Posts Tagged With: Outdoor Mom

Fall Is Here! Don’t Pack that Gear Just Yet!

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably get the impression that camping and outdoors activities are summertime events. And yes, they are certainly a lot easier to pull off when you don’t have to work around school schedules, football practice, dance class, etc. But I urge you not to overlook the super cool fun there is to be had at this time of year, especially now that the weather is cooling off a little and the bugs are starting to get lethargic.

Fun fact: Did you know mosquitoes supposedly can’t flap their wings if the temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit? Wrap up in your sleeping bag and enjoy a bug-free evening!

But one of the things that kills camping and other activities for parents right now is the packing and the driving and the setting up…only to tear it all down just two days later and race home to get ready for school. And that’s assuming you even had a completely free weekend to do something.

So one of the best things to do at this time of year is the day excursion. Whether it’s hiking, going mountain biking, star gazing, geocaching, canoeing or kayaking if you live somewhere still warm to enough to risk a dunk in the river…whatever you do, a day trip is perfect.

But don’t give up on the opportunities for a day trip that happens to take place at night! Here’s a really fun option that will take your outdoors fun to a limited level, but after sunset.

  1. Pick up the kids from school and hit the road (nothing wrong with dropping the backpacks and lunchboxes at the house first, or even waiting for other family members to get off work).
  2. Pack a portable grill and a cooler filled with dinner ingredients. Check out this easy to make fire pot for hot dogs and marshmallows if you don’t have a grill, or invest in a small charcoal or propane grill, which should run a price spectrum of between $15 and $100.
  3. Find a safe and legal spot to set up lawn chairs, spread out the blanket, cook some dinner, and even roast some marshmallows.
  4. Enjoy the evening! Use an app like Google Starwalk to help you guys pick out different stars and planets, bring along some games or a frisbee, whatever. Just get your kids out there and enjoy!

And if it’s not all that chilly where you live, don’t forget your Bug Off Jar and some peppermint oil to keep those noseeums at bay.

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There Are Always Chores, Even in the Woods

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Ah, the great outdoors. It’s wonderful. Spending time with your family in the bounty of nature is truly one of the best things in life. Too bad it sucks so awfully to pack up the car, set up your campsite, take down your campsite, reload the car, then put all the crap away when you get home.

There are ways to make all of that packing and unpacking less painful, but those are for another blog post. This post about is an often-overlooked aspect of spending time in the outdoors: basic, regular, everyday chores.

Chores actually can happen at any type of outdoor activity, but for this post, I’m focusing on camping. The kids and I have been on three multi-day camping trips since school let out in May, and only one of them was actually just for the purpose of going and having fun. The other two were functional; we had somewhere we had to be, and camping was the cheapest, most fun option.

My oldest recently attended a super-cool dance intensive at a university a few hours away. It was pretty pricey, but absolutely worth it. The only thing is, it didn’t include room and board. That meant she had to stay somewhere, so we camped. Yup, my kid was the one who had to camp every night, then get up at the crack of dawn to go dance for ten hours, then do it all again the next day. That’s because a campsite at the state park costs $34 a night, and a hotel in that town is over $100 a night.

So, camping it is! But that also meant six days’ worth of meals, showers, and (ugh) laundry. Kiddo had to wear several different dance outfits each day for the different types of classes she would be taking, andĀ  I had to have a way to wash the sweaty dance clothes.

Well…THIS is how you wash clothes in the woods! There are several different methods, all based on how long you’ll be gone and how often you plan to stay in the woods for an extended period of time. You also have to consider your gear, and how much room you’ll have to bring a washing system.

One of the most popular and most effective washing methods involves a five-gallon bucket with a snap-on lid, a toilet plunger (new, please!), and a hole drilled in the lid for the plunger to fit through. This method will remind you a lot of churning butter. However, this method also means carrying a five-gallon bucket with you; if you can use that bucket for some kind of storage or as a stool or a table when it’s not a washing machine, that might be okay. But we already had to bring gear and food to camp for six days, so an extra bucket wasn’t really in our space allotment.

This method is for a much smaller stash of laundry, like leotards and dance tights. If you’re not dragging a future Broadway dancer with you on your camping trip, this method would also be perfect for making sure you have two clothing essentials: clean socks and clean panties. You can actually wear a t-shirt until the smell frightens away woodland creatures, but socks and panties really need to be clean for optimal health. You can wash your socks and undies with this method.

NOTE: I know some readers will ask why I didn’t just go into town and use a laundromat, and I want to say that on our first long-stay trip this summer, that’s exactly what I did; we spent eight days camping, so I went over to the state park’s wash room and popped in some quarters one morning. But on this trip, those dance clothes had to be washed every night. Besides, washing one pair of tights, two leotards, some socks, and a pair of shorts in a washing machine is very wasteful of water and quarters.

