Kenny Bodanis relates the fun and adventure of camping in the woods with two kids and an awful lot of bears.
It’s cheap (inexpensive, I should say), it forces you to leave behind brain-sapping activities such as watching Dora the Explorer scream at you about her next destination (TREES!….RIVER!…CASTLE!), and it rekindles your inner Jack Kerouac. It’s camping!
Hiking in the mountains, swimming in the rivers, sleeping under the stars. Yay, it’s camping!
My family and I just returned from Forillon National Park in Quebec’s Gaspé region. I was a proud father, leading my wife and two kids into the wilderness for three nights with only the clothes on our backs–and as much stuff as you can cram into a van supporting an overloaded Thule on the roof–to protect us from the perils of nature.
One of the more fascinating facts about this conservation area (one which we learned ten minutes from our destination while finally perusing the pamphlet) is it is home to one of the largest Canadian populations of black bears.
Fortunately, the eighteen year-old warden who greeted us at the gate provided us with a second pamphlet outlining specific rules to avoid being eaten (I think the literature worded it differently, but my fight-or-flight reflex interfered with my ability to read clearly):
* Walk in groups of four or more.
* Make noise.
* Stick to the path when hiking.
* Don’t leave garbage around the tent.
* Next time bring your kids to a theme park; Yogi Bear is brown, not black, and therefore poses no danger.
Camping with two young children is much like being at home with two young children, with the addition of seaside strolls, tent adventures, hot dog cookouts, clam digging, and visits to historical battle sites. One also must subtract many household distractions: bathrooms, soft, warm beds; kitchens, dishwashers, and doorways which not only don’t need to be unzipped, but are also taller than you are.
I have always contended I love all aspects of the outdoors almost as much I love retiring to a Holiday Inn for a warm shower and king-size bed at the end of the day.
But, alas, I married a woman with a taste for adventure, and my children have already experienced the wild side of life offered at a few Best Westerns; it was time to shove us outside and into a nylon dome for seventy-two hours.
Life outdoors means slowing the pace of routine tasks. Water for coffee must first be boiled on the Coleman stove, then poured one cup at a time through a filter suspended over a metal mug from army surplus. Dinner means starting a fire from scratch (with a half-brick of fire starter from army surplus), and carefully holding your food over the flame as it slowly browns and smokes above the crackling embers until it develops that delicious carcinogenic crust.
Unfortunately, through these touching rituals, one still remains a parent: “Don’t throw that in the fire”, “Leave your sister alone”, “Marshmallows aren’t for breakfast”, “Don’t throw your sister in the fire”, “OK, have a marshmallow, but don’t tell your mother.”
Hikes along the Atlantic Coast are mesmerizing, until whale watching is interrupted by the strains of dehydrated children who assumed “hike” meant “get out of the car, look for toads, then drive to the nearest Dairy Queen.”
Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety. After all, Kerouac began On the Road when he was only twenty-seven. Perhaps had he been forty it would have been titled On the Couch or In the Best Western.
Did Kerouac relish unzipping his tent to pee in the woods at three in the morning? In my sleepy disorientation, I began my night-time bathroom trips by trying to pry my flannel pajama bottoms from the flannel lining of my sleeping bag, and inevitably tripping over the tent’s vinyl doorstep, forcing me to crawl the first six feet toward the bullrushes which up until my arrival served as some other geezer’s bathroom. It’s only once I returned safely to my tent that I hear my child’s sweet, sleepy voice: “Daddy?” Yes? “I have to pee.”
Only three hours until marshmallows for breakfast.
There were some magical moments: witnessing whale blows, watching seals frolic during our tour of Percé Rock, not blowing the minivan’s engine while climbing and falling over twelve hundred miles of Atlantic highway.
Ultimately, we got what we all needed most: time together as a family. It is rare in our daily lives that we are all together. School, after-school activities, mine and my wife’s cockamamie work schedules all contribute to a tag-team life style.
Despite it being only three nights, my wife and I even had time to get the kids in the tent with an hour to ourselves. We shared beer and most of a bottle of Burgundy before cuddling on our blow-up mattress.
Of course, before falling asleep, the remaining wine had to be securely corked and tucked into the trunk of the van; black bears apparently dig Burgundy.
Photo—Brown bear in tree from Shutterstock