Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not the happiest camper...

We’ve been slowly but surely gathering camping gear over the past several months in anticipation of planning a few trips this summer.  We’re going to a family reunion of sorts in August, so we knew we’d be camping for those two nights, but we also wanted to do a preliminary trip beforehand to feel confident that we have the right supplies and pack appropriately.  

This was my first camping trip since about 2001, when I went with James, his brother, dad, and dad’s significant other.  It feels like eons ago that we took that particular trip to Birkenhead Lake, and I am positive it was only for one night.  In fact, I have never camped for more than one night at a time and I’m pretty sure I have camped 4 times in my life.  The 4th time was this past week!  So I definitely DO NOT consider myself a camper.  

Andrew has already camped more times than me and he’s only 8.5(!), generally with the MIL and a few times with James going along also.  The girls had never camped before.  So when we took the plunge and actually booked a campsite at Cultus Lake for this past Monday, it felt like a pretty big deal.

Everything worked out in terms of the weather (Monday was a great temperature but cloudy for the first half of the day, so we weren’t too hot but weren’t cold either).  I also found that I had packed really efficiently and while there were a few things we didn’t end up needing, I really don’t feel I overpacked by any stretch - and I do tend to be an overpacker in general, so I was pretty impressed with myself.  

We set out around 10:30am and took the scenic route to our destination, in part in order to avoid a toll bridge, but also because we weren’t in any rush to get there since we couldn’t actually check into our campsite till at least 1pm.  We stopped for gas in Mission, where it was 20 cents cheaper per litre compared to at home, and got some chips at the gas station to munch on the rest of the way there.  We got to the lake at 20 to 1 and were told to wait to set up camp till 1 but we drove through just to see where our spot was and, seeing that it was already cleared out, we decided to get going on setting things up right away.

It actually didn’t take as long as I’d thought, and we worked well together.  Andrew helped James get the tent set up (and I did a bit, too), and I got our bathroom set up.  Yes, that’s right, we had our own bathroom for camping, and I swear it was a lifesaver and has already paid for itself!!  I got a pop up tent off Amazon and a ‘luggable loo’ so we’d basically have our own outhouse, and it made the experience so much easier on me (and everyone else, as it turned out!)  I honestly don’t think I’d have managed without it, not just because of my own frequent need to pee but because kids seem to have to pee every 5 minutes, and I didn’t like the idea of having to constantly be trekking off to the bathroom.  Honestly, I would recommend the luggable loo and a single-occupancy pop-up tent to any camper!  Don’t leave home without it!!

Our friends drove up to spend the day with us so they showed up just as we were finishing getting things sorted, and W helped James get the last part of the tent set up.  Our kids and their kids get along so well so everything went really smoothly for the whole visit.  We walked down to the lake and set up there for the better half of the afternoon.  The kids all get right into the lake, I waded in up to my knees.  W is essentially a lifeguard swimmer so we knew if need be he could help the kids, and their kids were in the water as well.  It was so nice and peaceful there.  The girls enjoyed building a moat and playing in the sand, and Andrew and I played some frisbee and it was just a fun, relatively relaxing experience.  We had some snacks and then headed back to the campsite to get started on dinner.

Our friends brought a big salad (and dessert) and I had pre-made a mixture for fajitas so we were able to get dinner made really fast and efficiently.  H insisted on washing the dishes for me, which she didn’t have to do, but it was a nice gesture!  I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t see a single bee, no flies, in general there were no bugs to speak of.  I didn’t even see a single spider our entire trip!  It was amazing actually.  I guess there was enough of a breeze that they weren’t really able to hang around - at least in terms of the flying bugs and insects!  Although as the sun started to go down there were some mosquitos, and I think they would have eaten us alive if we’d stayed outside much longer than we did.  I’ve certainly experienced a higher volume of mosquitos even in our own backyard in years past, though, so I didn’t attribute that to camping at all.