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HOW TO WASH CLOTHES IN THE WOODS:

  1. Get a large wide-mouthed jug with a screw on lid. Wash it thoroughly several times before you try to use it.
  2. Get some kind of “agitator” to go in your jug. I used a nylon sock filled with rocks that I’d washed. The sock is just to keep my rocks together so when I’m rinsing and draining, I’m not dropping the rocks everywhere and getting them dirty again.
  3. You can use powdered or liquid soap, but I would recommend powder in case it spills in your gear. It’ll be far easier to clean up than liquid.
  4. Place the dirty clothes, the agitator, and the soap in the jug. Fill with just enough water to cover the clothes. Shake the jug for about three minutes. You can do this by just holding it while you cook dinner, by having your kids play with it back and forth, by putting it on the roof of the car and driving back up the bumpy road to the camp store, whatever. Just get it moving!
  5. After you’re sure it’s been agitated, drain the water and refill the jug with fresh water. Agitate it again for about a minute, then let it soak for a little while to make sure the soap comes out of the clothes.
  6. Final rinse: drain the rinse water, then take each piece of clothing out of the jug one by one and rinse it under running water. Then hang it up to dry! That’s it!

Again, washing your clothes while camping isn’t something you need to do on a weekend getaway, but if you will be staying for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea, especially for personal items, any cooking cloths you’ve used that might attract animals to your campsite, or basic spills.

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It’s ALMOST HERE!

13007359_1306570972691899_386487812551665199_nIt’s almost here, the first trip of the season (not counting popping down to my parents’ placeĀ  back in March and going on a minicampout while we there). The kayaking, the hiking, the camping… I can’t wait!

While you’re passing the time until your first outdoor adventure of the year, check out a website that I’ve become ADDICTED to: Roadtrippers.com. It lets you plan your entire trip, including filters for camping, outdoors activities, and more, all along the route. It’s better than online shopping when the boss thinks you’re working!

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Loving the Wildlife

This post will happen again many times over the course of this blog, mostly because these situations keep coming up. There are a lot of factors that make people afraid of outdoors adventures, but one of the several recurring factors is the local wildlife.

“Don’t go kayaking in that creek, I heard they spotted a gator two years ago.”

“You know the news said there’s a bear wandering near that mountain.”

“ACCCCK! SPIDER! KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

Those are just a few of the things people tell me whenever we talk about the outdoors. Yes, folks, there are animals out there. Some of them could even hurt you. Once in a blue moon, there’s an entirely unprovoked animal attack, literally where a human was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and out of nowhere a wild animal comes after him. Even in those “out of nowhere” cases, you have to understand there could have been extenuating circumstances that prompted the attack–even though they were absolutely NOT the human’s fault–like perhaps the bear had cubs nearby or the animal in question happens to be highly territorial. (Interesting trivia: did you know that more people are killed by hippos every year than any other animal? They’re uber-stingy with their territory.)

I’ve had some interesting encounters with wildlife, but when I say encounters, I only mean that I WAS THE ONE who’d encountered it. The animal could have cared less that I was standing there.

Exhibit A: I was in the woods one day and a mountain lion walked right in front of me. It looked at me, flared its nostrils, and walked away. It had smelled me and decided I was NOT useful. The fact that it took about ten minutes to finally vacate the area enough for me to get my back off that tree and race to the car was MY problem, not the mountain lion’s.

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Exhibit B: I was hiking in the woods with my husband after a night of heavy, heavy rain. I love hiking after a big storm because the paths turn muddy from the rain but the heat of the next day dries the mud enough to walk on. That means you can walk around pretty easily and still see tons of fresh animal tracks. I pointed to one in particular and said, “Hey look! A mountain lion track!”

A short time later, I got to point and say, “Hey look! A bear track!” My husband laughed and said, “There aren’t any bears in this part of the state!”

I wear a women's size 11 hiking boot.

I wear a women’s size 11 hiking boot.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than his phone beeped. We had a friend who was going to join us that day but he had something come up that morning. He told us he’d be along later in the day and would try to catch up with us, but not to wait on him.

The phone had beeped with a text from that friend. It was a picture of the bear he’d just seen. (Man, do I love being right, and do I love to punish a non-outdoorsy husband when I am!)

