The Importance of Backyard Camping

The Importance of Backyard Camping

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Maxwell Ryan
Aug 23, 2010

This is where I spent the weekend. Or more precisely, this is where Ursula and I camped out Friday and Saturday night — in the backyard of my family home out on Long Island. Was it awesome? Yes. It was the first time we'd camped out in a tent, and Ursula and I totally bonded as we read a book by flashlight and then practiced zipping the door closed quickly to keep out the mosquitoes. Did I sleep well? Not at all. I woke each morning feeling like someone had beaten me up.

It's been a long time since I've hiked and camped. I did it a lot in my teens and twenties, including a trek by bicycle across Europe, Tunisia, and Algeria (I slept in a Hammam and camped next to many roads along the way), a summer in Alaska, and a walking trip down the Rhine. I was often lonely and uncomfortable, but I also experienced great freedom, met many people, and received a firsthand view of the world that has become an indelible reference point in my life.

When you step out of your carefully constructed home, you can meet the world in a fresh way. And it all depends on mastering the humblest of activities: setting up a tent, cooking a meal, sleeping on the ground.

Only recently did I start to miss it. With our daughter now fully mobile, talking and building forts, I started longing for the same thing again myself. Only this time, the challenge was to do it as a family. So we did our research and bought a good tent, sleeping pads, and a sleeping bag for Ursula (she uses it inside and outside), and had it all ready to go. There were a number of false starts and the thought of crawling into a tent honestly did not appeal to me after a nice weekend dinner, but this weekend we began.

I thought Ursula would be scared, and I would be the pro who would console her. Instead, she loved it, slept like a baby, and I tossed and turned all night. Saturday morning, I was so groggy I went back to bed inside for a few hours.

Sunday morning she woke up first, left me asleep and went into the house to find her mother. When she found her, the first thing she said was, "Daddy did okay last night."

I have to get my camping "sea legs" again.

P.S. For you equipment buffs out there, tents have gotten a lot better in the past 20 years. I love the one we finally settled on: The Minibus by The North Face. It beats my old Tadpole.

In addition, we found Ursula a great starter sleeping bag at LL Bean for $49: Camp Bag, Flannel-Lined Kids' 40°in Lapis Slate. I recommend this as a starting bag for a child (she's 3 1/2).

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