We woke up on a Saturday morning in June wondering what the hell to do. We had a rare empty schedule for the weekend.
Then, in what was surely a temporary loss of all reason, I suggested taking our two and four year old boys on their very first overnight camping trip.
Did we have all the requisite camping gear? No.
Did we have a campsite booked? Nope.
Was there a high likelihood of rainfall on the Sunday morning? Yep.
But, screw it! We were throwing caution to the wind! We were going to find adventure
We were going camping, y’all!
It was 10 a.m.
I logged onto the Ontario Parks website to search for available sites, and found one at Mara Provincial Park, an hour and a half away on the north shore of Lake Simcoe. By 11 a.m., we had our site locked down.
Then it was time to get our camping shit together.
We didn’t have everything, but we had the vitals:
Our air mattress with its questionable stains…
We inflated it to check for leakage. Of course we couldn’t find our electric pump, so the manual pump it was!
My husband started to inflate the mattress with the pump, looking like as though he was churning butter in the 1800s.
When the mattress was filled, we poked and prodded it.
Questionable stains aside, it seemed decent, so we quickly deflated it, rolled it, and in the SUV it went.
…and a “four person” tent.
I’m not sure how tent companies determine how many people can fit in a tent, but I suspect their measurement tools include children and a cardboard cut-out of Peter Dinklage.
As a childless couple five years ago, the tent was perfect for my husband and I. But with our two boys, it was a tight fit. Especially with my two year old “Octo-toddler” sharing the bed.
It was ONE night.
And besides: We were throwing caution to the wind! We were going to find adventure!
We left our home around 1 p.m. and pulled into our campsite at around 3 p.m. Better late than never!
I opened the car door and was welcomed by a mosquito who promptly had dinner on the middle of my forehead.
I quelled my itchy forehead with a scratch here and there as I set up the tent.
Being the reigning Queen of Tent Pitching, I regaled my eldest son with tales of pitching tents when I was young, in five minutes flat, in the dead of winter, uphill both ways.
When it was done, the boys were ecstatic to explore all 10 square feet of our new wondrous abode.
The plan for the rest of the afternoon was for the boys to hit the beach while I made a quick swing into town to purchase the camping essentials we were missing, then slide right back onto the beach before dinner to enjoy the lake.
At about 4 p.m. I left the boys and their dad on the white sandy beach and sat in the parking lot with my phone, searching for the closest Walmart. I was surprised that Google Maps estimated a hefty 20-minute trip each way.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to Orillia, but a map of the town looks like someone threw a bunch of soggy spaghetti noodles on paper and called them streets. Which is my way of saying I got lost about 7 times between the campsite and the store. A 20-minute trip would have been favourable.
I spent about 45 minutes in Walmart, racing through the aisles collecting food for my picky boys and the camping gear we needed (folding chairs, flashlights, one of those snazzy grilling baskets for cooking over the campfire, and s’more ingredients, obviously). I got one of those barbecue lighters and some “fire starter” to get the campfire up and running (what’s camping without a fire?)
I was soon at the check out, where the bill came up to 300-some-odd dollars and the dude behind me beamed and said, “And they say camping is cheap!”
I laughed in response, “I’m sure it’ll pay for itself in memories, or something.”
On the way back to the campsite, I got lost again, like, 7 times.
I got back to the beach at around 6 p.m., two hours after I left. My youngest was just about falling asleep in his dad’s arms, and both boys were covered in sunscreen and sand.
On our way back to the camp, I caught my reflection in the car window. There was a huge bump in the middle of my head where that flying bloodsucker had dinner. It looked like if I were a unicorn, and someone chopped off my uni-horn, and there was only the stump of where it used to be attached — yeah, like that.
When we got back to the site, my uni-horn stump and I started dinner, while the boys got our bed ready in the tent.
We had purchased firewood from the Ontario Parks store on our way in, and, like all else exposed to this summer, a dampness clung to it.
My husband (category 5 pyromaniac) got the campfire going long enough to cook dinner, but it kept fizzling out. It didn’t help that the lighter I had purchased was a useless piece of shit.
After lighting various items scavenged from our campsite on fire (so much for the “fire starter”) and buying more firewood and kindling, my husband declared the fire officially dead.
We had dinner, but there had not yet been any roasting of marshmallows or making of s’mores.
So at 8:45 p.m. I decided that actually there was NO. FUCKING. WAY. we were going to be campfire-less on our sons’ first camping trip.
Off I drove into Orillia again, this time paying careful attention to not get lost. I had no clue what the hell I was looking for at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night.
I found a Mac convenience store, and it had decent lighters. That was a start.
Expecting an understandably derisive response, I asked the cashier whether she knew of anywhere I could get firewood.