Exhibit C: We just got back from a camping trip to go kayaking in the southern part of our state. Yes, folks, that’s the alligator that was floating in the middle of the lake, right in front of our kayak. As it turns out, just the week before, someone had caught the record-setting gator at 920 pounds. I wasn’t actually aware there ARE gators in that body of water… now we know.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Here’s something important to remember. For 99% of the animal-human wildlife encounters, they don’t want to hurt you. There’s a reason it makes the news when there’s an animal attack. Even the famously-feared shark attacks are rare enough that it warrants sending a reporter to the now-empty beach to stand there and tell us what happened.

As a general rule of thumb, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. Yes, there are animals out there. Guess what? They also walk through your yard at night! But with a little respect, some forward thinking, and a promise never to attempt to take a selfie with an armadillo, you’ll be fine.

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Anyone Can Do This!

We’ve been gone from the blog for a little while because we had some back-to-back traveling to do, most recently to a state park in the southern part of our state. The camping-kayaking trip served a specific personal purpose.

My mother was once wheelchair bound and eventually with enough physical therapy has gotten to the point that she can walk with a walker. She decided over the summer that she wanted to try kayaking, and even wanted to drive five hours to my house so I could take her on the local river run. With her bad hips, I worried that sitting in a kayak with her legs in front of her could eventually start to hurt; after all, when you put in at one location and then have to take out at a farther point along the river or creek, you can’t just stop and say, “I’m done. This hurts!” You HAVE to finish it.

I suggested we camp at very large lake in her part of the state, and then we could paddle as much or as little as she wanted to. I’d stay out there all day if she liked, but if her hips couldn’t take it, then she would know that a river trip wasn’t feasible.

It took some effort, but after only a few minutes (and several fishermen offering to help, for which I thanked them profusely and replied, “If she’s gonna do this, she has to learn how to get in and out of the kayak!”) we were paddling! We’d used the state park’s concrete boat ramp, and that worked for her really well. I got my two-man kayak situated in the water and then helped her walk down the ramp. Basically, she just had to sit down and then put her legs in. The real trick was finding a sitting position that accommodated her hips since they no longer bend at the waist at a typical angle. The adjustable back rest helped, and she felt great.

We paddled close to the boat ramp until she got the hang of her paddle. Just to make things even more interesting, she’s had shoulder replacement surgery in the past couple of years, so I wanted to make sure her shoulder didn’t hurt from the repetitive motion involved in paddling. When she felt confident that she could do it pain-free, we left the little slough near the boat ramp and ventured out further.

“What’s that up ahead?” she asked when we’d made it a good distance away. I squinted, and said I thought it was a stick. She said, “Oh, it looks like a bird!”

We went to check it out, just to get close enough for her to see the aquatic bird take flight when we came too close for comfort. Oddly, the bird in question didn’t seem to feel threatened by our presence.

That’s because it wasn’t a bird. It was a twelve-foot alligator. He was just lying in the middle of the lake, getting some sun. The stick/bird was actually his head, and when we got too close the rest of his body floated to the surface.

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You know how in cartoons when someone’s trying to run away the little character’s legs will spin in a circle while he goes nowhere? That was our paddling effort for a couple of seconds. I quickly got us turned around but finally told my mom, “Let me handle this! You’re making us go backwards, TOWARDS the alligator! I’ll paddle, you watch the alligator and tell me if he comes towards us!”

And he never budged. Once we turned around and started paddling away we were no longer a threat, so he eventually lowered his body back into the water and left his head sticking up, just like before. Even if we’d been stupid enough to try to get closer to him instead of leaving slowly, he probably would have just swam away. He most likely lifted his body in order to make his getaway, NOT to come eat us. It was actually over an hour later that I walked back around and took this from the opposite bank with my zoom lens.

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I’m glad to say that after our “brush with toothy death” my mom and I paddled for another forty minutes or so. We took some kayak selfies to show my dad and her friends from church, we talked about good places to paddle and proper technique, and she was able to get herself back out of the kayak with a little help. We talked about a contingency plan if she couldn’t get herself out of it, which would be to paddle a little way out from the ramp, fall overboard, and swim to the ramp where she could stand up (she didn’t love that thought…after all, there was a gator out there somewhere and lake water isn’t exactly see-through). The only reason we cut our kayak trip short was some thunder clouds rolled in and we didn’t want to be caught in the rain.

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Basically, the purpose of this entire blog is to help people who otherwise don’t have any experience with the outdoors–and therefore don’t have confidence in what to do in an unexpected situation–realize that they can do it, they can be self-sufficient, and they can have fun. They can do it… you can do it. Your kids can do it. Just don’t pet the gators.

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn't match the lake water this closely!

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn’t match the lake water this closely!

See? He's under there somewhere!

See? He’s under there somewhere!

