Last week we completed Stage 1 of our National Park to Park Highway Tour. On our week long camping adventure to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument we wanted to see just how hard living out of our truck full time would be.
Spoiler Alert: It’s hard.
1 – Don’t Leave Essential Gear at Home.
In our frantic packing at the start of the trip we forgot our tent poles and our Lightspeed Outdoors Tripod Quick Canopy. I’m embarrassed just writing that. We forgot our tent poles and shade shelter! As a seasoned camping family we know better than that.
Lucky for us Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are in the high desert region of southern Utah and we didn’t get rained out. Unlucky for us, Zion and Bryce Canyon are in the high desert and we didn’t have any shade.
We survived the first half of the trip by spending the hot afternoons swimming in rivers and the nights sleeping under the stars. Big E and Little G slept on the bench seats inside the truck while Mountain Dad and I slept on the Lightspeed Outdoors Air Bed (with Foam Topper) out under the stars. And when she wasn’t crying, Baby L slept on her Klymit Static V Junior Camp Pad next to us.
Did I worry about creepy crawlies snuggling up with my baby? A little, which is why she ended up on the mattress with me and Mountain Dad every night at some point.
Then on day 5 of the trip my sister came to the rescue, bringing our missing poles and Lightspeed Tripod Quick Canopy to us in Bryce Canyon National Park. Her family came to hike and camp along with us and I was so grateful.
On our big trip this will be less of a problem thanks to the truck top we ordered from Sam T Evans Trailers in Salt Lake City. The plan is to sleep in the back of the truck, leave our bed unmade and not have to roll up sleeping bags every single day.
Making due is a lesson that any camping family learns. Luckily we remembered enough gear to make the trip manageable.
2 – Be Flexible
A few days before we left for Zion National Park, Mountain Dad got a message from ReserveAmerica.com.
“We’re sorry, your reservation for Point Supreme Campground in Cedar Breaks National Monument has been cancelled. They are unable to open the Campground at this time due to unexpected snow levels.”
What? The only firm camping reservation we had on this trip just got nixed? It was a bad omen. We were looking forward to attending Cedar Breaks’ Saturday Night Star Party, but without a place to sleep that just wouldn’t be possible.
This is the second lesson any camping family learns. Sometimes our plans just don’t work out. It’s a lesson I’ve learned before, but apparently have to keep learning. We do everything we can beforehand, but as John Steinbeck says in his books Travels with Charley In Search of America, “…A trip…has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness…And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.”
We decided to cut our trip short by one day since camping in snow didn’t sound that fun anyway, especially without tent poles.
3 – Pack and Strap It
A big headache on this trip was packing, strapping and attaching our gear. I’ve realized that the right gear for packing is just as important as the right gear for hiking and biking.
Inside our truck bed we installed a Decked system, which is great for keeping our camping gear organized. Our camp chairs, stove, emergency supplies and even food stay neatly in their places and easy to find. But the space between the top of the Decked and the tonneau cover is only about eight inches. That means every sleeping bag, backpack, and baby carrier has to either squish to fit or be strapped on another way.
We’re fixing this in three ways. First, we’re getting a truck top from Sam T Evans Trailers in Salt Lake City. That will give us space to sleep and hang our backpacks so they’re out of the way, helping with the packing and keeping setup and take down work to a minimum.
The other two fixes are thanks to our sponsor Yakima. First, the SwingDaddy 4 Bike Hitch Rack has been awesome. Because of it’s unique design, we’re able to move the bikes out of the way of our tailgate without taking them off every time. It’s genius! Fitting our tots’ tiny Woom bikes on the rack built for full sized, adult bikes was tough, but we figured it out eventually. Only after I got home I found out that I’m not supposed to mount bikes vertically on the SwingDaddy. Looks like we’ll have more figuring out to do.
Second, we need a place to pack our bike trailer. While the Burley D’Lite Bike Trailer packs pretty flat, we already had limited space in our truck bed due to our Decked system. Mountain Dad came up with a brilliant solution of strapping the Burley D’Lite on top of our tonneau cover. For our big trip we’ll be installing a Yakima LoadWarrior Rooftop Cargo Basket to the top of our truck cab. This will allow us to pack the oversized items without having them bounce around on our unmade bed.
4 – Camping Requires Some Work
Mountain Dad’s biggest complaint on the Stage 1 trip was how often we had to wash dishes. After every meal! I’m committed to producing as little waste as possible on our National Park to Park Highway tour. That means no paper plates, utensils and paper towels (who wants to use paper plates for 7 weeks anyway?). Mountain Dad, on the other hand, is focused on making our lives as easy as possible, which I also support.
We love the Sea to Summit X series dish sets, I just wish there were a way to make them self cleaning. Washing dishes after every meal adds a lot of time to the work part of camping and less to the play part. Since our kids are still young (ages 7, 4 and 1) they can’t wash all of the dishes on their own. Big E and Little G have helped with the work, but as most ‘teaching kids to work’ projects go there’s a lot of direction from Mom. It’d be faster and easier (and less whiny) if I just did it myself.
We don’t have an easy solution to this, other than to suck it up and do the dishes. With a family of five this may just be part of the work of camping that we can’t make much easier.
5 – Joy Amidst Work
So if camping with kids is so tough, why do we do it? What is the point of loading up life, driving for hours, and sleeping in your car/tent/on the ground for a few days?
I think that’s best answered by my kids. When my sister came to camp with us she asked Little G the following questions.
Q – What do you like about camping?
A – We do fun stuff all the time.
Q – Like what?
A – Like play.
It’s true we do fun stuff while camping. Swimming in the Virgin River in Zion, riding bikes along the canyon rim in Bryce, even playing with pine cones at our campsite are out of the ordinary, unique experiences. And my kids aren’t the only ones playing. Mountain Dad and I are in the water with them, riding along side, even adding to their pine cone pile at camp.
This is the reason I camp with my kids. There are moments amidst the work that are relaxing, fun and beautiful. I’m present for my family without TV and smart phones distracting me. Nature helps me feel happy.
Twice on this trip Big E and little g said “This is the best day of my life.” Even with the sleeping, packing and cleaning of the trip. They got to do fun things outside. When I think about it, that’s why I like camping too.
Before we leave for our big National Park to Park Highway Tour June 27th, we’ll be working on solutions to our packing dilemmas. I’ve already started on a packing list to prevent leaving essentials at home. The biggest lesson I learned from Stage 1 of our tour is to make the work more manageable, then focus on the joy of being outdoors with my family. That’s what I want to be doing anyway.
What about you? What are your biggest headaches when camping? Why go (or not go)?
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