Monday, January 25, 2010

Ten things I learned about camping

I had an awesome time camping with Dag's Brownie troop this weekend! Maybe because it was only one night (Friday to Saturday) but that seemed to be about the right length of time for a first camping trip. I certainly could have used a shower, but no one else seemed to care. The girls were all on their best behavior-- no squabbles, tears or fighting! -- and we only had one girl from our troop get homesick and bail out on Friday. Overall, it was one of the best organized events I've ever been to.

Friday night was check-in. I had been at the campsite most of the afternoon setting up tents with one of the troop dad's, and I was very concerned because it was horribly muddy from the rain we got Thurs. night and Friday morning. But by the time the girls checked in at 5:30 the pathways were mostly dry and only the edges of the tent field were icky. After we got the girls' stuff settled in the tents, they got to watch a movie, have pizza and make s'mores. Have you ever tried to get 150 girls organized around a campfire? Yeah, me neither. But the staff were EXCELLENT. They got everybody in and out safely.

Lights out/quiet time was at 9:00 and I think everyone had fallen asleep by 10:30 (I know I did!)

It was so much fun sleeping in a tent! You hear things that you just don't anywhere else like coyotes howling and, best of all, owls. They were hooting all night long. So cool. And yeah, I didn't sleep much (see items 8 & 9 below) but it was still cool.

Saturday was a full day - 8 hours of programs and activities planned and executed entirely by 8th grade girls earning their Silver Awards. I was so impressed! There was a scrapbook program, a "SPA-tacular" program (exercise, manicures and make-your-own lip balm & bubble bath) and a full afternoon of Outdoor Skills. (When I told him about it, Mr. J was a bit confused - he was a Boy Scout and he was sure they never had a scrapbook badge.) The girls really enjoyed them all, but I loved the Outdoor Skills. We - I mean THEY - made foil packet meals, learned how to make campfires, learned how to set-up and take down a simple tent and then learned a bunch of Girl Scout songs. I (I mean THEY) loved it!

Overall it was a great experience for me - I mean THEM. Our troop can be tricky - most of them have known each other since they were 3 and since our school is small, only one class per grade, they can be pretty clique-y. But they got along beautifully and it was good to see girls who don't normally play together getting along just fine. Mr. J said Dags looked like she'd grown up two years overnight.

So, in a nutshell, here are my top 10 things l learned this weekend for future Girl Scout camping experiences (and oh yes we're already planning on more trips!):

1) Everyone will overpack - some girls had a full rolling SUITCASE with them. Make a very concise packing list and make sure people stick to it. And then tell everyone to take half the stuff off it. Most everyone wore the exact same thing Friday night to Saturday with maybe just a change from long-sleeves to short. Obviously, we can do this because we're in Florida so don't really need heavy gear and also because it was only one night. If you're going to bring multiples of anything, make it socks. On a side note -- after everyone checked out I noticed no less than 7 pairs of unde*rwear scattered around the field. What the heck? Did the girls change their unde*rwear and then just drop them outside? Weird.

2) Make sure everyone packs a cup for water (this is a GS camping rule anyway). We had bought the girls water bottles for the trip, but they turned out to be a total pain - they weren't as portable as we thought. Only one girl also bought a cup with a handle that she could easily tie to her belt loops with a bandana.

3) Make sure everyone has a lightweight backpack!!! I can't tell you how many girls asked me to carry stuff for them. The backpacks can be for water bottles, SWAPS, goodies that they make, mementos, sunscreen, etc. Make sure it's a backpack - not shoulder bags, not totes, not a teeny tiny Hello*Kitty messenger bag. A backpack. You can get lightweight cloth ones at Oriental Trading for about $1 each and I'm headed over there ASAP to purchase a bunch for future events - I think you can even iron-on your own troop numbers and stuff on them.

4) Check out the bathroom facilities ahead of time, know where they are, make sure the girls know where they are and plan accordingly. There were 6 toilet stalls and 10 sinks for 200 people. For someone like me who places a really high premium on bathroom privacy (and cleanliness!) it was a total nightmare. I didn't have anywhere to do my contact lenses, there were girls in line for days, there was only one mirror, it was gross. So next time, the girls are going on their OWN (I might wait nearby to make sure they all come out) and I will wait until everyone is in bed and then go do my own thing. I will always be the first one up -- 5:20 a.m! -- to make sure I can wash up without a crowd around me. I will also either wear my glasses or make sure that I bring a disposable pair of lenses with me so I don't have to fuss with cases and solution, etc. Also invest in a quick-dry towel like an Aquis especially if you will have access to a shower. The girls all had regular towels and not a single one dried after Friday night wash-up. There were icky damp towels everywhere and no place to hang them.

5) Bring snacks and drinks - and definitely some breakfast stuff - for yourself! The girls all had plenty of snacks at the programs and always had access to water, but by 10:00 on Saturday I would have sold a kidney for a Diet Coke and a granola bar. I tried to beg for a bag of GORP from a 13 year old who told me they were "really just for the girls." Thank goodness I had gum. This might have just been our encampment, but the main reason I was a low-blood-sugar basket case was...

6) Breakfast was totally kid-centered! They had a thing of very watery coffee* for the adults. That was about it. The rest of the breakfast was kids' cereals, muffins, milk, donuts, some very green bananas and tangerines. Next time I'll bring some instant coffee (to add to their coffee-flavored hot water), a packet of instant oatmeal, some granola bars, nuts, maybe some apples or something -- anything -- with some fiber and protein.

*Disclaimer: I like very strong, hot, black-as-night, full-caff coffee and I drink need about 6 cups in the morning. (My name is Trish and I'm an addict.)

7) Make sure you have a very portable camp chair to sit on, especially while the girls are doing their activities. The girls can sit anywhere, but if I tried to sit on the ground for more than 20 minutes at a crack I'd probably need knee surgery.

8) If you are tent camping, make sure the girls are told about taking off their shoes before going in the tents. And also about not touching the sides of the tent with anything, including themselves. I didn't even know this rule myself, and the condensation on the tents soaked just about everything by the morning. (Again, this might be an issue only in Florida where it's pretty humid.)

9) Bring a foam mat or something to put under your sleeping bag and also a soft, small, DRY towel or something that you can roll-up and put under your head. The ground is much harder than it looks or feels. I was being all macho "I don't need the extra gear" but by 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning I was wishing I had bothered. Lots of girls bought blankets and pillows, but they mostly ended up soaking wet by morning.

10) Allow some free time! By lunch everyone just wanted a chance to run around and explore. The programs were pretty tightly timed and none of the kids are into watches yet, so unfortunately we had to keep them pretty contained. In hindsight, I wish we'd taken time to just let them run, swing on the rope swings, play by themselves. I'm sure they would have all come back sooner or later. (Maybe next time we'll make sure they wear watches.)

So that's about it! I ( WE) had an excellent time and it will be even more fun next time I'm sure! And the best part is I think we're ready to start doing this as a family, now that Anders is out of diapers and both kids are less picky about food. I'm looking forward to some cool family camping adventures. Watch for us at a campsite near you -- we'll be the ones with an abundance of coffee and Ritz crackers.

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