Sometimes all you need is a tent and a campfire. And maybe throw in a bag of marshmallows to boot. We just returned from a weekend in Port Burwell Provincial Park on what was our first ever tent camping trip. I mean if ever there was a year for embracing tent camping, this was the one.
Sleeping in a Tent?
So, big deal, you might be thinking. Many people the world over go tent camping all the time. But, for us, it is a big deal. I am over 50 and have managed to succeed traveling many different ways. Budget travel, luxury travel, beach vacations, girl’s getaways, family ski trips and soft adventure, even an epic Ontario Parks RV road trip together.
Never Say Never
From the time I was a teenager, I said nobody would ever catch me sleeping in a tent.
My travel story would not include tent camping or a roaring campfire and a bed on the ground. I need washrooms, comfort stations and showers, running water. Give me a hotel room, or a resort, then maybe even an RV.
No, I am not a camper, I said, and yet, strangely somehow this month I found myself, sleeping on a mattress on the ground and what’s more shocking than that: I did not hate it. In fact, I booked another camping trip before we even left the first campsite.
This past year, and frankly this month all of the NEVER WOULD I EVER statements have been kicked straight to the curb, thrown right out the window. Why? Well, 2020 has been the biggest example of why we should never say never.
We Bought a Tent
A few weeks ago, I bought a tent, mostly for my younger daughter Ainsley but also for tent camping trips and fun outdoors. We set it up on the deck one weekend and the girls camped out because they needed it and frankly haven’t we all lost a lot this year?
I needed to find a bit of fun and something outdoorsy to compensate for overnight camp being cancelled due to Coronavirus this year.
Backyard Tent Camping
So, after a mostly successful night outside on our patio which was also slightly hilarious as the kids still had TikTok and so much else plugged in, I decided it was time for the three of us to have a girl’s weekend. My husband was working and couldn’t get time off, so the three of us loaded up the van and headed to a nearby Ontario Provincial Park.
Finding Time for Mental Health
Coronavirus has worn away at our mental and physical health this year. So when local businesses and area beaches opened up a bit, it was time to start venturing out on small social distancing trips. Seeing people again and getting outside has been crucial to our existence and to growing better mental health slowly as the province reopens.
While it has been a much harder year to earn an income as a self employed content coordinator, writer and social media marketing expert, my parenting during a pandemic content and editing jobs for local magazines have kept me busy.
We have all been overwhelmed with emotions, anxiety, fear and even depression at various times during the pandemic.
It is a stressful time, worrying about health, finances and the economy. Compounding that stress is the fact that we are all always connected to updates and news.
That is not healthy and it has been hardest for teens in a lot of ways as they watched some of their friends posting to Snapchat constantly, still noting their group gatherings that were not supposed to be happening during lockdown and social distancing protocols in Ontario..
Do You Take Your Tech on Holiday?
We all needed a long overdue tech break. As I was packing quickly for a weekend tent camping trip, I considered taking my computer. As crazy as that sounds, I am rarely without it. I write whenever and wherever the inspiration hits and also I was anticipating proofs of the magazines that I edit. However, in the end I left it and signed off entirely.
Unplugging proved to be crucial to me and my enjoyment of this short tent camping experience with my teenagers. Also it was so important to detox for a couple of days while sharing time away with them. The night before we left my younger girl asked is there wifi at the camp site? And that right there is part of the reason that I was ecstatic she did not have wifi access.
Teens have so much difficulty unplugging and going to camp would have provided a two week period for her to leave the phone at home. That is invaluable.
Surprisingly, my kids have both become very good at outdoorsy things and setting up camp wasn’t an issue. Together, that first night they set up the tent and got a campfire started, which is super relaxing for my younger child to tend to and nurture. Then, we put out the campfire and went to the beach at Port Burwell Provincial Park for a swim. Lake Erie right now was pretty close to perfect temperature and we paddled around on the boogie boards for a bit and had ample space to ourselves.
Back at the Tent
After working up an appetite, the kids cooked hot dogs for dinner and then they made me s’mores. Oh sure, it wasn’t fancy at all, but that was the point and those were the best hot dogs and s’mores this mom has ever had. They hit the spot perfectly. Our s’mores attracted a bit of attention from a few of the kids that were bicycling by our camp site.
Sleeping that first night was a bit spotty, because a young child nearby cried a lot and unfamiliar noises meant we never really hit a super deep sleep.
Treks to the Restroom
This may sound nuts, but those 2 am treks to the washroom are one of my favourite things about camping. I know we said we haven’t done tent camping before, but one year we drove an RV through five Ontario Provincial Parks and checked out all the amenities – pre pandemic.
One year we stayed in an Otentik near Kawartha Lakes and we have stayed in yurts at various campsites. So, we are familiar with that walk to the restrooms. Nowhere is it so peaceful and gorgeous as it is in Ontario’s Provincial Parks.
Finding Peaceful Moments
I have come to enjoy those little walks in the dark through mosquitoes and flies with flashlight in hand. Why? Because the dark skies, stars and constellations are a sight you rarely see at home. Whether tent camping or RV camping, being outside in wide open spaces is healing and frankly there’s nothing like it.
One early morning prior to sunrise I woke both kids for a quick run through the field to the washroom, just to witness a dark August sky punctuated with stars.
Camping in a forest or provincial park without the noise of home, or any of the light pollution caused by cities is blissful.
Port Burwell Provincial Park is a great spot to start if you want to try tent camping. It’s neither too close to London, Ontario or too close to Toronto. In fact, I wanted something that wasn’t too far away from home in the event that we failed or the weather turned nasty. Having that safety feature built in worked for us.
The beach nearby is perfect and you can bike or drive to it. You can probably walk, but we did not. There’s plenty of parking and numerous access points as well as a dedicated dog beach section.
Our Second Night
By night two we were sleeping like babies. With showers closed this year due to the pandemic, a two night stay was our maximum in 30 degree C temperatures. Nights were scorching, which has me looking into extending our camping experiment into the fall a bit when temperatures cool off at night.
This August, we bought a tent. To be clear, we borrowed a few things from my good friend Margarita Ibbott, like air mattresses and a little Coleman stove.
Tent camping wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t for a second expect it to be. There were moments where my lower back protested hunching over to squeeze in and out of the tent, but there were more moments of stillness, laughter and pure joy.
The Things You Remember
A sky full of stars at 3 am, beach glass on the shores of Lake Erie, seeing a teen smile after setting up a tent by herself. These are the things we will remember long after the pandemic is over.