Earlier in the week, I got a call from Ted, an old friend and former hiking partner from college days. We had shared many adventures back in those days, but we had lost touch over the years.
He called to explain that he was interested in taking his two boys on a camping trip, and he needed some help.
Despite the fact that he had been an avid backpacker during our college days, he sheepishly admitted that he's never been camping with his own children.
"You know how it is with work and a family," he explained. "There's always something going on, whether it's soccer, Little League, school obligations or any of a hundred other distractions. I feel bad that we've never gone camping together. And now I'm worried that I've forgotten how.
"I've got to take them before they're too old, and I want them to have a chance to rough it," Ted explained. "But I don't want to make it too tough or uncomfortable either. I'd really like to rough it kind of easy, but definitely not in an established campground."
After providing him with a thorough, yet good-natured scolding, we discussed a variety of options before settling on the concept of establishing a simple camp at a relatively remote site that is accessible only via a boat or canoe.
I sent Ted and his crew of two to a local campsite that's situated within striking range of several easy day hikes. It also has great opportunities for swimming, as well as some fine fishing. And I even offered to help establish a camp for them in advance of their arrival.
"Oh, no! That just wouldn't work," Ted explained. "I've got to do this myself. The boys would really be disappointed if they thought I had to hire a guide."
I understood his concerns. However, I did enjoy a good laugh after offering to buck up some firewood in advance of their arrival.
"That would be great," Ted said, "but please don't stack all of the wood in a big, neat pile. Just throw it around. I want the boys to think that we did this all by ourselves."
I also provided Ted with a shopping list for a variety of easy-to-prepare, one-pot camp meals, and I sent along a comprehensive checklist of the necessary gear and supplies. I gave him an accurate map, with highlights of paddling routes, hiking trails and swimming holes, as well as some "Step by Step Camp Set-Up" instructions.
Despite my best efforts to insure they had a self-contained camp, I expect I'll get a call soon after they arrive at the campsite. Surely, Ted will have forgotten something. If it isn't too late in the evening, I may even drag out my old black bear costume before paying them a visit.
Setting camp: Step by step
1. When setting up camp, arrange the layout according to the three Ws: wind, water and weather. Most weather comes from the west, so face your tent opening to the east to take advantage of the morning sun.
Set the tent close enough to see the water, but keep it far enough removed to avoid the brunt of any bad weather that might blow in. State regulations require it to be at least 150 feet from the water's edge.
2. Immediately upon arriving in camp, hang a fly to insure that all of your food and equipment is under cover. Situate the camp table to take advantage of the prevailing west winds. The steady breeze blowing off the lake will help keep bugs at bay while you eat.
3. Most established campsites will have obvious tent sites. If not, find a nice level area and check for level ground by having the kids lie down. Also look out for potential hazards such bee hives, tree roots, rotted trees or broken limbs above, soggy ground below and any obvious signs of water runoff or ponding. Remove any sticks or rocks before setting up.
4. While you're setting up, send the boys off to find some kindling wood. Keep 'em busy with easy camp chores, such as lugging the water jugs, setting up the camp chairs, stringing a clothes line, etc. (Give each boy a small personal flashlight with a lanyard. It will insure the big, important light doesn't wander off.)
5. Clean all pots and pans of food scraps before washing with soap and rinsing with hot water. Hang all of your garbage, as well as regular food, in a tree that's well removed from camp. Store all of your food and garbage in the 5-gallon buckets I provided.
Take the time to attach a couple of soda cans with pebbles in them to the hanging rope. The cans will serve as an early warning system against squirrels, raccoons or other critters.
If a bear wants to mess with your food, don't attempt to wrestle him for the Snickers bars, just bang some pots and pans and yell a lot; he'll get the message. Please note that bears aren't as likely to be around lakeshore campsites as they are in the High Peaks, but don't tell the boys. If they believe bears are nearby, they won't wander too far from camp.
Also, be certain all of the kids' candy, Slim Jims, and even your sweet smelling deodorant are likewise stored in the food bucket. Most camp pests discover food by scent. Mice, squirrels and even those cute chipmunks will quickly chew a hole through a backpack or even a tent wall for the chance to enjoy a quick snack while you are snoring.
6. Establish the cooking area well away from your tent, but relatively close to the fire ring. Hang your lantern from a tree near the dining area and leave it there. Snuff out the lantern early, the fire's light is all you'll need after dinner.
7. Be sure to make your fire in an established fire ring, and keep the boys busy tending it. Remember, sleep comes easy for tired campers.
8. Before hitting the sack, take the time for a walk down to the lakeshore to enjoy the dark night. The boys will never see such a sparkling sight in the urban sky.
9. If you hear some unusually loud snoring coming from just outside the tent and both of your boys are already wide awake, maybe it's time to consider packing up, quickly.
10. Enjoy the woods and waters, and be sure to bring the boys back soon. Too much city and not enough country is no way to raise a young man! I'll see you in camp.