Our friends stayed till it was pretty much time for the kids to be heading to bed.  It was really nice that they came up to spend the day with us and finally have a visit, since we don’t get together as often as we’d like to.  We got the kids’ teeth brushed and into jammies and James tucked the girls in with a story while Andrew and I sat out in our chairs by the fire pit, despite that we weren’t actually able to enjoy a fire.  Unfortunately the fire ban came into effect just less than a week before we went on the trip, which kind of sucked in terms of no s’mores (though the kids did enjoy s’mores just without the roasting of the marshmallows!)  I think it would have been fun to have had a proper fire, but we opted not to buy a fire pit that is legal during a fire ban, one because it’s another expensive that once we also purchased a propane tank for would be upwards of $200, and two, we really don’t want more stuff to have to store if possible.  If we were going to be camping a lot and for longer periods, it might be worth it, but we didn’t think it made sense for our first one nighter.

Not long after the girls got into bed, Andrew said that as much as he wanted to stay up he really was tired, so off he went to bed, too.  James and I probably spent about 15 minutes sitting chatting outside before we decided to retire also, in part because the mosquitos were starting to bother us, but we were pretty tired, too.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep right away because I don’t even know if it was quite 10pm yet at this point, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit outside in the dark by myself!

I would say Emily went to sleep the easiest, which is no surprise since she’s our best sleeper.   Andrew had a few restless moments through the night but did well also.  Margaret took the longest to fall asleep, which is no surprise at all since that’s generally the case at home, too!  

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime probably around midnight, I could hear this odd sounding almost goose-like sound off in the distance.  It sounded fairly far away but I definitely woke up and noticed it.  I thought it odd that the geese would be in the forest at night, but then we’d seen a lot of them on the beach during the day so I shrugged it off, not really knowing what else it could be.  Not long after, in a campsite a ways away from us, I heard a little girl scream, ‘Noooo!’ and then something came bounding through the forest right past the back of our tent.  I’m wondering now if it could have been a cougar, as in the morning James noticed a paw print that looked like it belonged to a cougar over near the outhouse, which wasn’t all that far from our campsite.  The way the animal bounded through the bush just seemed more cougar like than raccoon, although I suppose it could have been a bear (but I feel like that would have been noisier at that speed).  Whatever it was freaked me out, and then I was even more shaky not long after when Margaret stirred and started sobbing.  James consoled her, which only seemed to make her cry louder, and I was so conscious of the amount of people she would be waking up and disturbing with all of that noise.

Finally she calmed down and went back to sleep, and James was able to get back to sleep, but I pretty much just laid there, hoping to drift off but never fully getting there.  A while later, the weird goose sound got louder and louder until it sounded like it was at the next campsite over from us.  It didn’t take long for me to think it wasn’t a goose, and when loud huffing sounds and choking and gruff coughing sounds, followed by growling, I had a very strong inkling it was a bear.  I nudged James, who of course by this time was awake, too, and he confirmed my suspicions.  He did some internet searching and it became pretty obvious it was a bear we were dealing with.  We couldn’t see it but I could see giant shadows moving back and forth past the trees as we had the tent ‘windows’ down, and the whole thing was so completely terrifying I.CAN’T.EVEN.

There was a lot of rustling of what sounded like chip bags and other food items, a lot of yacking on a bone type sounds coming from the bear, a ton of huffing and growling, and moving back and forth.  Banging on stuff and being generally noisy.  It was literally the most scared I’ve ever been, and between that and being freezing cold despite the plethora of blankets I was wrapped in, I was shaking severely.  I hated that the kids were all closer to the bear than I was, and a part of me wanted to corral them all closer and protect them, but I was too scared to do that because I thought if I woke them up and any of them made noise/Margaret cried, the bear might come to investigate.  We had a bear bell and James had his thumb resting on the panic button for the van, but we resisted drawing attention to ourselves as long as the bear was in the other campsite.  This went on literally FOR HOURS, until the sun started coming up and the ten million varieties of birds started chirping and I guess the bear knew it was time to move on before all the people started getting up.  So needless to say, I slept for less than an hour that night total.  Maybe 45 minutes…

At 6am the people across from us, who hadn’t even arrived till we were eating dinner, packed up their site and left.  I couldn’t blame them.  I honestly wanted to do the same.  

