I took the family camping this weekend for the first time ever. I mean, it was sort of camping. My parents gave us their popup camper and we went to a campground 15 minutes from the house. We had electricity, running hot water, and real bathrooms not too far away. I figured I would ease them into it gently. I even let them bring electronic devices (I had my laptop too). So it was an experiment. Lots of lessons (re)learned.
You see, I grew up in the woods. I was a Boy Scout for over a decade and had my Eagle Scout Court of Honor 2 weeks after my 18th birthday. I was very fortunate to be part of a spectacular Troop who held close to the original Scouting idea of preparing boys to become (military) men. Our Troop treated camping like the National Guard: 1 weekend a month, 1 week of summer camp every year. And we went camping every month, year round, regardless of New England weather. Once, we got caught in a tropical storm where we had to hold our tents down in the wind. Another time, we got buried in 4 foot snow drifts in the Catskill mountains and I still recall getting woken up by muffled voices telling me not to open my tent flap because they were digging me out. We did a summer High Adventure one year where our campsite was on an island accessible only by a 30 minute canoe ride across a lake – we packed everything we needed in and stayed there a full week, cut off from the outside world. We did a lot of stuff I don’t think the Boy Scouts even do, or are allowed to do, anymore (I remember each of us, no more than 12, responsible for our own camp stove and canister of White Gas). I had phenomenal leaders who I can
blame thank for turning me into the prepper I am today. But they also turned me into a hardcore camper. As a kid, I had seen and done it all, in all conditions, under all circumstances.
Ahh, but 20-something years of a cushy electronic-induced coma can really cramp up even the most hardcore. It’s doubly difficult when your family is brand new to the experience. Some things are like riding a bicycle – certain things you just never forget. But others…man, was I out of practice.
- Before we left for weekends in Boy Scouts we always had a “shakedown” – a gear check to make sure appropriate (and inappropriate) gear was properly (un)packed. I was concerned with getting the truck and camper set and left the packing to my inexperienced wife. I forgot the shakedown. When we got there I realized she only brought a single light blanket for each person. I told her we were going to freeze that night. She said “It’s August”. I told her that her body is not used to the temperature dropping below 65 at night. She called BS. I decided to teach her a lesson. No one slept the first night.
- Two words: Pit Latrines. “Memories….” That distinct smell, as disgusting as it is, was almost (almost) comforting. Well, not really, but it was familiar, nostalgic. However, my wife was not impressed. In fact, she was horrified and could barely cope. We ended up taking long walks to the main building for “relief” since they had real bathrooms and showers. The family, in general, had a difficult time dealing with human waste and sanitation under “primitive” conditions.
- Fire science: I still got it. One of those skills that was “burned” into me. I observed the stereotypical neighbor camper trying to light a log with a bic lighter, illustrating that building a fire is not so easy a caveman could do it…It’s a learned skill. My family is always fascinated with how I can turn a single match into a roaring bonfire in under 20 seconds. It’s a constant reminder that there are certain skills I acquired when I was young that are intuitive to me, that must be passed on carefully to my family.
Campfire cooking. Another skill I still have. My wife just wanted to cook over the flame. Tsk, tsk. I had to explain that it takes a different kind of fire to make a good bed of coals for baking a potato and grilling meat – otherwise you have charcoal on the outside, raw meat on the inside. It also takes planning. Gotta get that fire going about 30-45 mins before you plan to cook. However, when I was done, she said it was one of the best steak and potatoes she’s ever had. Propane grilling ain’t got nothing on a bed of oak coals – but again, it’s an acquired skill that I have to start passing on.
- Critters: the first night my wife made the rookie mistake of leaving dog treats and cookies on the table outside. She was dumbfounded when they were gone the next day, with only the wrappers left mockingly strewn all over the place. I explained that any food left unsecured overnight will be gone by the morning. I also explained that she had gotten off easy since we were in a densely (human) populated area. I explained that if we were anywhere remote, there would be no food within 50’ of our site, and tried to explain what a “bear bag” was. She thought that was a lot of effort. I said she’d never watched a bear tear into the side of a tent trying to find a contraband Twinkie.
- I also got a micro-view into the current state of society. Most strangers were generally friendly, but there are always a few bad apples who are only a throat punch away from forcibly ending their party at 4:00am. Again, most people are downright helpful, friendly, courteous, kind…but you always have to be wary of those selfish bastards who will take advantage of your good graces in a New York second. Our new neighbors cracked their first Miller Lite at 9:30am. Really. I was glad we were leaving.
In the end, the kids had a blast and I think my wife learned a lot. The way she grumbled I swore it was her first and last time going, but after we got home and she had a good nap, she’s already started planning our next trip. It will be a long time before we get back to where I was at the top of my game: hiking 20 miles into the middle of nowhere with everything I needed for a week on my back. But what my family doesn’t know, is that I plan to get them there…