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Travel Review: Myrtle Beach State Park

We were looking to squeeze in one last camping trip before school started, and of course, I’m completely addicted to the beach. We’d already been to our usual haunt earlier this summer, so I decided to branch out and go somewhere new, while still getting to camp.

I’d always heard people talk about Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so I looked into the State Park. It was completely reasonable, with the option to choose my own campsite during reservations (as opposed to places that just assign you a spot and tell you what number it is when you check in); the total including any taxes and fees for three nights came to just at $111.00 and some change.

In true State Park fashion, there are plenty of regulations to keep up with, and they’re serious about the warning to keep your trash secure to avoid run-ins with raccoons. The entire campground area–and the day use locations, for that matter–had tons of trees separating each campsite and surrounding less desirable areas like the garbage dumpsters. I distinctly remember seeing a stand up placard at the main gate one night during our trip that said the campground was full, but the trees between each campsite afforded it a lot of privacy.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

There were plenty of bathhouses scattered around the property, and plenty of garbage sites for campers to deposit their trash. As a nice added touch, each of the dumpster sites had two recycling bins as well, something you don’t always see from a State Park but should. We saw signs to a playground but never used it; it must have been halfway decent though, judging by the numbers of kids and parents who were always coming or going down the path. There was also a good-sized, fully stocked camp store that carried souvenirs and a few basic campground essentials, enough to tide you over if you’d forgotten something, at least until you wanted to make a trip into town.

Here’s one of the nicest features: the State Park is on the ocean, so it has its own beach. We never once left the park for the purpose of going to the beach. It has a long wooden pier out over the water with fishing and marine life watching available. If you choose to go to the beach north of the pier, there’s a life guard on duty. The beaches south of the pier were less crowded, but were not guarded. Each beach access walkway has benches and showers for getting rid of the sand, and for walking to and from the parking area along a sturdy surface.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

Be warned that this is the Atlantic. I’ll admit we’re used to the white sand and gentle waves of the Gulf, so it was a little bit of a surprise to walk across sand that’s comprised of broken shells (it was cool, but rough on the feet…little ones might want those water shoes) and waves that will throw you down. There was a red flag warning the entire time we were there, but the waves offered just enough time between them to stand up, wipe the water out of your eyes, and get ready to get hit again. Sitting in the water and relaxing wasn’t feasible, but body surfing was a BLAST!

The coolest part was the turtles. At check-in, a park ranger told us that there had been a sea turtle hatching and that there would be an egg inventory on Friday. We were given the time and location, and when we arrived at the designated spot, some hundred or so people were already waiting to hear a ranger’s presentation on the work the state conservationists were doing with sea turtle preservation. While she spoke, members of the volunteer Sea Turtle Patrol began to uncover a nest that had recently hatched in order to count how many eggs had hatched and how many had been “duds.” In all, there were 138 eggs in the nest, and more than eighty had hatched! We got to see and feel a preserved hatchling that hadn’t survived, feel a “dud” egg, feel the shell remains of one that had hatched, and learn a lot about the work of the Turtle Patrol and the conservation program. It was a really, really great presentation but even the park staff can’t know when it will happen since it occurs after their patrol team indicates a nest has opened. All you can do is plan your trip during the hatch season and hope it lines up. The ranger did say the put the information on Facebook, but again, they only have a couple of days’ notice themselves.

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The only downside of the entire park is that it’s situated awfully close to an airport. From the beach, it was neat to watch very large commercial jets taking off overhead, as in, low enough that you could read the company logo on the plane and count the windows. It was less neat when a military jet was doing flyovers at the campground; they were low enough and loud enough that it would interrupt a cell phone conversation at my campsite, and I had to tell the person to simply hold on until the plane had passed. I don’t remember hearing any during the night, but I’m a heavy sleeper. Light sleepers will want some earplugs, a fan for background noise, or some other way of keeping the planes from waking you up.

As for the town of Myrtle Beach itself, there is a lot going on. There’s a great outlet mall (to appease our shopping teen), a ton of seafood buffet restaurants to choose from (to appease our crab leg fanatic other child), and an actual ocean-front boardwalk that was awesome for sightseeing, window shopping, people watching, and just enjoying the sunset. We’d never been to a beach town that had a real boardwalk, so this was a huge treat for the kids. Be sure to stop in at any of the major stores or visitors’ centers when you arrive and get the vacation guides/coupon books; the seafood restaurant where we ate the first night even asked us if we had a coupon, and when I showed her a book I’d picked up at a gas station she flipped right to the correct page and tore out a coupon worth five dollars off per person!

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

Overall, it was definitely worth the trip and a really great camping trip. Due to the distance it isn’t somewhere I’d just pop over for a couple of nights, but for somewhere as a total destination, it would be well worth a week-long trip.

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