Trial Camping Run – 29 days to go

A week ago, we loaded up the vehicle and did a trial run to see how prepared we were for the cross-Canada leg of our trip. We had not had the chance to “field test” some of our gear and wanted to try it out during a three-day camping trip at a nearby provincial park.

I borrowed my dad’s Jeep, installed the roof carrier and attached the bikes onto the back. I struggled with the roof carrier as it took me a while to figure out that I was blocking the locking mechanisms which was preventing it from closing. Once I figured that out, I spent a couple hours loading up the vehicle to determine the best packing configuration. I had two main goals: I wanted to have an unobstructed view out the rear window and the kids needed to have an unencumbered ride (i.e. nothing at their feet or beside them). We managed to achieve both of those goals. In the future, I’m hoping I can do better than two hours.

We drove to our campsite at Balsam Lake Provincial Park and got stuck in a major storm that hit southern Ontario. We pulled over on the side of the road, waited for it to pass and then got to the site. The site wasn’t a great one and was pretty damp and muddy from the recent storm. We immediately set up the “dining tent” to give ourselves a designated dry space and then went to work setting up camp.

It was our first time setting up our new Walmart pop-up tent. It was assembled in about 90 seconds but since we hadn’t set it up before, it took us a while to get all the details sorted out (the fly specifically). Unfortunately, it didn’t have a little mat at the front door which we took for granted in our old tent. We were happy with the size of the new tent as it was slightly taller than our old one and had much better windows and general airflow.

As for camping itself, Paige and I forgot the most important rule we live by with our children. CHECK THE LIST. We always have detailed lists prepared but we often forget to check them! For some inexplicable reason, we left behind all of our “fire-related” equipment (yep I left the axe at home) and we “forgot” most of the kids’ warm clothing (yep their hoodies). Doesn’t seem like a big deal but the temperature was 3 degrees Celsius at night and I don’t think it passed 10 degrees during the day. This was not one of our best performances. We just got mixed up when packing the car and left a bag and a tote on the dining room table. It does explain why we had so much “extra” room in the car.

Honestly, I’ve not been on board with bringing the bikes on our trip. Last year, we brought our bikes camping and it rained the entire time. We never even took them off the rack! In our case, bringing the bikes adds a significant amount of gear. For us, it means; four helmets, a pump, two bike locks, a different set of tools, a trail bar for Julie and training wheels. It takes a couple minutes to load and unload the bikes and to make them fit I always have to detach the training wheels. And it seems like I get chain grease on me the entire time. But this test run put it all in perspective because at an actual campsite you can have a lot of fun on a bike. We live in a big city and biking on the roads or sidewalks with the kids can be terrifying. We seem to be yelling at them all the time to be careful and to avoid a pothole, bus or other cyclists. Here, it was a different story. The kids had a blast where the speed limit is always under 40km/h and cars are few and far between. Paige and I took Isabella on separate “adventures” in the park on our bikes. Even Julie was up for biking to the beach instead of walking. You can tell we had a good time as upon our return home we realized we blew a tire on Paige’s bike! Paigey was right, the bikes have to come with us on the trip

What other things did we learn:

  1. I was so focused on packing to optimize space, I paid no attention to practicality. When getting to a campsite, especially in the rain, there are things you need first and should be easily accessible. Sticking the tarp (which we use as ground cover) in with the spare tire was idiotic. So was having the tents behind the bedding (you put the bedding in the sleeping tent once it is set up). Paige and I were shaking our heads when we were setting up camp in a light drizzle.
  2. Packing cubes – how did I ever live without you. I can’t believe I have camped and travelled for this many years unaware of their awesomeness. I used to just rummage through my backpack each morning to find a shirt, underwear and socks, leaving a pile of unorganized clothes at the entrance to the tent (and then the tent would leak and the clothes would all be wet). Now I just grab one from each of the three separate packing cubes. I didn’t have clothes in a pile in the tent-like some of my fellow campers (Paigey). In the middle of the night, I knew exactly where a pair of socks were when I was freezing cold.
  3. We did a trial run of “homeschooling” – we got the kids up and tried to do an hour of lessons each day. It worked better when we did it really early (before there was anything else to actually do). Paige had worksheets ready and it worked well, Isabella can tell you 7 badger facts now if you are interested. We have to figure out a better way to contain all the schooling supplies. Markers and pencils were everywhere in the back seat. We don’t bring crayons, they melt.
  4. I forgot how much we eat when we go camping. The family is just ravenous. Vegetables, snacks, and bread is consumed at an alarming rate. I’m guessing the cold weather helped with our appetites but Paige was right, we needed the bigger cooler.
  5. We need a garbage can or something similar for the car. From takeout containers to broken markers, even used stickers, I can’t believe how quickly garbage accumulates on the road.
  6. We need to bring our good cold weather “fall” clothes. I think we didn’t want to bring some of our warmer gear and liners, but I did on the trial run and I was grateful for it. A warm sweatshirt, my hoodie and raincoat made sense. Especially if we run into any unnaturally cold evenings. Seriously, it was 3 degrees. It was so cold, the children actually volunteered to take a warm shower!

All the camping gear is now cleaned and squared away. We’ll just have to see how it all handles its first “real” test at Neys Provincial Park in the very near future.

Ciao for now,

Mike

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