“Let’s go camping,” I said sometime last August.
I was thirty-two years old and had never camped a day in my life. I didn’t know the first thing about camping besides it required me to sleep in a tent and the potential for s’mores. I had always wanted to camp as a kid but with a single mom working up to sixty hours a week, sleeping on the ground instead of a comfortable bed was the last thing on her agenda. Growing up in neighborhood of row homes in Philadelphia didn’t give me a lot of opportunities either. A few times the kids in the neighborhood slept in a tent on someone’s front lawn but I never got the chance because my mom was convinced this was how children were kidnapped.
When I suggested camping my husband, Tim, looked at me and then our two small children who were five and three at the time. “Really?”
It was not a tone of excitement, more like “Have you considered what a horrible disaster this could be?” Or maybe he was experiencing the dread of being the only knowledgeable camper in the whole family. Tim had gone camping often enough as a kid and later done several minimalist trips into Canada. Out of all of us, he knew what he’s doing. But I wasn’t going to take his hesitation as an answer and so I booked a campsite before we even owned a tent. I knew if we didn’t set a deadline we would forever be “planning” a camping trip.
I was pretty optimistic about how our trip was going to go. Tim was much more hesitant and afraid I was setting expectations too high. At the time, we were living on Long Island and I had a serious case of claustrophobia or island fever or just too many damn people in such a small place. We decided to camp off the island because spots were more abundant on the main land and there were a lot less rules and hoops to jump through when booking a site. We ended up at Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY. It’s roughly eighty-five miles north of Long Island, which translates to about two and a half hours by car. To get there from Manhattan / Long Island, Google will recommend taking I-684 to I-84 but I really recommend you taking the Taconic Parkway, especially in the fall with all of those beautiful trees lining the road.
The kids did amazing and took to camping like a fish to water. For them the highlights included roasting food over the fire, playing with flashlights, and fishing. For me it was a much needed breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively. And there were so few people! There wasn’t the sound of constant traffic or screaming firetrucks. We unplugged and our focus was on one another. Everyone participated in making meals and keeping the campsite neat. After the kids went to sleep, Tim and I sat by the campfire and simply enjoyed time together without the distraction of television or our phones. I couldn’t remember the last time we did that.
With little kids, I was worried about keeping them entertained, out of trouble, and avoiding a large amount of whining. We did two hikes on Saturday, our full day at the park. The first was a trip around the outer perimeter of the campgrounds; part of this includes the Appalachian Trail and we’re fairly certain there were several AT hikers staying at the campground that weekend. Round trip, I’d estimate this hike to be about two miles. It was a fairly worn trail and easy enough for our kids to manage and elevation change was minimal.
Our second hike was in the afternoon around Pelton Pond. There were lots of spots to set up for fishing, we brought along the kids’ fishing rods and let them practice casting (no hooks since we didn’t have a license). We also saw several beaver lodges and lots of evidence of fresh beaver activity on the trees. Between our planned activities, the kids puttered around with sticks and rocks and their imaginations.
It was a perfectly imperfect trip. It took us an hour and a half to boil a kettle of water and cook very bland pancakes our first morning because our fire building skills left lots to be desired. My first impressions of camping were: 1.) it’s a lot of work and 2.) no matter what anyone says sleeping bags are neither “plush” or “fluffy”. The campsite was clear and open but the ground was fairly gravelly, which we were not prepared for. It made staking our tent into the ground almost impossible and we did not have a buffer between our sleeping bags and the bottom of the tent. (This is something we’ve since rectified.) We over packed quite a bit and didn’t have the best organization; this is something that we’re still working on. We also underestimated the amount of firewood we would need and had to make two trips during the course of the weekend. But the point of the trip was to push past our comfort zone and try something new and we did exactly that. We survived camping and came back hooked.
Location: Clarence Fahnestock State Park Carmel, NY (Taconic Region)
Date: September 2016; 2 nights
Cost: $38 plus $9 online registration fees
Style: tent; dry