Saturday, August 17, 2013

Family Camping - Lessons Learned

The past 48ish hours my family had a quick getaway to do some family camping.  Well, one night in a hotel, one night camping.  We spent Thursday night in Rochester in a hotel downtown because with work obligations I wasn't able to get home early, so we didn't leave town until after 8:30PM and there was no way we were driving 90 miles and then setting up a tent.  So I hit and found a reasonable room for the night that got us 70% of the way to our destination.

We camped at Whitewater State Park, just North of St. Charles, MN and about 25 miles East of Rochester on Hwy. 14.  We had lucked out in that there was a single campsite still available for Friday evening earlier this week, so we took it.  It was the ideal weekend to be there in that there was a bunch of young child specific programming scheduled in the park. So we lucked into that.

Among the lessons I've learned the last 48 hours:

1)  A quiet relaxing walk in the woods with a 4 year old is neither quiet nor relaxing.  (but still enjoyable)
2)  I'm too old to sleep on the ground.
3)  We need a bigger car.
4)  The best malts ever are at Del's Cafe in downtown St. Charles.  In fact, all the food there that we tried was fantastic, but the malt was simply over the top.
5) The gas pumps at the St. Charles Cenex don't shut off when your tank is full like everywhere else in the world does, thereby you'll soak yourself in gas if you are filling it and standing next to the handle when it hits full and keeps going.
6)  Even in mid-August the Whitewater River is REALLY cold.
7)  I still like camping, though I still don't like car camping in sites piled on top of each other.
8)  I love my Chaco sandals.  But I had a minor blowout that looks like I'll be having to send them in for a bit of warranty work.  Probably one of the best companies on the planet for this kind of thing, so I trust I'll be treated well.
9)  Doesn't matter what cool places you go, the gravel parking pad at the campsite is still one of the best places on the planet to play with toys.
10)  The best way to end a campout is Outback Steakhouse on the way home.  Why we didn't do this as Boy Scouts...

We had a great time getting away.  No cell phone coverage, no electricity, no computers.  Just fun and family.  Hadn't set our tent up in longer than I care to admit, but it went up with no problems.  We opened our time at camp with a puppet show put on by one of the camp rangers over near the beach area.  We ran into town for lunch at Del's Cafe and then grabbed some non-perishable/no cooking required foods at the local grocery store and headed back to camp.

When we got back to camp we decided to hike up to Chimney Rock, and did that full loop in the midday heat (not advisable in the heat honestly, wait until it cools).  Nice views, though like spending an hour on the Stairmaster, so be warned that it basically straight up the hill, across the ridge a short distance and then right back down the hill with no flat spots in between.  I hiked it in my Chaco sandals (Vibram soles) but I don't recommend that.  It is wickedly rocky and root strewn in places, so toe protection is advised.

We spent the rest of the sunlit part of the afternoon/evening at the beach just relaxing and enjoying some truly amazing weather.  We made it back to camp as the sun was setting and while my other two family members took care of some odds & ends at the shower house, I got the campfire setup and burning. Whitewater doesn't allow outside firewood, so buy it for $5 a bundle at the visitor's center (not cheap).   At least the wood is all hardwood and pre-split though.  Sat around the campfire trying to see meteorites falling with very little success.  Eventually the little man was too tired and he dragged my wife off to the tent to sleep.  She was going to study, but within about 5 minutes they were both out.  I stayed up and tended the fire until it was out and then went to bed myself.

I ended up with the most uncomfortable sleeping spot ever.  There was a high point right were my hips rest, and my head and feet were lower, and the ground slanted into the side of the tent besides that.  I guess that's what I get for being the last in the tent.  So the night's sleep was pretty miserable, though our 4 year old had one of his best night's sleep ever.  But my wife & I agree, we're too old to sleep on the ground.  Cots or an air mattress next time.

Got up this morning and let the wife head to town to the coffee shop to do some studying.  She speaks very highly of the St. Charles coffee shop.  I don't drink coffee, so I'll leave that up to her to define.  Little man and I had some good play time and I packed up most of the sleeping gear so we'd be ready later in the day to head home.  Then at 10:00am we went of and did some more programming that the park had set up for younger children.  Watched birds, hiked some more, looked at flowers, stuck our feet in the river, read books, and more I'm sure I'm forgetting.  All in all a great day.

This was our son's first time camping.  He had asked if we could go about a week ago, and I'm pretty sure he now wants to go again, which I suppose is a good thing.  At least it will be if I can find a battery powered air mattress.

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