My wife and I started camping quite often after we got married, buying a series of tents of increasing quality, and eventually investing in a small pop up camper. Then we didn’t go out for a couple of years, and mice invaded the camper destroying the canvas. Fast forward a few years, and we have a young kid, and some friends asked us to go camping with them around memorial day. Long story short, we bought a new (to us) Jayco J series pop up. And so began our adventures camping as a family.
I still remember the first time we went with Tim and the “new” Jayco. My friends and I were all members of the local volunteer fire department, and a nearby campground was letting first responders and police officers camp for free the weekend before memorial day. We had a blast, the camper was spacious and comfortable, and the only thing that can compete with a campfire is everyone all around the lake showing off the blue flashing lights they have installed in their trucks. We ended up having a sort of competition between the east and west sides of the lake for who had the brightest lights, which led to who could get their campfire bigger, which led to visits by campground security, and I guess we’ll end the story there. There were tons of kid-friendly activities as well, and as a whole, our family was hooked and started going out many times every summer.
Fast forward a couple of years to the infamous skunk invasion at a state park not far from here. I wrote about it in detail here before, but it deserves another mention because I still remember my son going to hide in our truck, and locking the doors. Because you never know, they may be able to reach the door handles! When you’re at a campground where those that come before you leave a lot of food out, the skunks become very bold.
Then came cub scouts, and when my son moved up to WEBELOS the overnight summer camp began. I fell in love with tent camping again, and my son and I built some life long memories. Scout songs, sleepwalking scouts, other leaders that had not spent much time outdoors before, and an overall good time every time we went.
When our son was 11, he moved up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. I was still involved as one of the adult leaders, so I dug out my trusty old Kelty tent to go off camping with the scout troop. There I was introduced to outdoor cooking. No hotdogs on a stick, no hamburgers. Real. Food. Some of the other leaders were Dutch Oven cooking experts, and my education began. I started taking photos of what we were making and sending them to my wife, who began insisting that I make that again when I get home. We made desserts, including various cobblers and cakes. Main dishes as simple as meatballs for meatball subs, and sausage and peppers. Eventually moving up to dishes such as chicken parmesan and lasagna. We continually looked for new recipes and I found an unlimited supply of things to try in Dutch Oven cookbooks and on the internet. A new addiction soon began, but that’s another story. Those meals were also a teaching tool for the boys. Each patrol (around 6-8 boys) had to come up with their own menu for a campout, cook their own food, and eat together as a patrol. And one of the boys had to do the shopping for the meal, ideally without adult help (except to pay and push the cart). The adults made our own meal, and always had a little extra if the boys’ meals didn’t come out quite right. I don’t remember ever bringing home leftovers – theirs or ours!
There are too many campouts to list. There was the campout on the St Lawrence Seaway when the boys were learning to SCUBA dive. It rained hard overnight, and we awoke in the morning to one of the scouts bailing water out of his tent. Then there was the porcupine sitting way up in the tree above our tent! There was the time at a campground somewhere in Maryland when some of the boys were late for dinner because they were hanging out at the campground pool with some girls from another campsite. We made them think that the food was all gone when they got back to the campsite. At least for a while. There was a game of tag/hide and seek one night in the field we were camping in. As some of us were sitting around the fire, a scout appeared in a full ghillie suit. He took his hiding game seriously. And everybody that camps with our troop knows about Pterodactyls. I’m not even going to try to explain that one. I’ll end my random flow of memories with ribeye steaks cooked over an open fire at the Antietam Civil War battlefield. It all comes back to the food, doesn’t it?
As your kids get older they tend to go off and do their own thing more and more on your campouts. But the thing that brings everyone back together at the end of the day is a good campfire. Dinner. S’mores. And talking about past campouts.
Of course, we have done things that didn’t involve camping over the last 18 years. But I do believe that some of the best and most vivid memories we have made involve warm summer evenings around a campfire, a tent or a camper, friends, and family.