Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How To Not Die at Camp

Greg and I are kindred spirits when it comes to at least one thing: camping.

I grew up going camping throughout the warmer months of the year. My parents bought a pop-up camper when I was still just a wee little lass, and I have fond memories of hanging around the campfire, playing cards, listening to the rain patter the roof, hiking and swimming in tiny, chilly swimming holes. I’m sure my parents chose those vacations because camping is cheap and easy (when you have the hang of it), but I couldn’t have had more fun if they had taken me to any resort. When you’re a kid, there is just nothing cooler than cooking food over an open flame.

So this weekend, for Greg’s birthday, we’re going camping. A three-day weekend with the weather forecast as sunny and 80 degrees? It’s going to be beautiful. (We hope.)

So, for anyone who wonders, here are some of the zillions of things we’ve learned through our camping experiences:

  1. Kids are loud. And they will invariably walk through your campsite, try to destroy things all around you, and you just have to let it go. Find a way to live with it or ignore it. Or look sufficiently scary so their parents warn them to stay away from you.

  2. Bring extra everything – bug spray, towels, food, batteries, band-aids, Kleenex, toilet paper, cards. Things get lost, wear out, tear up and generally become unusable at the worst times.

  3. Everyone is friendly. Or nosy. They’ll be glad to help out, and will watch you do everything, because that’s what goes on at campsites. You sit and watch the other people at the campsite and discuss what they’re doing. It’s a human zoo.

  4. Bring firewood. Sometimes you can’t find it. Sometimes you’re not allowed to use wood from the park. And sometimes there’s no one close selling it, so have at least a night’s worth on hand. Nothing is sadder than camping without fire.

  5. Have shelter for cooking and a camp stove. Even just an umbrella and a simple propane hotplate are something. If it’s raining or incredibly windy, starting a fire to cook on is almost impossible and endlessly frustrating. So have the backup plan for cooking. Or, alternatively, bring a lot of cold cuts and sandwich bread.

  6. Explore around. Follow the trails. Follow the roads. Walk all over creation. Some state parks have incredible views with no real hiking trail leading to it, so wander around. Unless it says no trespassing, it’s fair game.

  7. Charge your cell before you leave, and then turn it off for most of the day while you’re there. You’ll know it’s ready to go if you need it, but the point of camping is to enjoy the experience. Cell phones kind of ruin it, in my opinion.

  8. Bring a radio, speakers for your iPod, or other playable music.

  9. If you play an instrument, bring it. Greg brings his harmonica, and there’s nothing more wonderful than sitting around the fire, him playing a tune and everyone in the campground smiling at you. Or glaring. We’re never sure which it is.

  10. Never. Forget. Marshmallows. It’s the only thing that cannot be replicated. Forget the roasting skewers, and you can whittle one out of a stick. Forget the graham crackers… who cares, really? But marshmallows are the glue that hold camping together. And often your fingers as well.

  11. Call ahead and ask about availability. Especially when you’re driving more than an hour, calling to see if the campground has available spots can be very helpful, and can prevent an unsuccessful trip.

  12. Alcohol. There’s nothing better than sitting around the campfire during the day, drinking beer, and at night having a glass (or Dixie cup) of wine or scotch.

  13. Even if the overnight low is 80 degrees, bring a sweatshirt, and maybe a jacket. There can be a huge difference between an 80-degree, sunshiny day and an 80-degree black night. It can be chilly.

  14. Good shoes. Extra Socks. Sleeping pads. Chairs for the campfire. Snacks galore. A hat. Sunglasses. A shady campsite. These are the things you absolutely need to have a nice experience.

Those are all the words of wisdom I have. There’s plenty more practical advice here.


Joc said...

You are right Nothing is sadder than camping without fire.

I have used a wood burning amp stove (Fire-Spout 100) for some years

Once you have a bed of coals the temperature can be controlled, from a rolling boil to a simmer
Putting coals on the lid or using a Fire-Spout Mini on the top can use Dutch over

Joel said...

I love that fire and marshmallows are priorities in your list. And I agree. Though I haven't been seriously camping in years. Of course, fire and marshmallows make any experience better, IMO. There's a metaphor there, I'm pretty sure, but it could get sticky, so I'm gonna just leave it alone.

Jenn said...

Haha. Sticky. Nice one.

I haven't been seriously camping in a while either. When you have a roof, a stove and a sink in your "tent," I'm not sure it can be called "serious."