Tag Archives: the great outdoors

camping with a toddler: how we survived (and some tips)

OK, so I was dragging my feet. Every now and then, A. would say, “When do you want to go camping again?” and I’d change the subject to what should we have for dinner, or, “Look! Look at the big cat wandering through our backyard!”

The first time we took C. camping was on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. It was September, and C. was nine months old. We hiked two miles along a creek deep into the woods. I held C. on my chest and a few other “essentials” on my back and A. carried everything else: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (he had back spasms the next day). When we came to a suitable campsite, I nursed C. against a log while the mosquitoes buzzed and nipped at me and A. ran off to filter water from a nearby stream.

It was humid and I was exhausted. And I still cherished sleep like a queen cherishes her jewels.

Then, when I laid C. down in a tent within a tent and I said, “Good night,” he freaked the hell out. He was full-on panicking with his fire-alarm cry like, “Um, EXCUSE ME? I’m sleeping WHERE?” So we got him up and sat around a warm fire and smelled the pines and watched the flames dance and spooned him some beans until we all laid down in the tent together.

In the middle of the night, I heard a growl that sounded like a big cat. I nabbed a hysterical C. — now panicking myself — and whispered loudly to A. “Did you hear that?” and A. mumbled something in his half-sleep about how it was probably a bird and I actually believed him and relaxed. But C. was now sleeping with me and kept rolling off the mat and I spent the whole night making sure we didn’t squish him.

Here is a photo after we hiked out — my smile reflects relief that the three of us were alive:


So, I have to say that I’m pretty awesome for agreeing to go again not even a year later.

On Saturday, we drove to Sequoia along twisting roads, parked and loaded up our packs. We hiked a mile in and C. ran around picking up sticks while we set up camp. A. fired up the jet-boil and we ate a dinner of lentils, cous-cous and long-grain-and-wild rice on a huge platform rock and watched the sun set. And then we all went to bed together, around 8 p.m. We read C. “Harry the Dirty Dog” and told him he was sleeping next to mama and papa and isn’t this fun? C. was wired — he was singing and standing up and saying, “Woah!” and babbling and making us laugh.

This time, C. fell asleep with his little head on my sleeping bag, my cheek squished against the top of his head and his body cradled like a C against mine. And oh my god, I love sleeping next to this sweet little guy who would wake up now and then and look at me and smile and lay his head back down.

We got up with the sun and C. was happy and we ate oatmeal with dates and honey-roasted almonds and took down camp and went to find the majestic Sequoias before the crowds arrived.

And I felt relaxed and more than relieved — I was happy. We did it and C. loved it.

So next time A. asks, “When do you want to go camping again?” I expect I’ll say: “Let’s pick a weekend!”

Here are a few tips for camping with a toddler:

  • Bring something you know know he/she likes to eat. I’m so happy we had two peanut butter sandwiches — one for the evening and one for the morning — that filled up C.’s belly because he wasn’t interested in the oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget the winter hats. Even if you don’t think it will be cold, they pack well and it’s worth it if you need them.
  • Bring one more diaper than you think you’ll need.
  • Tell the toddler well in advance that you’re going to camp and sleep in a tent with mama and papa for one night. I think this helped take away the surprise factor.
  • Bring a water filter. Carrying water and a toddler and, well, everything else, is too much and you might end up breaking your backs.
  • Get a sleeping bag for the little one. We had C. in a fleece sleep sack on his own sleeping pad and he was fine, but I would have gotten more sleep (i.e. worried less) if he was in an actual sleeping bag. We plan to buy one for him before our next trip.
  • Relax and enjoy! Losing one night of sleep isn’t the end of the world — and finding adventures is soul-charging. At least, it is for me.








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thank you palm springs

I love travel. Always have. But lately, I have quietly struggled when C. doesn’t sleep well on the road. Often, he’ll cry that first night in a new place, which stresses me out, and he won’t nap, which makes for a fussy baby. Not this weekend.

We met friends in Palm Springs for three nights, and C. slept like an angel. He went down easily for the night in his travel crib. He napped on two hikes — one overlooking Palm Springs and another in the Indian reservation (where we saw the spring for which the city is named — a true oasis). He napped in the car on the way to Joshua Tree.

And then, on our last day, he took a late afternoon nap so that A. and I could dip in the heated pool just outside the door of the condo we rented for the weekend. I fit into my pre-pregnancy bathing suit (yay!) and enjoyed the sun’s warmth and felt so relaxed and happy. Yeah, I like California in the winter.



