Do you even camp? In my pre-husband years I would have answered this as a big NO. I grew up in a city with a large family. I would call camping, sleeping in my sleeping bag at a friend’s house for the night, or maybe someone would have a firepit in their backyard and we would roast smores during this sleepover experience. That’s about it.
My parents were too busy working and trying to survive raising eight children to even think of camping. But then I met my husband, Chris, and the world of camping was introduced to me. I realized there are certain qualities that stand out when camping with a military man.
Camping: All the military wives are doing it
Before children, we went camping a few times together. I remember one time we went to visit family in Colorado. He thought we could get some “alone time” during the trip up in the mountains. Of course, we couldn’t just drive to a camping spot, we had to do “real camping.” This meant hiking a few miles off the trail–a few miles at nine-to-10,000 feet, with packs on our back that contained all of our gear. He told me, “People do this all the time and I know plenty of my military buddies’ wives that do this with them.”
Okay, I guess I should be able to do it then.
After surviving what felt to be an eternity of a hike with a lot of stops for me to catch my breath, we made it. The tent was set up quickly by Chris, no problems. The scenery was beautiful up in those mountains, despite the challenge it took to get there. I remember Chris had a brilliant idea of storing our meat in a Ziploc plastic bag under a rock in the lake near us. I thought, don’t bears live up here and eat food from lakes? He promised me it was all going to be fine and no bears were coming. Was this something you learned in the military?
That night it snowed and the temperature dropped. I kept hearing noises and was freezing. I started rummaging through my bag (in the dark) trying to add any clothing I could find to keep warm. I remember looking over several times to see my military man sleeping peacefully like a baby in his subzero arctic sleeping bag with his woobie over his head to stay extra warm. It seemed like he knew what he was doing.
After that trip, we took a long break from camping. Then, we had children, and of course, life changed. Camping is like the Disney World of experiences when it comes to family time, bonding, and roughing it out.
Introducing military kids to camping
When our twin boys were 5, we PCS’d from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. I wanted to travel the east coast while there and learned that hotels during peak season (summer and fall) were not cheap. So, we tried the camp in a tent thing with the kids. Chris thought he would advance to an air mattress for us and a sleeping bag for the kids. Our air mattress slowly deflated after getting poked by a tree root in the ground and we slept wedged together the few trips we went. The east coast gets hot and humid, so staying in a tent can be, well, rather warm on those summer nights. Add rain to the trip and you get the picture.
I tried really hard to embrace the positive side of our conditions while hearing the waves from the ocean crashing during the night and how neat it was we could bike the paved trails as a family near the beach. There were definitely some good times with the experiences, but we had to figure out better camping and sleeping arrangements.
So, Chris got to researching….
Hotel versus tent: RV, it is!
Chris did a cost analysis of average hotel room stays in the locations we wanted to hit. Also, with two active boys, they weren’t exactly the quietest kids when out in public. We couldn’t justify the $200-300 a night costs in the hotels, so decided to settle on an RV. The plan was to camp 20 nights that summer to break even with the RV, which we could easily do in a summer. I wasn’t enthusiastic about this kind of a shopping experience, but knew it would be better than any night in a tent. So, I let him handle everything involved with it, down to the final signing. I don’t know a thing about the RV life, so I guess I was going to have to learn. We used our RV a lot of weekends and traveled from Pennsylvania (where we were stationed at the time) up to Maine and as far south as Virginia. There were a lot of wonderful experiences—and not so wonderful—with these trips. Before we moved again, we sold the RV camper and moved west.
As you can imagine with a move to the west (Um, hello mountains!) my husband had to have another camper. Sure, we tried the tent thing again but it seems the older I get, the less forgiving of an experience it is. I don’t know about you, but finding nature as a woman (I’ll let you use your imagination) isn’t exactly pretty. Out west, there is NOTHING around for facilities, so nature it is! So, after a few of these “trial” trips and me worrying about bears attacking and complaining about other things, we started talking campers again and soon the “Toy Hauler” arrived at our house.
Prepacking and packing.
My husband is a bit of a planner (definitely an understatement). He runs the show when it comes to camping; everything in pristine military order. Food, check, camping gear, check, blankets/towels, check check check. He even plans on where it will be loaded in the back of his truck so there is enough room for it all. You can’t fill the inside of the truck because you need ample room in there. So, it all must fit in the back of the truck. And then… the bags. Does anyone have a military husband with a passion for bags? Bag for sleeping bags, bag for blankets, beach bag, dirty laundry bag, shoe bag, dry groceries bag, each of the kids with their own activity bag and so on. So many bags! I’ve learned with the bags, everything must return immediately to the appropriate bag or crate after its use so it can be easily found the next time. I get it, really I do. A life of order, something I never had growing up.
Our children must bring their own flashlight and jacket, toys and books. Toys and books must be counted before leaving, then again when we pack up. We also were “prepared” I think for every kind of power outage in nature. Now we have the RV and it has energy, right. Well, in our RV, we needed solar panels and also a generator. Sounds completely normal, right? You see, I have learned that you always need a “back up to the back up” plan when camping. This probably all sounds extreme, but in the end there are lessons from each of these parts of our camping experience.
Everything as a family unit. We kayak, paddleboard, or swim. We also spend time fishing, chopping wood, learning how to use an axe (and the safety), saw wood. I am included with our boys as another learner. Hike, yes. Kid friendly or not, we do it as he believes we are all fit enough and can do anything. I love how much faith he has in all of us with his plans. Our last hike was going to be a half mile which turned into 1.5 miles meaning a 3 mile round trip. Very beautiful hike but rocky, hot, and a lot of climbs. One thing we have definitely learned is determination and you don’t give up.
After a camping trip there is no delay in cleaning. Everything in need of washing or removal must be taken care of and the camper must be cleaned. Wiped down, washed, swept, you got it. Restore it like you found it and ready to return to the wilderness.
As a military family (and wife), it’s easy to complain, but there are many valuable lessons to be learned from these camping experiences. Camping with a military man is definitely unique. As a family, we are able to see how knowledgeable, well-trained, and organized my husband is when caring for his family outside of home and work and in the outdoors. Our children learn about planning and packing for trips, travel, and have an arsenal of rich memories and experiences. They learn to be responsible for their own belongings and to know what is needed up on a mountain or beach. Camping also teaches them about the importance of proper gear and its uses, navigation, cooking when camping, making a fire, chopping wood, gun safety, and most importantly being self sufficient. The quality time they get with their military father and skills learned are invaluable.
As a military wife, I can resist the experience or accept it and find the positive in it to be with my family and grow and embrace it as well. It beats fighting with them about the use of electronics and hearing , “I am so bored, there is nothing to do!” at home.