August 31, 2010
How Much Do I Love Camping?
I believe I am now completely thawed after camping for five days on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island with a complete campfire ban in effect. We are experienced coastal campers but nothing could have prepared me for camping in damp windy conditions without the benefit of a fire in the evenings. I wore all the wool I brought and went for many walks on the beaches dressed like it was January.
My husband and children didn't seem to feel the cold nearly as much as I did. They dressed warmly, but were not desperate about it. One day found me walking around our campsite with a wool blanket tied around my waist like a sarong. My husband took to calling me 'Nanuk', but by the end of the week, even he said next time we camp at French Beach we should come earlier in the summer, when the possibility of a campfire ban has not yet taken effect. The forest floor of the campground was littered in gold and brown leaves from the overnight fall-like temperatures, but we were mercifully cozy in our tents and sleeping bags at night, and slept well, looking forward to hot chocolate and coffee made on the Coleman stove in the morning. We had glorious days on the beaches, hunting for tidal life, scanning the horizon for dolphins (we saw a group of three) and whales (we were blessed with a visit by a grey whale feeding in the kelp beds just off shore at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew), and warming up on the sunbaked stones littering French Beach and China Beach. At one point I sat on French Beach, picking up warm stone after warm stone to hold in my frigid hands.
We played round after round of badminton and tossed the football, and no one complained about taking their turn to do the dishes after every meal in a pan of hot water. We were gratefully distracted from the wind on our second afternoon with a visit from my brother, his family and a couple of nephews, and enjoyed showing them around China Beach - a long stretch of fine sandy beach accessible only by a short hike through a forest of huge arrow-straight Sitka Spruce trees once used for masts on tallships - which they thought was truly beautiful. We had brought a gas lamp with us and after we found it emitted a generous amount of heat we joked about it being our impromptu campfire, placed it on the fire grate and gathered around it every evening just to stay warm while we sat and talked about the day and shared stories and favourite scenes from well-loved comedy programs.
The last day we hiked into Mystic Beach and enjoyed the sheltered bay there. We lingered in the warmth, exploring the caves created in the cliffs by the tide, and visited the waterfalls. I was clicking away with my camera when a fellow hiker offered to take a family photo, and I think it will make a great Christmas card this year. Soon after, our daughter Emma stood on a rock near the shore. The tide was coming in then and my boys thoroughly enjoyed watching their sister get soaked by a large rogue wave that hit her at chest height. Good thing I had packed an extra jacket.
The last evening after supper was cleared away we walked on French Beach and remarked on the darkness of the clouds heading toward us. We decided to string up a tarp over the picnic table in case of rain, so at least we would have somewhere dry to cook and eat in the morning. We were so glad we thought of it, because it rained fairly hard all night long. We packed up the wet tents cheerfully, anticipating the dry warmth we would return to here at home.
Do I love camping? Not necessarily in the aforesaid conditions. But what I do appreciate about camping is the unobstructed family time, the simplicity of choosing meals suitable for cooking over a two burner camp stove, the 24/7 outdoor living by the briny fresh sea, the inaccessibility of technological gadgets, my husband being well out of cell phone range so he can't be bothered with work, and the appreciation it gives me for the simple things of everyday life - like a hot bath and a solid roof.
The painting above of the large piece of driftwood on French Beach is called 'West Coast Wanderer' by Victoria, B.C. artist Jeffrey J. Boron. More of his work can be found here.