This past weeked was our annual camping trip to Big Basin. We started out in 2004 with just our 4 friends (no kids) and our family - 8 in total. This year, we are up to 18 people - 12 adults and 6 kids, age 3-6 years old. As we approach the weekend, I am always a little anxious about the details and logistics, but at the end of the weekend I always think about how much fun it has been and how we are definitely doing it again next year.
The thing that makes this trip the hardest is that camping is not as easy as it once was....
When I was a kid, my Mom would take us camping 2 or 3 times during the summer. We would sleep under the stars (yes, I am a California native), no tents for us. We would eat sugar cereals with milk my mom would buy every other day. Dinner was something from our favorite childhood culinary wizard, Chef Boyardee. It was not until I went camping in my early twenties did I realize you could actually have real food camping. You know, fresh food, the kind that needs to be transported in coolers or else it spoils. With my Mom, camping was a more spontaneous and carefree undertaking, requiring no more planning than picking the weekend, throwing the sleeping bags in the trunk and getting the heck out of dodge.
Nowadays, you have to book your campsite 6 months in advance, and at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, that does not even ensure you get a good one - you need to show up right at 2pm check-in to nab a decent site. There are so many folks interested in this trip back in time that I think the campsites are actually getting smaller, in an effort to cram in more wilderness-loving folks. In order to ensure we have all the creature comforts of home, it takes us a station wagon with a rocket box to haul all our crap. Back in the day (am I old enough to say that?), we put everything for 3 weeks of car camping and vacationing into the back of my Mom's Buick Skylark.
When you get there, it seems as though every moment needs to be filled with activities designed to maximize your experience in the wilds - hiking; birdwatching; visiting the nature center; going to the ranger-sponsored campfire. Not many opportunities to contemplate your navel, or poke the fire as one of my friends likes to say. Because meals are so complicated (think French Toast with sausage and fruit or grilled New York strip steaks with homemade baked beans and firepit roasted potatos), so is the clean up, and it seems as though when one clean up is finished, you need to start preparing the next meal. In my desire to channel my inner girl scout, I also bring along Bessie, my 12" Dutch Oven, which is good for all sorts of cooking adventures, including brownies, sweet rolls for breakfast and my now famous oven 'o beans. We extend the day into the night by bringing a battery of batteries to power our flotilla of lanterns. This allows us to play Mexican Train and Speed Scrabble and Backgammon well past lights out. No moment goes wasted.
Even the s'mores are more complicated - used to be that you would whip out a coat hanger, do some fancy bending, cram on a marshmallow, burn it, and then squeeze it between two graham crackers pre-loaded with Hershey's. Now, we strive to find the best chocolate - 62% is good, 70% is better - buy organic graham crackers and homemade marshmallows. We buy special roasting sticks and we don't actually let the kids touch them, too dangerous. All of this works out to be the most complicated two day adventure ever.
So, why do I do this, you might ask? Wouldn't it be easier and less complicated to put the tent in the backyard? Couldn't I get the same feeling by staying in a hotel or experimenting on the BBQ at home? Using my pop-psychology degree, I have lots of thoughts on why I do this - I like to expose my kids to new things; I like to challenge myself (and some of my friends) to get out of our comfort zones; I like to plan large, logistically complicated activities; and I like to camp. I like to sleep in tents; I like the smell of camping, the fire mixed in with the redwoods; I like all the dust and dirt and showering in community showers that take quarters; I like cooking over the camp stoves and organizing the kitchen boxes, trying to anticipate everything we might need. Mostly, I like to go on these adventures to remind myself of adventures taken with my Mom, as I know these are the kind of trips my kids will remember long after I am gone. Hope when that time comes, they will remember these adventures as spontaneous and carefree too....