Saturday, October 22, 2016

Fall camping is the only camping

I used to think I didn't like camping. Well, that's not entirely true. I liked camping when I was a kid because my main responsibility was to make sure I was in the car when we drove to the woods. I wasn't the mastermind or even the muscle behind the operation. As an adult, we had a couple epic failures when the older kids were little. The highlights of those trips were: 

  • little to no planning (I didn't even know that I wasn't prepared)
  • Lots of packing of unnecessary items. Jeans and sweaters are not required for camping in Arkansas.
  • Heading out in glory. Dramatic driveway goodbye's to the neighbors..."We're off! Going camping!"
  • Realizing that we failed to reserve a campsite. Realizing that if you fail to reserve a campsite, you will not be camping. 
  • Returning home in shame to camp in the backyard.

So that led to a nearly a decade of no camping (Except for the boys and their dozens and dozens of camping trips that they have been on with the scouts.)

Our super soggy, rained out camping trip with the Clarkes over Memorial weekend was crazy and wet, but surprisingly fun. Having the weight of technology lifted off our collective shoulders was nothing short of magical. Since then I've been itching to go camping again and I had my sights set on October. I mentioned it to a couple other families and before you know it, we had a multifamily camping trip scheduled over our 4-day parent/teacher conference weekend. 

We reserved adjacent spots in Wallace State Park in Missouri. 

It's one of those places that doesn't appear like there is anywhere to camp until you are suddenly and unexpectedly just "in the woods".

We rolled up about 4 pm on Thursday night and fell into our traditional gender roles.

Mark was making shelter.

I was cooking the grub. I got wise and had all the ingredients for our tinfoil dinners pre-peeled and pre-chopped. Substituted the ground beef for turkey kielbasa and we had ourselves an easy, Everly-friendly hot meal.

Mari sent the kids on a nature treasure hunt and rewarded them with little pens and notebooks. You couldn't have picked a better prize for my kids. They love to have a spot to draw and write down their ideas for their first novels.

After dinner I got comfortable and started churning out campfire pies. This was a new concept for all the other families and it was a hit! I settled in and made dozens of them. We went through 3 loaves of bread, a can of blueberry, a can of cherry and a bottle of homemade apple filling. I loved it. I loved cooking and chatting and watching the kids run from campfire to campfire with their friends....feeling free and unsupervised.

The kids were excited to get into the tent and get to sleep. Mark was excited to hunker down and watch the Cubs game. They are battling it out against the Dodgers to make it to the World Series. Ethan is a hardcore camper and decided to sleep on the ground outside. Mathew claimed the hammock. Not sure why we brought the extra tent...the girls wrote in their notebooks by lantern light until they were ready to go to sleep.

The night was cold. Very cold. I don't think I actually ever fell asleep. I was too busy wishing the morning would come and I could make myself a cup of HOT cocoa. It dipped down to 34 degrees that night. And Mark and I only brought blankets. I was glad he bought a couple warm sleeping bags for the little girls right before we left. They were snuggly and warm, which was wonderful because the only thing worse than shivering all night is trying to comfort four shivering little girls at the same time. But I won't lie...I was super happy when Everly climbed in between us in the early hours of the morning. That girl radiates body heat. I kept flipping over to let both sides of me benefit from her warmth. That bothered her and she said in a calm voice..."Mom, you are making me mad." So I decided to sacrifice my back end to the cold and snuggle her up.

And the dawn finally came!

We hopped up and got a fire going for warmth. We started on the bacon and the other families made pancakes, fresh fruit, orange juice and hot cocoa.

We had a breakfast buffet and then set out for a hike out on the Old Quarry Trail.

We headed the wrong direction and ended up around the lake, but discovered a great hill for rolling and a perfect place for the men to have a rock skipping contest.

Laney discovered that rolling down the hill was an effective way of soaking up all the dew. She was dripping!

Mari, Courtney, Marie and I had a good laugh watching our husbands have a left-handed rock throwing contest....for distance. I hate the phrase, "You throw like a girl", but I can't think of any other way to describe it. That memory will make me laugh for many years to come.