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operation clean up wagon wheel


There’s a climbing area east of us, toward Death Valley, that A. likes to frequent. He slips out of bed at 6 a.m. to be at the rocks as the sun rises and warms him. When he returns, he’s often giddy from fresh air, beautiful views and exercise.

There’s only one problem: It’s also the world capital for dirt bikers (at least it feels that way) who arrive in masses in RVs (I never knew about dirt biking till I moved here? I think I grew up in a cave?). So the rock outcroppings are littered with nails and green and purple and clear glass shards from rowdy parties around fire pits. The trash not only detracts from the area’s beauty, but it also makes it hard to let C. roam.

So A. has decided to clean it up. At first he was filling up one large empty Fage yogurt carton at a time, but now he takes a much bigger box every time he goes. He also bought a giant magnet to drag along the dirt and pick up the nails in bulk. (Below is one quick sweep.) He brings home the debris and wraps it up so it’s safe for our trash collectors to take away.


On the weekends, I join him. It’s a daunting project, but the theory is much like the broken window theory: if there are no broken bottles or glass, new visitors won’t think to smash or shoot their beer bottles. You laugh, but we really hope it will work, especially because some of these glass shards are so smooth and weathered, we think they’ve been here for decades.

Here’s to making our beautiful public land pristine once again.

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our first ‘long’ hike in (what feels like) years

We used our new baby backpack for the first time on Friday and it was awesome.

We were with S. (who left yesterday, sniff) and decided to try some random trails not too far from home.

A. hoisted C. (and his cheeks and belly — all 24 pounds of him) on his back.


We marched toward Owens Peak, well in the distance, along a dirt road taking photos and chatting.


An hour in, we heard a car ripping up the narrow dirt road, kicking up dust. “Woah,” A. said, and we all scrambled to jump into the shrubs, afraid the driver wouldn’t see us around the bend. The jeep stopped hard, and we stood looking at each other, dumbfounded.

“Sorry about that,” a gray-bearded man rolled down his window and asked where we were headed. Turns out, he lives 1/4 mile up, on a farm with four yipping dogs and a donkey, off the grid.

His farm was where we turned around. Shortly after, we came to a “V” in the road and got confused (yes, all three of us). We unintentionally took the path we didn’t take up, but we thought we could find our way anyway. I was anxious — it was getting cold and dark and C. was whining (turns out, he lost a shoe and none of us noticed his little toes were frozen).



When we finally saw our car, it went like this:

[Points, jumps up and down.]

“There it is! There’s our car!”

“Oh, thank god.”

“Yeah! We did it!”

[Everyone cheers.]

We blasted the heat and stopped in Inyokern for Mexican food, all smiles.

It was so fun to be out on a 2-hour hike for the first time since well before C. was born. I can’t wait to go again. We’ll have to get as many hikes in as we can before the little man adds more pounds to his cheeks, belly and ankles.


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miles and miles of empty desert trails

C. had a fever on Saturday, which spoiled our plans to try out our new baby backpack at Owens Peak. That means that I got cabin fever — too much time in the house and I just about lose it. So after I put C. down for a nap on Sunday, I headed to the trails behind Cerro Coso Community College, about 2 miles from our home. There are miles and miles of desert, and the views are stunning — you can see all of Ridgecrest below. I inhaled the fresh air and the absolute quiet — there wasn’t another soul out there — and let out an audible “ahhhh.”




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where the robbers used to roost

Since we moved to Ridgecrest in November, I’ve had moments where I miss friends and family in an empty “what am I doing here” way. And then I’ve had moments like this, taking in the desert’s beauty with A. and C. — endless land and sky and quiet — and I exhale and think, “Wow. This is what I’m doing here.”

(This is at Robber’s Roost, off of 14, about 15 minutes from our home, and it was where robbers used to hide out and scan for stagecoaches carrying gold and other minerals in the 19th century.)





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Ice covered the paths, steps and railings in Swallow Falls State Park in Maryland, near Wisp mountain, where six of us got a cabin this weekend to lounge by a fire, eat homemade mac ‘n cheese and smores, drink hot chocolate and Baileys and play Scattergories. But despite the ice, R. and I half ran, half slid (R. only fell once — whoops!) to see various views of beautiful waterfalls as the sun set.

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the new river gorge

Last weekend, A. and I drove out to the New River Gorge in West Virginia for our last climbing trip before A. jetted off. We stayed in a cabin with seven other people — a glorious 3-bedroom cabin with a hot tub, fireplace and big porch. A. and I arrived late Friday evening to homemade chicken enchiladas and J., T., and M. playing their guitars and singing everything from the Beatles to Belle and Sebastian.

