If you are a fellow nature geek, you’re probably aware of the extensive (and growing!) list of benefits that correlate with time spent in nature. Want to decrease your stress levels and increase your resilience to stress? Get outside! Want to boost your child’s concentration and memory? Send her outside! Want to improve or protect your physical health in myriad ways, ranging from blood pressure to eyesight to respiratory health? Seriously, everyone, get outside! Such lists of benefits may not have a whole lot to do with why you or I actually choose to spend time in nature, though. As I contemplate what it is that motivates me to trade the comfort of a couch for decidedly less cushy amenities like mud and mosquitoes, I keep coming back to one realization: I am an awe addict. Seriously, I live for experiences of wonder and awe. Rather than bore you with something out of Merriam Webster’s, let’s see if I can show you what I mean, and let’s see if it resonates with your own experiences.
My sister is a total badass. In 2002—way before it became hip—she hiked all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. She crossed mountains with blistered heels, slept alone under the stars, and braved the elements on Hike Naked Day. When she began the adventure of motherhood the following summer, it didn’t occur to her to stop adventuring in the outdoors. Backpacking became “Zacpacking,” as she carried not only her gear but also my nephew Zac for more than five hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2004. At fifteen, Zac has an impressive list of day hikes, backpacking trips, and mountain summits under his belt. By comparison, my boys and I are amateurs in the world of hiking. But the hundreds of miles that we have logged on day hikes together have taught me a few things. If you are new to hiking with kids or have had less than fabulous family hiking experiences thus far, read on!
Hot chocolate doesn’t belong on ceilings. Poop doesn’t belong on walls. But when you have a toddler, these things happen. Children have a way of reordering not only your house but also your body (hello, stretch marks), mind (good bye, expectations), and soul (I swear I used to be a really patient person). The constantly shifting order of a parent’s world is joyful one moment and utterly overwhelming the next.
It was getting to be near 7pm and we had still not had dinner yet. The fire seemed to be taking forever to start and we were going to cook foil packs on the fire, requiring said fire to have some nice glowing embers on which to rest the packs. My kids were tired from a long day of hiking, hungry, and cranky. I was also tired, cranky, and hungry and I wanted them to eat their planned dinner so I was withholding snacks. This did not turn out well for us.
I have since greatly improved my camping food game. I have field tested what works best for our family through 10+ day road trips, weekend trips, and group campouts with Red Oaks. I have learned to plan ahead, to keep it simple, and to keep it yummy. This post is in reference to car camping, as food while backpacking with kids is a whole other ball game! Here's what I've learned over some disastrous meals AND over some truly delicious and satisfying ones.
My mom set the tone for most of my childhood: comfortable and suburban, with warm hugs and homemade bread. But every now and then, Dad swept us along on some grand and unpredictable adventure. More than once, it was a cross-country camping trip. Safely ensconced in the drivers’ seat of our Ford Clubwagon, Dad wore a bike helmet all the way from Maryland to California, for the sheer joy of embarrassing his five children. Humility wasn’t the only lesson that we learned on these adventures with Dad, though. We also learned, for example, that if you want to scatter M&M’s on the floor of your tent before going to sleep, you had better zip the tent shut . . . well, unless you like waking up to a swarm of bees.