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Her World

Neither Rain, Nor Bugs, Nor Babies Can Dissuade Mom From Camping

July 12, 1998|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

A friend of mine who goes canoe-camping every summer with her family in the Adirondack Mountains tells a story about starting out one year in the pouring rain. For the next three days it never stopped as the gear got wetter and the kids testier. My friend kept paddling and passing around gorp, while silently suffering through an unusually severe bout of menstrual cramps. The following summer, I suggested that the two of us spend a week at a spa instead. But she said she'd rather camp.

She hadn't forgotten the packing and planning, the heightened worry one feels for little ones in the wilderness, the bad weather, sore muscles, blistered feet and dirty clothes. She likes to bathe daily, and gets rather tired toting gear, canoes and toddlers around rapids. But like so many other women who love the great outdoors and want to share it with their families, she was not deterred. Fortunately, with a realistic attitude, a little savvy and the right gear no woman need be.

Michelle Briley, a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Ojai, says that when her family tent-camped, it took a full day to get ready and another to unpack. To meet the organizational challenge, she kept a computerized packing list, updated after every trip, as the need for new items arose. On one camping trip to Wheeler Gorge in the Topa Topa Mountains, the car's radiator boiled over, her son cut a deep gash in his toe, and her daughter fell into a stream while wading--all within the first five minutes at camp. But she can laugh about it now because she's learned to face the fact that "the perfect camping trip can never be achieved."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 19, 1998 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Women camping--Due to a reporting error, the name of a Minnesota business that offers wilderness trips for women and children was incorrect in a Her World column ("Neither Rain, Nor Bugs, Nor Babies Can Dissuade Mom From Camping," July 12). Its name is Woodswomen, not Women in the Wilderness.

Briley has also found that camping gets immensely easier as children grow up and can invite their friends on wilderness expeditions, and many women report that nursing infants make top-notch, self-contained campers, easily fed and put to sleep in mom's sleeping bag (though, of course, you've got to carry out dirty diapers on backpacking trips).

It's the toddlers who require constant attention, special treats, toys from home for distraction, and plenty of encouragement--even before you set off, if you're wise, by reading them outdoorsy children's books such as Kathryn Lasky's "The Gates of the Wind" (Harcourt Brace, 1995). Moms and dads need to take turns caring for toddlers, freeing each other for campsite chores, which needn't be gender-determined. After all, moms can pitch tents and build fires, while dads get dinner started.

Alice Cary, the author of "Parents' Guide to Hiking and Camping" (W.W. Norton, 1997), says, "If you make camping easy for the kids, it's going to be easy for you." She's devised an equation for deciding how far children can hike in a day: their age, minus two. So if you have a 3-year-old, plan backpacking campsites just one mile apart. For athletic people with lots of outdoors ambition, this may seem limiting. So Cary advises you to take adult trips frequently to keep yourself from feeling frustrated when you backpack with your kids.

Christine Loomis, the author of "Simplify Family Travel" (Reader's Digest, 1998), has also noticed how slowly kids walk in the woods, presenting a lesson for harried adults. "They see every bug, leaf and spider web," she says. "They're completely in the here and now." She recalls breaking camp one morning near Jackson Lake in Wyoming with her 4-year-old daughter, Molly. While Christine ran around packing frenetically, Molly appeared at the tent flap, smiled brightly, and said, "Good morning pack! Good morning footprints! Good morning pond!"

Here are a few more suggestions to make family camping easier:

* Simplify meals by consulting Linda White's "Cooking on a Stick: Campfire Recipes for Kids" (Gibbs Smith, 1996), or trying Michelle Briley's recipe for Mulligan stew: 1 pound of hamburger sauteed with onions and chili pepper, mixed with one can each of green, kidney and great northern beans, corn and tomato sauce.

* Pitch camp in one place and stay for a while, as if making a little home-away-from-home. This is how Nan Jeffrey, author of "Adventuring With Children" (Menasha Ridge Press, 1990), managed a three-month bicycle-camping tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco with her husband and 9-year-old twin boys.

* Begin introducing kids to the outdoors by going on adventures in the neighborhood or at local parks. When you graduate to overnight trips, stick close to home to avoid long car trips.

* Consider car-camping at commercial campgrounds and RV parks, which may not provide intense wilderness adventures, but can be great fun for kids and easier on parents, particularly if you're a single mom.

* Let children pitch in by giving them campsite chores. As Nan Jeffrey says, "Housekeeping in the great outdoors is a lot more fun for kids than taking out the garbage at home."

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