Seven Quick Takes

7 Quick Takes

Resumption of Camping Edition

My husband and I began tent camping together before we had children and continued with regularity for years with our young children. We toted babies and toddlers. We relished the outdoors. And then, around the time we had an infant and a toddler in addition to our two older children, it became a bit much. My husband feared an unknown woodsy calamity. I’ll admit, our last excursion, with only three of the children, was a bit challenging. My sole recollection is my toddling 10-month-old stretching out of her Bumbo seat to gather dead leaves from the forest floor to stuff into her mouth while we wrestled with tent setup. So, we took a break. Our youngest is now three, so on Labor Day weekend, we gave camping another shot. Here’s what I learned.


All Pit Toilets Are Not Created Equal

We’ve camped in state park campgrounds with pit toilets before. Not recently and not often, but we’ve done it. My boy scout has done it fairly often. It’s not a big deal. At least it hadn’t been. The pit toilets at this particular Pennsylvania state park stunk. Sure, you say, pit toilets stink. No, I don’t mean “stink.” I mean eye-watering, gagging, covering-my-mouth-and-nose-with-my-shirt stink. Putrescence. Is that a word? I think that’s a word. Lesson learned: If you’ve smelled one pit toilet, you’ve smelled one pit toilet. (Since we like this park, I was relieved to learn they are installing flush toilets over the winter! Yay!)

Michael State Forest

Michaux State Forest


Showers Are Not a Given

I’ve seen all kinds of camp showers. Some grimy, some clean. I’ve played beat-the-clock with pay showers. Until this point, we hadn’t done “no showers” outside of an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail many years ago. When it’s hot and you’re sweating (see #4), a shower is kind of nice. Especially when you’re sleeping in close quarters for a couple of days. Lesson learned: Be sure to verify the presence of showers. (They’re also adding showers to the park campground over winter!)

Turkey Tails

turkey tails


Campground Maps Do Not Show Elevation

Campground maps are helpful in locating your site, the bathrooms, and hiking trails. They do not show elevation. So, when you and your spouse select the walk-in tent site furthest from the road so that you can have peace, privacy, and nature galore, you don’t know if that “walk in” is level. Or on a grade. A really big grade. Up which you will haul an entire minivan and rooftop carrier’s worth of stuff, passing five other campsites. You will also climb it on every return trip from the pit toilet. And many, many times as you reload. Lesson learned: Inquire as to elevation of walk-in sites.


Save Money, Get a Minnow Pedicure

I’ve seen pictures posted of people getting fancy schmancy fish pedicures. You can go to Bangkok and pay $6.00. Or you can go to a lake and stand still while the minnows do the job for free. Our free minnow pedicures were the highlight of our afternoon at the lake beach. Lesson learned: Don’t pay for what you can get for free.

Col Denning Park Lake

Lake. Water level=low.


Peeing in the Woods Is a Learned Skill

Our camping group included one potty trainer, one preschooler prone to waiting too long before heading to the facilities, and another who tends to wake once during the night to empty her bladder. Due to the distance to (see #3) and condition of (see #1) the restroom, seeking relief in the woods became a thing on this trip. For girls, this is not an innate task. It is a skill that is learned. And there is a learning curve. Lesson learned: Don’t assume a child can pee in a new environment without specific instruction and practice.

Michael State Forest

Michaux State Forest


Pack Extra Clothes

We did pack extras. Thank goodness. Let’s just say there was more than one grocery bag of urine-soaked clothing stored in the car top carrier on the way home. (See #5) Lesson learned: Accidents happen; always pack extras.


It’s Worth It

More than once (okay, more than five times) on our first evening, I considered that this whole trip wasn’t worth it. It was physically grueling and emotionally taxing. The kids were up until midnight. They were filthy. We were sweaty. By the time we’d left, I could say it was all worth it. For starters, we had *perfect* weather, and weather can make or break a camping trip. But as I watched my children play at light saber duels with glow sticks in the dark, hike through the forest, swing in the hammock, and tell each other stories around the campfire, I knew that every speck of dirt, every bead of sweat, every exasperated call to rein in an errant child was well worth it. Lesson learned: The experience is worth the hassle. (But I could do without the pit toilets.)


My babies, geocaching for the first time.

What have you learned by roughing it?


For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

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2 thoughts on “Seven Quick Takes

  1. We love tent camping but usually only go once a summer. Maybe twice, if we’re really ambitious. We learned an important lesson the last time we went: always put the rainfly on the tent, even if you don’t think the weather will call for it. Trust me on this one.

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