I’d had such high hopes, that we would get up early after at the very least an OK night’s sleep, wander and check out more of the campgrounds and go down to the beach for a peaceful early morning stroll.  (Oh, we did go back to the lake before the kids went to bed and they enjoyed skipping rocks and it was very serene and beautiful, so we at least we’d had that experience the night before).  Unfortunately by morning I felt like I was dying from exhaustion and my nerves were completely shot.  I was also very jumpy because I kept wondering where the bear might have gone and how close it could still potentially be.  (I didn’t love all the little critters that I hear skittering around the tent and right near my head throughout the night, either, since we all know how I feel about rodents, but that seemed like nothing in comparison to the bear!)

(I should also note that our campsite was way too close to what turned out to be a very busy road, even through the night, with semis flying by at all hours...so even without the bear situation I don’t think I’d have slept much).

James’ family tradition when camping as a kid was that his dad would make bannock for breakfast, so in sticking with tradition he made us some, and even flipped it like a professional on the first try!  The kids weren’t huge fans of it, despite that he added cinnamon and even some syrup.  I liked it, though.  It tasted like a healthier version of a donut!  I wish I could say I enjoyed using my coffee mug that I got specifically for camping, but the reality is that I just wasn’t feeling relaxed, and didn’t really feel all that well at all.  

James took the kids down to the lake for a bit to give me a bit of a breather, and then we packed everything up and headed out of there.  I’d bought a groupon for Dinotown so we headed there and spent several hours there before going home.  I had really wanted to enjoy the experience there with the kids because rumour has it it’s their last year, as well I don’t think it would hold the kids’ attention much longer, particularly Andrew’s.  We’ve gone for 3 years in a row now, so I’m pretty sure that would have been our last time going anyway.  Unfortunately I was so tired that I felt miserable and everything about Dinotown was making me angry!  That’s not entirely fair - I did enjoy seeing how much fun the kids were having, and I legitimately was happy to be there for their sake.  I was just getting more and more down in the dumps by the minute.  I was able to hide it completely from them, but the whole bear experience had rattled me so much.

The girls enjoyed watching the dinosaur shows, and Margaret in particular was OBSESSED with the dinosaurs and wanted to hug and kiss them every chance she got!  After the show she insisted we walk over to this little house behind the stage area where she knew the dinosaurs had gone.  It had a big Staff Only sign and I knew that’s where they went to take the costumes off.  I told her we weren’t allowed inside but she said we could wait outside because the dinosaurs would come out again after a little break.  Then a young woman came out of the house and walked off and I knew it was one of the dancers out of the dino costume, but Margaret just got this look on her face like, What was she doing in there?!  She didn’t clue in that it was one of the dinosaurs, she truly believes they’re real and not just dressed up characters!

Emily enjoyed the Dolly House again but more so the vet clinic play area this time around.  Andrew was into the bouncy castles and waterslide.  They all took turns on the little paddlewheelers, Emily going on twice.  We had lots of picnicy foods with us leftover from camping so we grazed on that while we were there and then stopped by Coneheads for ice cream cones before heading home.

I actually (silently) cried for about half the trip home.  I just couldn’t believe how the trip had taken such a turn for the worse.  I felt sad (and still do) about how poorly the night went, because it means I’m absolutely dreading our future camping trips.  There’s no way I will ever feel secure about sleeping in a tent at night, and just in general I don’t like anything about it.  I enjoy day trips to the great outdoors but the sleeping in a forest in a tent just makes no sense to me whatsoever, and after this experience I don’t know how it ever could.  Yet I know we have to do it again, so it’s just a hard pill to swallow knowing I have no choice but to do it anyway.  I really hope our August trip goes better in terms of getting some sleep, because I can’t imagine how I’ll cope at a family reunion if I feel the way I did the day after a night of no sleep camping!

It was also SO MUCH WORK to pack us and get us sorted to go camping, for a one night stay and then the amount of work to unpack it all and wash everything and find somewhere to put it all...it’s pretty exhausting!  It’s not even a matter of getting faster at it over time, because the reality is we can’t store all our supplies together due to space issues.  

I don’t know...I want to say I enjoyed the experience.  I was actually very optimistic and enjoying it up until the going to bed part.  I even said to James before bed that we should have booked two nights because I was enjoying the experience so much.  However, based on how the night went even if we’d paid for another night I would have insisted on going home!

All in all, for the kids’ sake it was a great experience.  I’ll try to just focus on that...

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