Sunday, August 9, 2009

Camp Grandma Part 1:Camping with little squirts and big mosquitos

Finding a great deal on a huge family-sized dome tent at a garage sale started it all. "Only $20, and hardly used" I thought, "this makes it worth the experiment." Paying full retail price is out of the question for me anyway, most of the time, but when it comes to something I am reluctant to try, a bargain like this can push me over the edge. (see train trip fiasco blog)

We had been talking about taking the kids on a rustic camping trip and this is about as rustic as I can imagine. We were fairly successful camping in an RV with my cousin and her husband last summer, so I was getting brave.

As a child, I had many wonderful camping adventures. One lasted three days with us kids sleeping out in the open with just a sleeping bag or "bed roll" of blankets backed by an oil cloth bottom all pinned together with big diaper pins. Okay, all of the above implements are pretty much unavailable and unnecessary today, so I have dated myself. Yes, that was in the 1950s. I remembered the big iron cauldron of stew bubbling away on the fire, the bread sticks (that is bread dough wrapped around a fat stick and "baked" above the campfire. But most of all I remembered S'mores. At least they are not out of date! My grandson reminded me to buy the ingredients as we filled a cart in Wal*Mart.

We were all pretty excited by the time we got the trucks and van loaded. The guys were looking forward to fishing and I was looking forward to just enjoying the fresh air and swimming in the sandy bottom lake at the campsite. It had been pretty empty the weekend before when we reserved our two adjoining tenting sites right on the river so I thought maybe the heat and mosquitos were worth the bother if it had scared off throngs of people. But, when we arrived, nearly every campsite was taken and the campgrounds were buzzing with activity.

We had no trouble getting the two big tents erected and setting up the food prep. area, then my daughter and I, the two boys and her toddler headed for the swimming lake. The water was bathtub warm except for the icy water raining down on us from a fountain in the center of the lake. It must have come from deep in the Florida aquifer as it had a faint sulfur odor in addition to being very cold. It made a nice contrast and we returned several times to enjoy the "rain." The youngest of our party enjoyed splashing and digging in the sand and we even brought the dogs down for a quick dip. My son's Jack Russell Terrier couldn't get enough of it. She was really happy as a polliwog, but my Eskie thinks water in any form is life-threatening and was not having any part of it.

After swimming a while, I retrieved the watermelon from a shady spot in the shallows of the river where I had left it to stay cool. We brought it to the pavilion and cut big slices to cool us down inside as well.

We managed to set some logs on fire in the fire ring of one campsite and grilled hot dogs. However, someone forgot to bring tongs so we had to use a stick to push the dogs into buns. The S'mores almost didn't happen since there were no nearby palmetto bushes from which to cut sticks and someone forgot to bring skewers. My son-in-law whittled some sharp sticks from the fire wood and we managed to make a few S'mores because that just HAD to happen.

By dusk, the mosquitos and no-see-ums were swarming and applications of mosquito repellants and burning citronella were no help. We headed for the tents intending to get a good night's sleep so we could fish and swim again the next day. We set up one of those big fans on a stand just outside the tent flap to generate a breeze but it had little effect on the sweltering air inside the tent. I swallowed a couple of pain-reliever PMs and hoped for the best.

Every time I awoke, my husband was on his knees in front of the tent flap trying to catch a little breeze and checking out the continued noisy play of nearby campers. Finally, deep in sleep, I awoke to my leg cramping and an urgent need to go to the bathroom. I managed to get to my feet inside the tent and relieve the cramp in my right leg, but when I bent over to unzip the tent flap, my left leg cramped. I pitched face forward unceremoniously onto the fan. My face immediately showed a six-inch long red crease and now I really had to go to the bathroom. My husband was instantly at my side helping me up off the ground and handing me a flashlight for the necessary trip.

Next morning everyone was grouchy and hungry. We had planned to cook eggs over the fire, but there was no more wood and besides, someone forgot to bring a spatula. So we went to the little cafe at the campground entrance and had a hearty breakfast. We had paid for a second night, but as everyone wearily assessed each others insect bites and sunburns, we decided to break camp and head for home. My son and one of his boys were tough enough to stay on for more fishing and actually did bring home some decent fillets. But the rest of us headed for the pool at home and enjoyed nice cool naps in front of the TV for the rest of the day.

I still feel good about the tent bargain, but next time, we will try it in a cooler season. Or maybe go to Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. Anyway, we had fun despite the problems.

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