I'm covered in goosebumps as I type this in our chilly basement, which is one indicator of many that camping season, at least for the Zoglmans, is over. I didn't anticipate getting to do a lot of camping this year, what with the pregnancy/birth/newborn thing we've been doing, but we did manage to squeeze in two very distinct trips: a three-night backpacking trip on the Olympic Peninsula, and a two-night car camping trip at Lake Kachess.
The beach trip was a rather ill-fated endeavor. Besides making a 350 mile car trip with a potty training two-year-old, we ended up hiking down to the beach at dusk in torrential rain and howling wind. I realized about a quarter of a mile into our hike that the camera batteries had died and threw a medium-sized fit, complete with tears. After hiking further on we discovered that the creek which can usually be crossed on stepping stones was knee-high and freezing. Amazingly, Geneva carried her own backpack the entire way (just ask her-- she still brags about it) and Lavender stayed dry under my coat in her wrap, but by the time we got to the beach we were all about ready to fall apart. Avery and I pitched the tent, then the girls and I crawled inside to keep it from blowing away while Avery staked it out using rocks and rope.
We were all fantastic troopers during this adventure, honestly. Unfortunately I think we used up all of our patience and endurance during that first night, because we were never able to really relax and unwind afterward. Geneva was aggravated by our rules about not bringing huge amounts of sand in the tent, and toddler aggravation does not play out well in a tent environment. I was stressed out trying to keep Geneva out of trouble, Avery was tired from taking care of basically everything else while I wrangled the girls, and Lavender-- actually, she didn't seem at all perturbed. But you get the idea. There were lovely moments, of course: watching little towheaded Geneva prance down the beach, following a sparkling trail of fish scales... laughing hysterically at the antics of Mooch, the local chipmunk... nursing baby Lavender and watching the tide roll in... skinny dipping in the creek on a sunny afternoon... It was wonderful. Occasionally.
The trip wasn't a disaster, but we felt out-of-balance the whole time, like things were constantly on the verge of going to hell in a handbasket. I spent a lot of time trying to convince Geneva that what we were doing was fun-- in fact, I reminded myself of Calvin's dad, assuring his son that every discomfort and inconvenience was "building character." Geneva kept asking to go home, and we were pretty much out of dry clothes, so we left a day early. I think Avery felt a little sad and disappointed; I know I did. Our beach trip is almost always the highlight of my summer. It is quite literally my Happy Place. This year was just one of those life lessons in acceptance-- you know, a reminder that not every trip can be the best trip ever. It also convinced us that next time instead of backpacking we really ought to try...
...car camping! About a month later we threw together some last-minute plans to camp at Lake Kachess for a couple of nights with Kristen and Tommy. I packed for the entire trip on a Friday afternoon while Avery was at work, and by some miracle I didn't forget anything vitally important. It was already dark when we arrived at the campground, but we found a site, pitched the tent under a nearly-full moon, and woke up to gorgeous sunshine that stuck around for the entire trip. As is usually the case with car camping we brought way more food than was strictly necessary, so we spent the weekend snacking and sitting around (in chairs! with backs!) watching Tommy and Geneva play in the dirt. It wasn't really all that rustic or primitive, it certainly wasn't isolated from other humans, and it wasn't hard work, which are all things that I have come to expect and enjoy about camping. But you know what it was? Relaxing. Low-key. Fun!
So here's what I learned: I love backpacking because it simplifies life, if only for a few days. The only things you have are the things you carry with you. For the most part, the only people you really talk to are the people you chose to hike with. You spend your time in solitude and silence that can't be found in places that are more easily accessible. It is hard work. It hurts. It clears your head. But... backpacking with children is anything but simple. Kids can't set aside the routine comforts of life as they know it and find that experience invigorating. Mostly they find it unnerving. And while adults consciously or unconsciously change their habits while camping, kids just keep playing however they usually do without considering that in their new surroundings there are new limits-- limited food, limited water, limited clothing, and potentially dangerous terrain. Now, none of this rules out backpacking with young kids. Obviously we've done it before, and will probably be foolhardy enough to do it again. Backpacking with kids is possible, but it is not simple.
My goal for the next few years is to find a new way to experience simplicity, one that means I can spend days at a time in the great outdoors without driving my children crazy, or vice versa. If I had to guess, I'd say it will involve a cooler... and chairs. With backs.