Camping: Of Annual Adventures Gone Awry

It’s Travel Tuesday and once again I’m reminded of the challenge of living through a global pandemic and a life dismantled by a thousand small cuts. You see, each year with — the exception of last year — we usually go camping with a small group of families.

Eight adults. The same number of too-rapidly-growing-up kids. Pets. Tents. Campfires. Walks in the woods. Weather. Lakes. Crafts. Bike rides. Outhouses. And whatever new adventure strikes.

I’m wondering today if this bit of local travel is one more of those cuts.

for whatever one photo is worth:

This past weekend as the rolling summer booking window started to traverse those optimal summer camping months, The Email made its rounds to the families:

What’s the plan for 2021? Y’know… with COVID and all that?

It was a long weekend in late-June and despite the pouring rain upon our arrival, we set up the tents and tried our best to keep our gear dry. We have a lightweight backpacking tent that sleeps three, but a huge truck-camping tent that would make up a hundred and fifty percent of my backpacking carry weight, but lugs out of the truck box easy enough and is rainproof enough to tolerate most of the seasonal weather.

I had pulled up my photo software and was poking nostalgically through some of my old photos of the last time we went out with that group. Kid cooking marshmallows. A day at the lake-side beach.

We’re being cautiously optimistic, the first reply came through, but we might cancel at the last minute if things don’t get better.

Cut?

We cooked that first night over a hot-spitting fire, fending off the dwindling rain with some steaming cast iron pans. This may have been the exact weekend when some beer-fueled conversations about my collection of pans inspired the registration of a domain name and would a year and a half later kick off a daily blog you may have heard about somewhere.

I just don’t think that I could keep my distance for an entire weekend while out there with everybody, came a second reply a half hour later. It would be really tough. Thanks for understanding.

Cut.

I have any number of summer plans, but one weekend with friends in a remote campsite still seemed like a safe bet.

Or maybe not.

Cut.

Perhaps there will be just the four of us, a fire, a tent, and some lonely cast iron over a gently smouldering fire.

Overnight on Public Lands

The province where I live currently has over eleven thousand square kilometres of public lands that are available for a variety of recreational activities, including cross-country skiing, backpacking, and overnight camping.

Sadly, much of that land is at least three or four hours of driving away… so nothing is close enough for a quick weekend getaway, at least not without some substantial planning.

With everyone sticking closer to home due to lingering travel restrictions, it seems like a lot of the so-called official campsites are (like last year) likely to be booked up quickly by the RV crowd. We enjoy our share of backpacking, though, and it seems like it might be the summer to jump with both feet into the backcountry, random, boondocking-style of camping and see where that takes us.

I thought it would be useful for both my readers, and my future self, to write a post where I compile some resources and thoughts on the topic.

Resources

Public Land Use (an Overview for Alberta, Canada) is the official government website detailing many of the places, rules, and parameters of those who choose to stray from the well-travelled path and forge their own adventure.

Alberta Parks Random Backcountry Camping is a guide from another branch of the government with some more plain language guides, rules, and hints for where and how to camp outside of designated campsites.

Beginners Guide to Public Land Camping is an adventure blog where they have already done some resource gathering for this topic. I’m not necessarily saying go there and check their list first … but I did.

How to Camp Respectfully is another blog-like site with a great run down of how to get away from everyone else who is trying to get away from it all and find some backcountry camping solitude with respect for the land.

Permits in 2021?

I'll continue to add-to and update this post as I do more research on the topic.

Would You Rather Camp or Trek?

Here’s a question for any outdoors person… given a year to do one or the other, and all things being equal, would you rather:

Camp, in as much as you have a whole year to build an amazing setup in the wilderness, craft a log cabin with your own hands, spend your days foraging, building, cooking over an open fire, tending to the peace and quiet of nature outside of the hustle and bustle of the city…

-OR

Trek, in as much as you have a whole year to wander from place to place, never spending more than a day or two in one spot, hiking, climbing, traversing, and adventuring through trails, mountains, and vast open wilderness away from vehicles and concrete.

Poll:

Thanks for voting!

Book: Campfire Cuisine

For Thursdays I was thinking about starting a regular feature called Tuck & Tech that would let me muse about gear, books, recipes, and other kit. I’m neither sponsored nor provided any of these things. I just find them interesting or useful.

A curious recipe book showed up in my stocking this past Christmas: Campfire Cuisine by Robin Donovan seems to be a hearty collection of tasty dishes that meet a couple basic criteria around food transportation and storage as well as ease of preparation over a hot campfire.

A lot could be said about the fact that the wife and I have already conversed about trying some of the collection of marinades, breakfasts, sandwiches, and main courses at home first. There is nothing necessitating a campout cook style for many of the dishes … which, I guess, means that the collection is a solid book of hearty dishes that also happens to be amenable to cooking and eating in the great outdoors.

It’s the middle of deep winter as I write this, and I did have a short campfire in the chilly backyard for New Year’s Eve, but we used it to symbolically torch the 2020 calendar and I wasn’t comfortable cooking on those flames afterwards. Our simple go-to would likely have been pulling out the marshmallows to make s’mores, after a round of grilled hot dogs.

Yet this book definitely seems to be more than one-dish meals or meats-on-sticks.

I re-read the introduction this morning again and it lit a feeling of kinship between myself and the author. There was a symmetry of philosophy in those words, even as I set off (it’s still my first week) to write a daily blog checking boxes that Donovan checked long before me, and in print to boot.

Living to eat well.

Travelling to taste and experience.

Savouring experiences.

I’ve yet to try any of the recipes, and definitely not over a firepit, but for that synergy alone I’ll be pouring over the hundred-ish recipes in the book now (and as warmer tent camping weather approaches) to construct the menu for our next outbound excursion.