We got up early Saturday to sizzling bacon and pancakes and warm coffee and then we hit the rocks — big, tall walls along a wide river. It was in the 60s. In late November. We stayed all day till our bodies were shot and hiked out just as a full moon was rising.

Later that evening, after the group gorged on pizzas, I could feel my eyes welling up as I sat in a kitchen chair next to A. The trigger was thinking about how I only had two more nights to sleep by his side for what seemed like so, so long. I was awash with sadness.

A. probed my eyes and asked if I wanted to talk — and yes, of course I did. We ignored the jokes that we were slipping away to make out, and I cried in his arms, soaking his tee-shirt. I cried it all out — all of my fears about him leaving — the experience changing him, him not being happy, me missing him, his safety. And then, I felt this tremendous relief. I was able to share my feelings while he was there. And I felt so connected to him.

So two days later, when I dropped him off at the airport, I felt strong. And now, as I read and clean and pack for the holiday and dream up adventures for me in my quiet apartment — and he’s about to take off from Dubai — I feel strong.

My coworker asked me last week, “Do you really want to spend your last weekend together with a group?” I hadn’t even thought of it that way. We had the 5-hour drive each way together, just the two of us. We had all of Monday together to sleep in and relax. And on the weekend, we were surrounded by good friends with lots of banter and laughter doing what we both love — being outside, active and adventurous. It was perfect.

And now, inexplicably, March doesn’t feel so far away.

Have a great trip, A. You’re going to be amazing.

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wild and wonderful west virginia

These are some things I love about back-country camping: The fresh air. The quiet. The crunch and swoosh of footsteps on a dirt path. The whistling birds. No cell phone service. Feeling totally and completely carefree — pigtails, no makeup. The fluttering butterflies. The rush of a brook’s flowing water. Climbing over rocks and down rugged paths. The piles of rocks along the trail, like a secret message: “You’re on track.” The smell of a campfire and the crackle of a fire. Sharing chicken-and-broccoli-flavored pasta and a can of tomatoes, okra and corn with A. The complete darkness. The fatigue from carrying a backpack for miles. Giving way to exhaustion and falling asleep in the crook of A.’s arm. Waking up to the sun. The fresh air. The quiet.

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assateague: back-country camping on the beach

When A. and I asked for a back country pass two weekends ago at Assateague along the Maryland shore, the ranger looked at us and raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I’m just warning you, since it rained last night, the bugs are going to be terrible.” A female ranger yelled from the back room in agreement. “We’ve had people go out and turn back, upset with us,” he said. A. and I looked at each other, slightly bewildered, but said we still wanted to do it. “Yeah?” A. asked me, to be sure. “Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do it.” The ranger said: “Make sure you get 50 to 60 percent deet.” It was 40 percent chance of thunderstorms — and the skies weren’t promising — but this was an adventure.

After filling up with eggs and bacon at “The Best Breakfast Place In The Country,” and grabbing my much-craved latte, we swung by my cousin’s place in Ocean City. B. had said her husband J. calls Assateague “Assfatigue.” B. and J. smiled and shook their heads that we were going to brave the bugs and rain. “Keep us posted! You can always sleep on the couch!” they said.

By 2 p.m., we were ready for our four-mile hike. The clouds cleared, the sun was high and the beaches were packed. Wild horses grazed in the brush near the parking lot. We lathered up with sunscreen, loaded our packs on our backs, and trekked on the hard-packed sand on the ocean’s shore. After two miles, sweating in the heat, we threw our packs down, ate trail mix, changed into our suits behind scant bushes and literally ran into the warm ocean to play in the waves. The rip tide carried us both down the coast and we joyfully gave into it.

We arrived at the campsite well before dark and went on a hunt for firewood (it wasn’t easy among the burrs, a few of which caught in A.’s foot.) We sprayed bug spray on exposed skin (thank goodness we had repellant).

We set up the tent on the beach, and as the sun went down, A. lit the stove for our dinner of pork and beans, corn, green beans and Lipton noodles. In the far-off distance, the sky lit up with lightning. Above us, the stars shone brilliantly — and I wished I could remember more constellations besides the dippers.

A. made a fire, and we sat on a towel — salty, happily dirty and relaxed — before running back into the dark ocean. But the best part was there were only three other tents. The rangers must have scared everyone away. It was gorgeous, quiet and soul-charging. And all to ourselves.

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