Through much of my childhood, my family would often go camping. My parents owned a small pop-up camper with plenty of bed space for them, my sister, and I. We would often take it to the campground that was just a few miles outside of the town we lived in (well, near) for a weekend. We liked that campground because it was run by the Army Corps of Engineers and unlike the campgrounds in Pennsylvania State Parks, they allowed pets.
A typical morning while camping normally started with me waking up and waiting for it to get light outside. Then I would crawl out of my sleeping bag, shivering in the cool morning air as I put on some clothes. I’d then step out into the sunlight and dig my bike out from under the end of the camper where we normally stowed them. I’d hop on and peddle my way along the various roads throughout the campground and down the sidewalks leading to the beach. I would to this for a couple of hours before returning to our campsite where Mom and Dad would finally be getting up. Dad would set up the small two-burner gas-based stove. I remember having to fill its tank and then pumping it to aerate the fuel before plugging the long pipe into the burner. I’d often convince Dad to let me use the mechanical striker to ignite the burners, as I was fascinated by the way how it would spark. Then Dad would get down to making eggs and toast for breakfast. For some reason, the eggs cooked on that little stove always tasted different and better than the eggs we made at home.
After breakfast, I might go back to riding my bike. Other times, Mom and Dad would be ready to take the canoe (when my sister and I got old enough that the four of us couldn’t share the same canoe, we’d borrow my uncle’s canoe as well) out and paddle it around the lake. We’d paddle from one end to other and often swing by the nesting site the Corps set up, looking to see if we could spot any eagles or osprey.
Alternatively, we might hike one of the trails (though my favorite hiking experiences actually involve hinking the Falls Trail at Ricketts Glen State Park) surrounding the campground. We would often walk into the tent-camping only trail that is only accessible on foot or via boat. That particular walk usually took us an hour or so, if memory serves.
Of course, at some point during the day, my father would go fishing, often joined by the rest of us. To be honest, I never really cared for fishing. I was way too active of a youngster to appreciate an activity that mostly required me to sit their quietly and monitor a fishing pole (or the bobber, if one was attached to the line).
No day camping would be complete without swimming, so the whole family would don our swimsuits and head to the beach at some point. At Ives run, the beach is mostly grass, though there are a couple sections that have been bounded by cement and filled with sand for those who are inclined to build castles and/or moats. Also, the floor of the swimming area is cement. Of course, that made for a few scraped knees in my youth.
Another fun thing about Ives run is that while they have a designated swimming area, you’re actually allowed to swim anywhere in the lake you choose. You just have to remember that in other areas, you might have to be aware of boats and jet-skis. (Fortunately, most boaters are pretty considerate and aware of their surroundings as well.)
At night, we always built a camp fire for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. When we were lucky, Mom made sure the camping budget allowed for graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores as well. We’d much on our goodies and sit around the campfire until Mom and Dad sent my sister and I off to bed (or we went off to bed on our own when we were older).
Sometime in my early or mid teens, we quit going camping. At first, we just started going less frequently. Partly, it was because my sister joined a baton troop and had parades to attend most weekends. This made it difficult to go camping those weekends. Then the other problem was that because we were camping at campgrounds, the prices for sites increased. This made it harder to justify going as the cost of going kept going up.
Every now and then, I think about camping again. I miss the fires, the early mornings, the hiking, and all the other activities. But then, I also miss what a key bit of family time those camping trips were. Right now, if I were to go camping, I’d end up going by myself. That just doesn’t feel right to me.