for responsible adults.

Now, Thursday night, I might not have slept well, because of the heat, but I was comfortable on the air mattress. But, adding a wife and two toddlers? Well, the air mattress became difficult to navigate. If I got too close to the edge, I just found myself on the tent ground, and that’s really not fun. I ended up lying perpendicular to the mattress, at the foot of the bed . . . fortunately, my wife is goddamn living Hobbit and made this physically possible.

Saturday saw us waking up early, because my kids are assholes eager to get up & about. Breakfast, water park, lunch (we remembered to pack it this time!), then back. Duffy had a pretty nasty cold, so we went out for cold medicine as the kids napped, and napped hard, in the air-conditioned van. Upon returning, Leila joined Karen & I (and a bunch of the kids) on a little hike about the pond before we broke out the sangria.

During that “hike,” my daughter kicked ass — for most of the walk, she demanded to walk, herself. If she tripped over a root, she dusted herself off and pushed forward to catch up with the kids. I’m really, really looking forward to watching my two grow up, especially I can cultivate a love of hiking in them. Though I dread the day that I tell Leila that the butterfly sandals are, just perhaps, not the best choice for a mountainous trail.

Anyway, back to the sangria, which was yummy. We drank it all. And all of a box of wine. And whatever beers we could find. When I say “I’m really not that drunk?” It means that I’m either not drinking, or I’m really drunk. We drank and laughed and looked at the fire and told stories . . . CJ decided that he needed to be held to sleep – but, we were camping, so anything goes.

I don’t know when I went to bed – but I know I slept a drunken sleep. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t embarrass myself too thoroughly.

Dogfish Head BeerThe next morning we woke, breakfasted, and worked our way. 12 of us made it to Dogfish Head for lunch & beer & good times. Then Duffy & I took the kids to the beach (a much further walk than either of us thought it would be, but it felt good to get a little bit of a workout along the way). And, however much I’m looking forward to watching my kids growing up, my daughter’s demand to window shop along the way to the beach frightens me to no end.

We made it to the beach, put our toes in the Atlantic, and called it a good trip. On the way back, we told CJ his birth story as we drove past Beebee Medical Center, and the little boy just pointed at the hospital saying “I born.” I, um, might have gotten a bit choked up thinking about the moment we walked into a postpardum room, looked around, and heard “Look, there are your parents!” from a woman who gave us the best gift she ever could.

I’m quite fond of my son, in case you didn’t know.

1 ;Boobs also make me happy, yes, but this is a blog post about camping.
2 ;I did not, in fact, have everything that I needed camp. In fact, I still needed a whole lot of stuff — but I had a tent, and, dammit, I thought I was ready
3 ;When you come to a site like “Daddy Runs a Lot,” well, you should expect a bit about me being a father & all. My first child is not biologically related to me. After a long long journey (that was equal parts frustrating, painful, and wonderful), we adopted Coltrane from a hospital in Delaware. And now that he’s old enough to start grasping just what that means, I want him being proud of his birth story, so I plan to head back to the hospital he was delivered into our arms in regularly — this was just the first trip. My wife details just how that all went over, for those of you who might like a bit more story to it4
4 ;What, am I not wordy enough for you all by myself? Sheesh.
5 ;Besides, there were no women there, so there was nobody to try to impress with our manly campfire cooking skills.
  1. We’re going camping with the kids in August. I am not so much of a camping person, but our one night last year was fun. Of course this year Abbey is more scared of bugs, so there’s that. Also? Rain? I would have been at a hotel within minutes 🙂

    • I can’t wait to hear the recap! And, if it had actually rained the whole time and flooded the tent, I may have pulled out the credit card and waved the white flag.

  2. I loved the way you told the story of all the weekend’s happenings and I was kicking myself for not joining you all. I do love to camp and hike.

    Also, this part: “fortunately, my wife is goddamn living Hobbit and made this physically possible.” totally cracked me up.

    Good times.

    • Well, this trip was so successful that it will need to be repeated. And you’re welcome anytime!

      The “goddamn living hobbit” is actually a line uttered by my dear wife, on the night of her bachelorette party. And I like to bring it back every now & then.

  3. So wish we could have joined you — I enjoyed watching it all via Instagram! The Hobbit line cracked me up as well, I so adore Duffy.

    • It really was a blast — but we still have Blogher to do that “face to face” meetup, right?

  4. Twelve summers of canvas tent camping, six spent on staff, overseeing primitive trips involving canoes and bicycles and hiking, teaching camping skills to my trainees… yeah. So. Done. With. Camping.

    I have logged my hours.

    My son can go to camp, too. And log his.

    But your trip sounds like fun, and the tweets and Instagrams were ADORABLE.

    • I can see how that can get old, and leave a bad taste. I can — fortunately, I still have a very strong “I need to leave technology behind” pulse in my body (though, truth be told, I don’t think I ever left my cell phone for more than an hour at a time . . . silly John, thinking he’s unplugged)

  5. We have a trailer now for camping and I love it. I know it’s not real camping but with kids, it’s so much easier.

    • Yeah, I know it’s easier . . . in fact, I think I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have a mobile home before I’m retired . . . but, for now, “primitive camping” it is — and, dammit, the kids are going to like it 🙂

  6. Sounds like it was a blast! I just read someone else’s camping story – that also involved alcohol to enhance the experience. maybe I need to do that if I ever go camping (which, unfortunately, is unlikely). 🙂

    • Oh, alcohol is a must. Seriously, on a hot day, is there a better feeling than a cold beer? Or, after a hot day, is there a better taste than a margarita?

      I swear, I gain so much freaking weight when I “get back to nature.” Also, my liver comes back pickled.

  7. Primitive campsite? Ooh, you’re brave. I like camping. On the beach. With showers. But no hiking into campsites for me.

    • I’m actually not sure what I’d think about camping on the actual beach — I know how the temperature differential can be, and I know how sand gets EVERYWHERE . . . but, I won’t deny that opening a tent and seeing a sunrise on the Atlantic would be pretty sweet . . . as would roasting a marshmallow over a fire as the sun set over a watery horizon.

  8. Love it. You are brave my friend. My husband and I love camping but have yet to take the kids. We had wanted to take them this summer but now that’s a bit up in the air. But you know what after reading this post I really really want to push my husband more to make it happen. Thank you for sharing all the ups and downs of camping with the kids.

    • If you do make it happen, please, share the results. Honestly, I was prepared for a really, really hard time, but the kids just rolled with anything that was new. It was pretty amazing.

  9. I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a bit but the problem is, my comments keep getting nearly as long as your post. So I’m going to try bullets.

    * As a veteran camping parent – took our oldest when he was only four months – I welcome you to the ranks of those who are insane enough to sleep in a tent with little ones.

    * I’m going to share my air mattress secret with you: two twin size, double high air mattresses held together by a king size mattress pad. (I top that with crisp cotton sheets and down comforters, but that’s just me.) You’ll never taco or fall to the ground again.

    * If you don’t have a shower at your campsite, we always pack sleeping gear in a big rubbermaid bin that turns into a kid sized bathtub.

    * You are so smart to bring other people. More people = more kids = you don’t have to entertain your children.

    It sounds like you guys had a blast and I’m jealous because I have a feeling y’all would be awesome to camp with. Because, hello? Sangrias.

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