Sunday, October 5, 2008


We recently embarked on a plan for our first camping trip with our toddler. "Camping" evokes many different images - from "dirt-bagging" to living in the luxury of a 30-foot motor home - and everything in-between.

My husband comes from a camping family. They didn't have a whole lot of money growing up, so vacations were often camping and hiking trips (the camping of the tent variety). My family was poor, so we solved the "how to vacation on a budget" problem by not vacationing. The closest I came to camping growing up was pitching a tent with three friends in the back yard for my 14th birthday. And maybe a night in a tent at Lake Erie.

Nonetheless, my husband and I have camping gear. Our camping experiences together are pretty sparse for having been married 12 years. We camped up the coast of California one night several years ago. We took a 9-day driving vacation in the Southwest a few years ago - with one night camping at the Grand Canyon and one night at Joshua Tree (the remaining nights were cheap hotels or nights with friends and family). The closest to camping that I have done since is walking in the Breast Cancer 3-day three times and volunteering twice, which involves sleeping in a tent on the ground...there are hot showers, but someone else is providing food.

Thus, it was with excitement and trepidation that we embarked on a "group" camping trip with folks from our parenting group. In the end, we had three families interested (a few others dropped out). We weren't going far - just a 45-min drive away. How would our son handle the sleeping? Would we be all bored, excited? We pretty much had all of the required equipment - tent, sleeping bags, cooler. Our friends have pop-up campers or camping vans, so they were taking care of the milk for the toddlers. And we decided to borrow an air-mattress, because one of our two camping mats sprung a leak. We exchanged cell phone #'s and were ready to go.

My husband came home early, and we spent about an hour and a half packing up on a Friday afternoon. Then we're off to pick up ice and go. We arrived at the campsite at about 6:45 pm. Nobody was there...this wasn't too terribly surprising, as our neighbors hadn't left yet. But the other family wasn't there after the tent was up and we were prepping dinner, I checked my cell messages. Now, if you know me, you know that I don't really use my cell - it's a pre-paid cell. I first listen to a long, rambling wrong number. Then, the dreaded call "hi, I'm at the grocery store. Because of the predicted rain, we decided to cancel and postpone until November. We figured since you guys were in a tent, you wouldn't want to get wet". Well, we're pretty capable of handling wetness, and had decided to go despite the prediction of rain.

Ah, bummer. So now we're alone, and going to remain so. It's dark, we paid for two nights of a site with a hookup (even though we are only in a tent), and worst of all, we don't have an air-mattress. We layered every blanket, towel, and sleeping bag except one on the bottom of the tent. It wasn't so bad.

The next day we decided to pack up and leave after breakfast - do some exploring then. That's when we discovered the store (open until 8 pm, and it had air mattresses!) We learned that there were great bike paths and running paths, lots of playgrounds for the kids, places to rent kayaks - generally, a good place - we are definitely going back. (For those of you in So. Cal. - it's Lake Casitas). We went for a little hike, got rained on, and then headed home, snacking in the car. It was an expensive weekend because of the two nights and the hookup, and we learned some things before our next trip:

1. We need our own air mattress. You just never know.
2. We need a second headlamp, and at least one lantern.
3. We should consider renting a kayak for some fun.
4. There were better campsites with nice views, cheaper (no hookups). We'll do that.
5. Cast-iron skillet? Maybe.

All in all, we had fun and so did the toddler. As we were driving around exploring, I just said "these are my kind of people", and my husband laughed because he was thinking the same thing. I guess I don't know very many people who consider camping to be a "vacation". Whether you are in an RV or in a tent, it can be fun (and this particular location will rent you an RV too).

We ended up having one of the other couples over for dinner the next night. The third couple wanted to have a potluck, but I believe her husband got sick (stomach flu) during the day - so maybe it was best that he wasn't out camping.

I think we plan on doing a lot more camping in the years to come - tent camping and CAR camping. As much as I like the idea of camping, I want running water.

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