Tuesday, September 19, 2017

camping, part II.

Last year, I regaled you with tales of my misadventures in camping. More importantly, I passed on some valuable knowledge I gained along the way.

Guess what?


Camping season 2017 is rapidly meeting its end, and James and I have fit in nine nights of tent camping in the last three-ish months. Not bad.

Here they are, in chronological order:

Frontenac State Park, Minnesota

Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota (two nights)

Lake Carlos State Park, Minnesota

Hardin KOA, Montana

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Devil's Tower KOA, Wyoming

Kansas City KOA, Kansas City

(This was truly the summer of the Minnesota state park. Minnesota has some truly spectacular state parks, and sometime-in-the-next-few-summers goal is to have visited them all. GAME ON, MINNESOTA.)

James and I have now tent camped in a grand total of nine states. NINE.

Here THEY are, in chronological order!

Minnesota (2014, 2016, 2017)
South Dakota (2015)
Colorado (2015)
Illinois (2016)
New York (2016)
Wisconsin (2016)
Montana (2017)
Wyoming (2017)
Missouri (2017)

Summers 2016 and 2017 have, by far, been the most tent-centered. It wasn't until the end of summer 2015 that we truly realized what an amazing tool our little hand-me-down tent really was. Chronically underfunded, we longed for the ability to travel, but were not about to go into debt paying for hotel rooms along the way. BUT WAIT: that's where tent camping comes in. As I mentioned in my story last year, you can get a campsite for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. And when I say fraction, I mean FRACTION. We pay between $22 - $35 a night for our campsites, and an average hotel room would run around $90 - $150 a night. Do the math.

Thanks to that monetary epiphany, we have made the most out of our summers (and our tent). Summer 2017 was the most we've camped yet! I thought I had learned a lot last year, but you'd better believe I'm not done learning yet.

So here's what I know thanks to summer 2017:

You can freeze to death and roast alive in the same night... so be prepared.
Yes, it can happen in the same night - but for us, it was mostly one or the other. Our first tenting excursion this year was in Frontenac State Park on the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota. It was 95 degrees with 99% humidity at 11pm. The air was thick and miserable, and I thought I might die. We had our teeny battery-powered fan, but that only did as much as one could expect a teeny battery-operated fan to do. This was mid-June. Fast-forward to the Fourth of July weekend, when we're camping in northeastern Minnesota. Remembering the misery of our Frontenac camping, I packed the summeriest pajamas I had (shorts and a tank top), no socks, and my sleeping bag with the broken zipper. Because I'm not going to need to zip up my sleeping bag in the summer right? WRONG WRONG WRONG. Those nights up north dipped below 40 degrees, and James and I clung together like koalas to try and absorb a little heat. The next night, James was gracious enough to give me his sweatpants and a pair of wool socks, and I had a sweatshirt to sleep in. But my non-zipping sleeping bag flopped open as I turned during the night, and I still managed to freeze my butt off. We experienced a similarly chilly night in Yellowstone, but by that time, I had a new sleeping bag and had packed ALL THE LAYERS. I was cold, sure, but I didn't wake myself up with the chattering of my own teeth. That was an improvement.

The right sleeping bag will make all the difference in the world.
My new sleeping bag likely deserves all the credit for making my frigid night in Yellowstone a relative success. After the northern Minnesota tundra, it was finally time to get a new sleeping bag. My old sleeping bag was a gift from my parents circa 1996, and though it had given me more than two decades of warmth, the zipper had finally broken. When you’re trying to stay warm, a sleeping bag with a broken zipper is not the greatest. I ordered a new sleeping back from Amazon for something like $25, not expecting much... but it has made SUCH a difference. This one is neither the warmest nor the coolest thing in the world, but for $25, it is more than adequate. Its zipper works, for one thing (!!!), AND it has a one of those hood things that you can put over your head to keep warm and/or look like a giant insect. Sleeping is so much easier when you are not woken up by the chattering of your own teeth. That being said...

You'll never get a good night's sleep, so bring coffee.
No one goes tent camping to be well-rested and utterly refreshed. No matter how you look at it, you're still sleeping on the ground. If you're us, you will either be...

too hot
too cold
on the deflated sleeping pad
awake listening for bears
resentfully kept awake by your super-loud neighbors
listening to the bugs that inevitably get into your tent

...or any combination thereof.

So come prepared. Make sure there's a coffee shop within minutes of your campground, or better yet, pack your own iced coffee. Few things make you appreciate your own bed and your own silent house like a night of tent camping.

Fan = white noise = utmost importance for blocking out loud a.) late-night drunk bros, b.) early-morning fisherman, c.) screaming children,  or d.) all of the above.
Camping is noisy, for sure. One of the camping items we invested in last year was a little battery-powered fan/flashlight combo. It doesn't do a whole lot for moving around the thick air on a humid Minnesota night, but the white noise is invaluable. Without it, I could not have slept at all this summer. Eighty percent of the time, we have loud neighbors. As I am old and crotchety, nothing annoys me faster than loud neighbors. I have yet to remember to pack earplugs, but we do always have that fan... it's kind of cheap and rattly, so it provides the perfect cover for all the campground noise.
We're now well into September, so camping season 2017, I fear, is over. I am already looking forward to summer 2018 and all its camping adventures. Though tent camping is not easy or comfortable, there really is nothing like sleeping under the stars.

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