August 2015 – Our First Time Camping!


Our home away from home.

*For the rest of the pictures, visit this album.

This is a much-belated post, as the trip was three weeks ago. Crunch time with garden harvesting and processing, depression, and getting prepped for the new homeschooling year have all led me to neglect this space for a while.

The Trip

We arrived Thursday around lunch. The park we camped at (Pike Lake Unite of the Kettle Moraine State Forest (WI)) has a beach/picnic area on one end, hiking trails throughout the middle, and the campground is near the far end. We took a hike after lunch, then still had time to swim and lounge at the beach for a couple hours before we could check in to the campground. I brought a small charcoal grill so I had something familiar to cook with, and we had brats and hot dogs for dinner. Roasted marshmallows over a re-stoked charcoal fire. Our attempt at a wood fire comes later.

Friday there was light rain from about 4AM to 6ish. Campsite was damp, water still dripping through the forest canopy, but it was dry enough that it was not much trouble to cook a hot breakfast. Barely anyone in the family likes cold breakfasts (or many meals in general), which I’m realizing makes camping in rain quite difficult. We have a Coleman Triton propane stove, which works pretty well. The low setting is right next to the off (unlike most indoor gas stoves, for example), so getting a low heat without the flame dying is annoying, but otherwise it works quite well. Amazing how short the propane bottles last. Ours died right at the end of breakfast on Sunday. Made pancakes with egg, water, and a dry mix I put together at home. Cast iron skillet FTW! So easy to wipe clean, so I can make eggs, pancakes, lots of things without needing a wash. For coffee we don’t have a small kettle, so I packed a saucepan to boil water, poured into a Pyrex measuring cup, then from there into the AeroPress.

After we ate, took a hike on a couple new trails we’ve never checked out at this site, then headed over to the beach. Got a couple rain free hours but ended up retreating to the (thankfully) unoccupied shelter nearby as it rained. And rained. And rained. Originally I was going to go back home to pick up the CSA box by myself, but instead everyone came along for a respite from the gloomy weather. The Alchemist even took the time to take a quick shower. Rain had stopped by the time we got back from Milwaukee, so I grilled again, and then we drove over to the nearby town to check out what ended up being a neat 50s-vintage style ice cream parlor. Treats were quite good, well worth $13 as a one-time expense. Ended up walking around the town, which has some cute (closed at the time) shops and a nice riverwalk, and got back to campground around dusk.

Saturday was overcast all day but no rain. After breakfast we drove over to the beach, parked, and took a hike on yet another new trail. I’ve got the trail (section of the Ice Age Trail heading south towards Holy Hill) marked as a future dayhike for the Alchemist and I. Despite numerous road bypasses (eventually they want the IAT to be a thru-hike, but a lot of it is still on roads between various public and private lands) it was a pretty cool hike but the kids can only be pushed so far, especially since Alpha had some blisters from earlier hikes. Returned to the beach and spent all day there. It was super relaxing to stay in one place for 8 hours knowing all we had to do was drive back over to the campground whenever we wanted to. Ate reheated brats/hot dogs for lunch, then I’d packed chili from home for me, Alchemist, and Alpha and made quesadillas in the skillet for the other two.

Decided it would be worth making a wood fire, so bought some firewood and made a go at it. Ended up needing help from our neighbor (our site happened to be right next to the campground host) to get it going but I think I know enough now to do it myself. I know wood fires are the thing for camping, but it’s so much slower than other cooking methods. I’d probably only consider it for evening meals – but lots of folks in the campground were cooking all 3 meals over the woodfire.

Left Sunday, breaking camp after breakfast.

What we Learned

A 6 person tent is plenty big for us. (The tent we borrowed was an older Coleman dome style.) We did sleeping bags without extra padding this time. I think for next time we’ll get some pads in addition, at least for the adults. I slept okay, but couldn’t comfortably sleep on side without the padding. Alchemist slept terribly, but I think that was more a function of the kids snuggling mobbing her than physical discomfort. Kids themselves slept okay. They’ve done sleeping bags on bare floors before so this wasn’t too different.

I need some sort of backup for meals when rain hits. Either cold meals or cooking under a shelter.

Bugs SUCK. We had bug repellent but still got bit plenty. I think, after reading some, we weren’t applying it evenly (it was a pump spray, not aerosol) because it was plenty strong (25% DEET). Between bugs and rain threat, considering getting a screenhouse in addition to a tent. The wood fire also seemed to help some. Folks have also recommended ThermaCell lanterns. In fact, while you will need to register for the forum, there’s a rather interesting discussion back and forth about camping starting after this post in my MMM journal.

Washing dishes with a washtub (filled from a 5 gallon jug) wasn’t terrible, so next time we camp I’ll bring non-breakable dishes instead of paper plates/bowls.

Going Forward

I think we’ll try to do several camping trips in 2016.  We almost went ahead and got a tent so we could squeeze a trip in this fall, but we decided that our weekends have been busy enough already. The Alchemist has been going through a very busy period at work and the weekends have been event-filled enough that neither of us is getting much of a recharge. Camping is fun, but squeezing it onto a 2-day weekend isn’t necessarily relaxing.

But, outside of saving the $ to buy the gear, we feel quite prepared to venture out again. Destinations haven’t been decided, but most of the trips will probably be within WI, though we’ve talked about perhaps camping on the way to or from Baltimore to visit my in-laws instead of doing the trip in a straight shot as we normally do.