“We have firewood!” she responded.
And there, neatly placed in a row on the bottom shelf of the second aisle, were those clean burning fire log things mostly used in indoor fireplaces. Like manna from heaven.
It was almost 10 p.m. when I returned to the campsite and marched over to the fire pit.
As I started working, I could hear the boys giggling in the tent. Then I heard the sound of the foot pump.
“What are you pumping up in there?” I asked, knowing the answer all too well.
“The mattress,” replied my husband.
“It keeps on deflating.”
Of course it does.
The fire finally roared, although my two-year-old was too tired to see much of it. My older son enjoyed it for a bit before going to sleep.
It wasn’t long after that that I decided to pack it in.
I was in desperate need of relieving myself and wasn’t about to haul ass to the “vault toilet”, which, let’s be honest, is a glorified outhouse. I opted for the more rustic option of taking a disposable cup with me in the woods. I picked up the first cup I saw, one of the kid sized ones that were leftover from one of the boys’ birthday parties and headed off.
Don’t ask me why the cup. I envisioned a more civil affair than cup-less, with my bare ass out in the crisp night air. I could mostly keep my pants up, collect the urine and pour it out daintily. Or something naive like that.
So, a pant half-drop and squat later, I was comfortably urinating into a cup in the woods.
Then it hit me…
This is a lot of pee.
And I chose a kid-sized disposable cup…
Mid-stream, I began to panic…
I drank too much liquid!
I underestimated the amount of urine…!
I CHOSE A KID-SIZED DISPOSABLE CUP.
…you know what happened next.
Of course, my children had enough clothes to last them 10 years into a zombie apocalypse, but I packed a single pair of pants.
I did pack some light blue fleece pyjama pants though, so that’s what I wore for the remainder of the trip.
It was 1 a.m. Under my right arm, with his head on my shoulder, was my 2-year-old. To my left was my 4-year-old.
An all-in-all idyllic scene, except that the mattress underneath us was slowly deflating, and I, as the heaviest weight in the middle, was drawing in my two sleeping boys like the gravitational pull of a large planet pulling its moons closer and closer. My husband lay sprawled across the bottom left corner of the “mattress”, snoring.
Between shifting from side-to-side trying to ensure my boys didn’t gravitate into me and listening to my husband snort the equivalent of an elephant mating call, I didn’t fall into a deep sleep.
Then, from a fog of half lucidness, I could hear a sweet melody. The small voice melded into a few more until it was a chorus of singers, beautiful whistling, all together in a surprising and serene lullaby. It was the birds of Mara Provincial Park and I had never heard anything so natural and seemingly spontaneous, and yet so harmonious.
I lay there on the now mostly-deflated mattress, the purple-y/blue twilight diffusing through the tent’s fabric, listening to the birds. It was 4:58 a.m. and I finally fell asleep.
Rain droplets woke us up three hours later.
A tarp, the bottom of the tent, the bottom of the air mattress — (no air) — the top of the air mattress and a comforter were what separated us from the hard-packed ground.
Damn near luxurious.
Despite the less-than-perfect sleeping conditions, the boys were enthralled to wake up in the tent.
We packed up our gear as light intermittent rain sprinkled down upon us.
My husband and I were exhausted. But as we packed, the boys ran around the campsite in their rain boots and hoodies, crouching down as only little children do, exploring, searching, poking and prodding.
When we finally were in the car, desperately in search of the nearest Tim Horton’s, we did what we always do: debrief with the boys.
“Did you like camping, boys?”
“Yeahhhhh!” they shouted in unison.
It was, by all measures, my worst camping trip.
Insects feasted on my blood. The only local sights I took in was the Orillia Walmart. I was extremely ill-prepared (my Girl Guide leader would have been disappointed). I had three hours of sleep.
I didn’t touch the lake water. Conversely, other liquids that I did come in contact included rain and urine. And despite camping with two small children, that urine was my own.
But the boys? They ran up and down a sandy white beach for hours under setting sun, helped set up their first tent and slept outside for the first time in their lives. They helped their dad start a campfire. They explored our site for fun things like leaves, dirt, rocks, sticks and insects. They made s’mores!
From their perspective, it was a huge success!
An ill-equipped, unprepared, mismanaged disaster of a success.
And I regret nothing.
Because the other option would have been a meticulously planned camping trip that I obsessed over for weeks in advance (i.e. my usual M.O.).
No, this impromptu trip told the anxious perfectionist inside me to please take a seat.
It’s been two months since that little adventure, and we’ve been camping three more times since then.
We’ve splurged on two air mattresses, an electric pump, an 8-person cabin tent and a camping stove.
We make sure to bring at least two working lighters with us.
And yeah, I pack two pairs of pants.