Tuesday, December 6, 2016

camping with lil ones.

Growing up, our camping "coming of age" occurred when we turned three-years-old.  

Three was when my dad was allowed to (supposedly) rip us out of our mother's arms and take us on overnight canoe trips.

It was at that tender age was when my three siblings and I were allowed to go with my Dad, his twin brother, and my cousins on overnight canoe camping trips in the BWCA in northern Minnesota.  Some of my earliest memories are of black bears wandering into our campsites while we cooked freshly caught fish for breakfast, and my Dad calming chasing them off while banging pots and pans together.  We grew up hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, camping in the frigid Northern Minnesota winters when each night you thought perhaps you would lose your toes to frost bite, and driving all over the country (and Mexico, and Canada) to hike peaks and canyons and experience God's creation.

Now that I have my own kids, it makes sense that I would make this a rule in our family as well. Except it is not Hubby taking them solo...I am a part of the experience.  The meal planning, the packing, the driving, the hiking, and the sleeping on the cold, hard ground in the middle of the woods.  I need to be a part of all of it.  The camping gene was successfully passed from Dad to me.  Actually, all four of his kids got it!

I always knew I had to marry someone who was as adventurous as Dad (or at least as much as I am.)

Truth be told, Paul did not do a lot of camping growing up; however, over the years he has shown me he is definitely willing to brave the elements and challenge himself in the outdoors.  He went with my Dad to summit the very same peak in Banff National Park that I had summited a mere two weeks after we'd met.  He also hiked the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim with a friend, signed up to hike Mt. Rainier (until appendicitis befell him) and has over the years impressed me by gleefully acquiring every essential piece of camping and mountain climbing gear a "finance guy" might ever need.
Paul in the Canadian Rockies.
Grand Canyon selfie!
So, I fell in love with Paul...and then he became a "rugged outdoorsman."  It all worked out.

In our marriage we have done many camping trips together, sometimes just the two of us, and others where we've convinced other couples to go, too!  We are always eager for others to get hooked on camping, although I'm not sure anyone we have brought actually has.  It is a hobby that you sort of have to commit to (i.e. buy proper gear for.)

Once we had kids we knew we wanted to "start 'em young" - but we got a very slow start.  We took Cormac with my family to the Boundary Waters when he was barely one-year-old.  Pretty challenging, I'll be honest - even with lots of help.  When Finola turned two tried camping again, but we basically could drive right up to our campsite and, while private and peaceful by a lake, it was by no means "primitive camping."

The "three-year-old rule" is a good one - for real camping.  You can take them to campgrounds and cabins before then, to be sure.  But if you are hiking in, or canoeing in, miles from civilization...go with the "three year old rule." (Probably even older if you have zero experience with this type of camping.)

Recently we took our three-year-old and five-year-old to a state park and hiked into the woods, several miles from our vehicle, in 40 degree weather (colder at night.)  We carried full packs, one containing a 40+ pound child at almost all times.  We also had to carry their sleeping bags in our hands, and much of the time their tiny backpacks filled with the "essentials" (toys.)

It was beautiful, with the bright blue November sky, crisp fall air, and surrounded by trees still arrayed with red, orange, and golden leaves.  But beauty is sometimes lost on tiny children, and, as on all camping trips, there were hiccups along the way.  It was cold.  Our kids cannot walk more than a quarter mile without getting whiny and begging to be carried.  We had never been to this park and really had no clue where the campsites were.  The map was shoddy.  We got a late start.  We had to cook dinner in the dark.

As parents you just have to roll with it and try to make it a good time for the kids.

Or, as my father explained to me on that first canoe trip with baby Cormac, "It is no longer about you when the kids are with - you get enjoyment from watching them experience it."

My Dad, especially when camping, has the patience of a saint.

Me?  Not quite as much.  Hubby does, though, and I definitely loved being with the family outdoors, despite any and all snafus.  We had a lovely two mile hike at a state park we had never been to.  We eventually make-shifted a campsite off the trail just as the daylight was fading, getting our tent set up just in time.  We devoured our Mountain House meals (so good, even several years expired!) with wild abandon in the darkness, snuggling around the camp stove, an enormous full moon rising above us and making it so bright there in the woods that we didn't even need our headlamps.

After dinner the kids were excited to get in the tent and burrow into their sleeping bags!  The chilly air and the exertion from hiking (er, being carried) had them exhausted and asleep within minutes. Actually, at precisely 8pm, Paul was also asleep -- he and Finola snoring contentedly and Cormac, silent as a mouse.  I alone lay awake, occasionally taking a glug from my plastic mini-bottle of red wine, listening to a far-off group of hunters and their pack of dogs, who were barking and howling for literally hours before I was able to drift off into a fragmented sleep.

It was worth it.

The next morning we all got up to a fire that Hubby had crackling.   I enjoyed two cups of instant coffee, Cormac had some hot chocolate.  We nibbled on cold Pop-tarts, warm instant oatmeal, summer sausage  -- all traditional camping foods from my childhood.  (The Mountain House meals are a luxury Paul and I adopted over the years.)

Despite it being freezing cold, literally, we fed the fire for a while, and then, very slowly, packed up and hiked out.

Then we drove directly to Cracker Barrel and enjoyed a hearty brunch, filling our bellies and feeling quite content with the way the tiny adventure went.

Beautiful, crisp fall weather.

just walk toward the light, colbie.
I was way too excited!  Let's go, guys!
Hiking with babes means lots of breaks.  Several times we just sat down in the leaves and ate cheese.  
This hunk of cheese might have been Finola's favorite thing.

Tent selfie!
Finola totally inherited my facial expressions.
early morning coffee and campfire.

Colbie is an excellent camp dog.  
This kid loves his hot chocolate, just as I did as a kid.  Finola won't touch the stuff.
Mini bottle of wine, summer sausage and coffee.  Breakfast of champions?
Paul got up early and found rocks to make this fire pit.  

Right before hiking out.  We survived and are still smiling!

Any other brave souls take their little ones camping?