We Finally Did it!
This past weekend I took my son camping for the first time. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘seasoned’ camper – I did camp a lot growing up, but as an adult I’ve only gone a few times, and not since my son was born 5 years ago. After a false start a few weeks ago where a bunch of HoCo Dads had a planned trip that was rained out, I was finally able to get out in the ‘wild.’
It was an interesting and fun experience. It didn’t go perfectly, but I learned a lot and we had a good time – both my son and I are looking forward to the next trip, and maybe will bring my wife and three year old daughter now that some of the wrinkles have been ironed out.
Where Did we go?
For our first trip, I wanted something local and easy, just in case there were any problems. We chose Patapsco State Park, a 20 minute car ride away, and close to stores where we could pick up and missing supplies. Also, in case my son freaked out and needed to go home, we had an easy way back. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and we had a really great weekend with lots of father and son time.
What did we do?
We got there about 1:00 and were able to go to our site and start getting ready. Our site was really small – between the fire pit, picnic table, tent, and my car, there wasn’t really any room. Since it was just the two of us, that wasn’t a problem.
Once we parked and looked around, I gave my son his first job – clearing the tent area of rocks and sticks. He was happy to do this, and we cleaned it up fairly quickly. Then, we got to work on the tent. I had him help me with the tent set up, unfolding everything, lining the tent up on the footprint, putting the poles together, and locking everything in place. Having these important jobs really made him happy, and he took initiative to move on to each step of the process. Once the tent was up, we took our shoes off and walked around inside (it’s a big tent) and made sure there weren’t and rocks or sticks to poke us. We found a few, and the importance of clearing the ground first hit him after he stepped on a sharp rock.
Once the tent was done, we went to see the camp host for firewood. We bought a crate for $5, and he helped me fill it with as much wood as we could stuff in. Because it had been raining for what seems like 15 straight weeks, it was still fairly wet, and everything on the ground was soaked. The host was doing what she could to dry the wood, and had a stack of logs smoking over her fire so others could use them.
Enjoying the Outdoors
Then we went for a short hike. We drove over to the main part of the Hollofield park, and hiked down to the river. We walked along until we got to the tracks, and saw people walking in and out of the tunnel (Note: Don’t do that. They are active tracks, and the tunnel is pretty long.). My son wanted to see the tracks from the top of the tunnel, so we hiked up the hill, and just as we got to the tunnel, a train carrying coal came screaming out of the tunnel. He got to see firsthand how fast they move, and how loud they are.
After the hike, we went back to the site to finish setting up and get to dinner. We gathered small sticks for kindling and put bigger sticks and logs on top. I lit my firestarter, and waited for everything to get going. Because the wood was so wet, I had a lot of trouble getting the fire started, and it never really took off, to my son’s disappointed. I’m sure he noticed that others didn’t seem to have the difficulty I did. But, I guess we can’t be the best at everything.
Dinner was backpacking meals – I have a little JetBoil system that boils water very quickly. We used that, then I made macaroni and cheese for him and chicken gumbo for me. It wasn’t bad, although his mac and cheese was a little undercooked and crunchy.
Then, as it started getting dark, we moved on to the star event for the trip – making s’mores over a
roaring barely burning fire. Caden insisted on the giant marshmallows for this, and they were way bigger than his mouth. I think he wore more than he ate. He loved it though.
And that brings us to the first interesting issue that I encountered: When it’s just you and your kid, you can’t walk away from the campsite that easily. We had the fire (sort of) going, and still had the dishes to clean, and had to get ready for bed. So I put out the fire, ending any thoughts I had of hanging out late talking at the fire. Then we went and cleaned up, brushed our teeth, and came back to get ready for bed.
The Problem with Campgrounds
We read a book together, then went to bed. I thought that since I was up early that morning, and we had an active day, that we would both fall asleep fairly easily. Sadly, no. It was LOUD. And I don’t mean the sounds of nature loud. The campground was fully booked, and people were loud. Quiet hours are supposed to be 10-7, but people didn’t start quieting down until about midnight. And there was a radio playing until 1:30. Finally, about 2:00, the last of the loud people finally turned in and I was able to fall asleep.
My son woke me up about 6:30 the next morning to go to the bathroom, and by then the early risers were starting to get up. So we stayed up and had a nice breakfast – freeze dried bacon and eggs. It wasn’t as good as my chicken gumbo, but wasn’t too bad either. Then we cleaned up, took the tent down, and hit the park for a bit before heading home. My son was a little homesick, so he didn’t want to stay too long before getting home.
What went right
I think the biggest thing I did right was including my son in everything we did, from setting up the tent to building the fire, to helping make the meals. I didn’t have him sit and watch while I did the work. Things took longer, but he took a lot of pride in his work and was happy when they were done to his satisfaction.
I didn’t buy much for this trip, almost everything was already in my basement, waiting to be used. But I did make two purchases that helped a lot – an inflatable sleeping pad, and a small lantern. The sleeping pad was an impulse Amazon buy when I saw their camping gold box deal. That made things a lot more comfortable for me. The second was a small solar powered lantern, the Luci Outdoor 2.0. It’s not really bright, but is waterproof and on the low setting, claims a 24 hour run time on a charge. I used this as a night light for my son. It is dim enough that it didn’t bother me much, and it ran all night with no problem.
What I can do better next time
I forgot my son’s favorite stuffie, brown bear. He kind of freaked out when he realized we didn’t bring him, and brought it up multiple times. I also forgot to pack any books to read to him. Luckily, they do have a little free library on site, and we were able to borrow a book to read.
Because things were so loud, I need to look into solutions for dealing with the noise. I’m OK with earplugs for me, but I need to research what’s appropriate for kids.
And finally, I really need to learn how to build a fire.
What about You?
Have you gone camping with your kids? Where? How did it go? And what tips do you have for getting the most out of it?