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Love at First Site


Yosemite. 1979. Car camping with my family was a cross between the Brady Bunch and The Blair Witch Project. After sitting around the fire eating s’mores and listening to ghost stories, we climbed into the tent, exhausted from hiking. All except dad. He had to put out the fire and store food in our Pinto so any hungry bears would bypass our camp. Still a bit tense from the last scary story, my sister and I huddled in our sleeping bags, hyper-aware of every noise. Then we heard a scratching on the backside of the tent and a growl. It could be dad just playing but what if it was a bear? The growl and scratching moved around to the zipped flap. The growl grew louder; the scratching more intense. Then the zipper slowly came down. And dad poked his head in laughing. OK, maybe more Brady than Blair but when you’re 8….

Thirty years later and I still vividly remember that outing. In fact, I remember all my camping trips because they were so different from normal routine. Camping is one of the only ways we have to truly unplug and unwind. No email, no TV, no Facebook.

Before deciding on a destination, figure out what you’re looking for. Hiking? Fishing? Relaxing? Once you’ve decided where and when you want to camp, go online or call to learn about services like bathrooms and pet rules. Look at a map to see how the campground is laid out. If there’s a stream and the sound of running water makes you crazy, that’s good to know. Make a reservation as campgrounds can fill up fast.

Write a checklist of everything you’ll need. The more organized you are, the more elaborately (think cooking spices not CD collection) you can pack. Then inspect your gear. Unfold your tent and look for holes or tears—make sure all poles and stakes are there. After 15 years of use, my tent stakes are now U-shaped. If you have kids, make sure they haven’t outgrown their Sponge Bob sleeping bags. Check all batteries, propane and be sure your cooking set doesn’t have last year’s spaghetti remnants. The night before you leave, stage all your gear in one area and check it off.

Arrive at the campground well before sundown to allow time for set-up. If you didn’t make reservations, ask if you can see the available sites before you decide on one. Locate the bathrooms then buy a couple bundles of firewood. Set up your tent first. Place a large folded tarp on the ground to protect the tent’s fabric. Stow away your sleeping bags, pads, books and anything you’ll need for the night. And always zip up the tent to keep bugs and critters out.

Unless you’re cooking right away, don’t haul out the stove and food. Unfold your chairs, crack open a beverage and enjoy the sights and sounds. Look for local camp critters like pika, squirrels and chipmunks. After sundown, tell tall tales around the campfire. Listen for the hoots of owls. And think, you’re not always there, so be there. You’ll remember it forever.

+ Eureka! Mountain Pass
2-person tent ($180)
I should be able to get another 15 years out of my Eureka! Campmor.com.

+ Princeton Tec Quad Headlamp ($35)
If I could have only one source of light while camping, this would be it. Backcountry.com.

+ GSI Javapress Frenchpress ($30)
Camping without coffee is like, well, camping without coffee. Campmor.com.

+ A good place to start for campgrounds, checklists, tips and everything outdoors is gorp.away.com
+ No gear? No problem. Borrow what you need. Buy the best you can afford. A small initial investment will pay you back for years.


Lacy is an award-winning food writer and blogger. She lives in Westminster with her family. Google

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