The kids explored and found frogs and we made our way around the rest of the lake. We back tracked and lost sight of a couple kids, we got separated and turned around. Finally we ended up back at the campground without every stepping foot on the Old Quarry Trail.

We made some sloppy joes and put our feet up. The Guenther's brought a pinata for Aaron's 4th birthday and everybody had a wack.

But first we had to convince Mathew's strange little-sister choir to take a break from their 8 note song they'd been chanted all morning. I'm all for creativity and making your own fun, but that song was getting on my last nerve.

Martin explains the rules and Aaron gets ready to go first!

And just because he can....

We headed back down to the lake for some baseball and kickball and then we planned on trying the Old Quarry Trail again.

Laney, Olivia J., Kate G. and Mark (at bat).

Laney, Olivia, Kate, Todd F., Adam J. (at bat), Ryan G. and Mathew (catching)

Mark (catching), Mat (at bat), Ryan (pitching), Seth G. Aaron G., Aidan F., Martin G. and Kate.

Everly and Aaron

Everly and Anna watching from the outfield.

Emma F. and Haley J. having a chat in the fall leaves.

When we were all good and tired, many had wandered back to camp from knuckle injuries or kickball collisions, we wondered if we should still try to head out to find the trail. The Johnsons are tough and seasoned campers/hikers. They were ready to go, but my toes were killing me and I was starting to realize that my favorite sneakers might be a little too small. We headed back for a quick snack and some water bottles. We gathered the willing few and headed out for Old Quarry Trail armed with Marie and Adam's perseverance and book of trails.

We found it without trouble and made the 1.25 mile hike in short order. One of my favorite parts of the trip was when I looked around and realized that Adam Johnson was pushing Everly in the stroller (she had fallen asleep during a piggy back ride...ouch), I was holding Luke Johnson's little hand and all the kids were being watched over and receiving love and attention from adults that weren't necessarily related to them. And I realized how much I miss the sense of community we have lost from retreating to our own homes and closing the doors. Our need to come outside is pretty minimal these days. And when we do, we are already in our cars, doors closed, windows up, A/C running and the music playing. We just don't bump into each other. We don't see each other.

It's sad. Because I think we make a huge difference in each other's lives.

Soon we were back to camp and we had some tinfoil calzones...a little trick we learned camping with Lara in Bryce Canyon. So easy.

Another thing I thought would be easy is the dutch oven peach cobbler that I burnt to smithereens. I couldn't resist taking this photo as it sits in shame by the Johnsons GORGEOUS apple cobbler.

I think it's fair to say I need a little practice. Adam and Marie have clued me in to an app that tells you exactly how many briquettes to put on top and bottom for whatever you are cooking. I think this could help me....assuming I can get cell service.

After dinner the adults gathered around the Guenther's firepit and the older kids hung out at the Flynns. I went back to our tent to grab a jacket and found the little kids all gathered around our campfire. It wasn't lit, but I learned later that Megan helped them out and soon they were warm and toasty and having the time of their lives.

Mark left the campground earlier that day to go get a few forgotten items as well as pick up some warm sleeping bags for us. And I was so grateful. I think I woke him up three times just to say, "Thank you so much for buying these sleeping bags." I was snug as a bug. The Flynn girls and Mathew got up early to go see the sun rise at the lake.

I opted out and stayed in my cocoon of heat.  I had to be woken up to get crackin on the hashbrowns for our community breakfast. Guenther's provided oatmeal and mix-ins, Johnsons and Flynns made scrambled eggs. Lots and lots of scrambled eggs.

And don't forget the cocoa. Camping isn't camping without cocoa.

Annie J. and Kylie F.

Marie and Luke

It was our last few hours together and our last meal together. I relished watching the kids all laughing and playing games.

Soon the families were breaking down tents and packing up their supplies. Mark and Ethan got an early start home to get Ethan to his marching band festival and the kids and I finished up and had one last UNO game.

So I guess we are campers.

I love that I have less distractions. Less tv. Less technology. Less Wachter. Less laundry.

And I have more of this:


And this:

And especially this:

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