Toronto Zoo
TOP

Family camping back to basics

My wife and I took the kids camping this past weekend. We went with a few friends and a few friends of theirs who we didn’t really know, so there was quite a gang of us.

To be clear, we didn’t exactly go wilderness camping like my brothers and father and I used to do. This was car camping at its finest. There was a bathroom with running water on the group site. The areas for setting up camp were all sanded and smoothed by the park. The hiking trails were all gravelled and easily accessible.

In comparison to my experience as a kid, it hardly qualified as camping at all. There were no long hours of paddling, no portages over tricky terrain, no making do with what you could carry on your back, no eating only what wouldn’t spoil without refrigeration, no digging holes for latrines.

Quite the opposite. People were setting up tents as big as sheds, with secondary screened tents for eating. They had almost entire kitchens in the backs of their vans, cooking everything from pork loin to curried chicken. They periodically turned on their vehicles to warm up and to charge their devices. Even so, a bunch of them still wimped out after the first night.

Now, in all fairness, it was drizzly and cold pretty much the whole weekend, but it made me wonder why anyone would even bother to go camping when all it meant was packing up what seemed like their entire house, transporting it three hours up the highway, setting everything up, then doing it all in reverse again, just for a single day that they half-spent sitting in their cars anyway.

The point of camping, at least for me, is to do things a bit more simply for a few days, to live without the devices and the central heating and the cooking stoves and the toilets, to get closer to nature and to each other. It’s about reminding ourselves of how much we have and how much we take for granted. It’s about reminding ourselves of what we lose when we become so dependant on our conveniences.

So, we stuck it out the second night. And two other families did too. We hung around the fire for warmth, cooked hotdogs and marshmallows on sicks the way nature intended, chatted and laughed and told stories. Then we huddled up together for the night, all that body heat making the tents cozy.

Was it cold? Sure. Was it rainy? A little. Was the ground hard? Absolutely. (And getting harder on the back the older I get.)

But it was certainly worth the trip, certainly worth cooking over an open fire and spending time together as a family without distractions. It was worth hiking down to see the lake from the escarpment in the rain. It was worth drinking camp coffee out of a pan. It was worth climbing trees and chasing red squirrels with pine cones (not me, the kids, I swear).

It’s good – I truly believe it – to live simply like this now and again. It’s good to be a little cold and to burn our fingers a bit cooking on the fire pit and to have no lights when the sun goes down. It’s good to remember that we’re more than just our technologies and our conveniences.

So do it. Go camping. But pack light. Just the necessities. Don’t just try to live your normal life at a campsite somewhere. Try as much as possible to leave your normal life behind.