Low Impact Camping for the Pseudo-Outdoorsperson

Well, it’s that time of year again.  That happy, magical time when our family leaves behind the trappings of civilization and heads to the mountains for some interaction with nature! Usually, too much so.

Our SOP is to head to the mountains twice a year–once as just a couple, and once (in the fall) as a married couple with two kids.  The husband and I went there in July and had a great trip.  This time I put my maternal foot down and reserved a cabin to stay in instead of our usual tent-based adventure.  The weather is fairly chilly, especially at night, and somehow I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about shivering in a tent for three nights.

So, instead, we shivered in a cabin for three nights.  I feel I should define the word “cabin,” lest you become confused and imagine us lounging in a centrally heated, house-like dwelling similar to a hotel room.  Oh no. In WV state park terminology, this cabin was defined as “standard,” although that term could be considered fairly loose.  I mean, standard to one person could be vastly different than standard for someone else.  Like, some folks are happy if a toilet is standard.  I, on the other hand, have slightly higher standards, and they keep getting higher the older I get.

The cabin does have a bathroom, kitchen, and some furniture, but I found this to be more troubling than I would have imagined.  When we camp with our tent, it’s all our stuff–our own towels, sheets, beds–you get the point.  In the cabin, not so much.  Also, our tent has far less mice.  This is a bad time of year for mice if you are a country dweller, and a cabin in the middle of the woods doesn’t stand a chance.  The mice are thinking it’s a little too cold outside, too, so there is some fair amount of competition for space.  We managed to trap one, but saw another the next night.  Maybe we should have put the dead mouse outside as a warning to the others.  Normally I don’t approve of animal killing of any kind, but I have to tell you, I can’t deal with mice in the house–too nasty.  I usually just wash up the dishes as soon as we get there, but this time I had to wash the dishes each time right before we used them, just in case.

The kids liked the cabin–especially the daughter, because I took her portable tv/dvd combo and her movies.  The son thought it was the coolest thing ever, of course.  For some reason, my daughter was determined to hurt herself, and her efforts finally culminated in a shocking but thankfully brief moment when she managed to fold herself up in a portable rocking chair.

Having the cabin was undoubtedly better, but we became obsessed with the fire.  We dared not stray too far in fear that the fire would go out, and then we’d freeze and be forced to eat the stuffing out of the mattresses.  So we fed the fire.  I’d be willing to bet that the deforestation of at least a few acres of woodland could be traced to our fire this weekend.

The biggest factor in fire-having success is building one to begin with.  There are critical elements of fire-building that you must master in order to have a long-lasting, heat-producing fire. These are the two biggest:

  1. Marry someone who can build a fire.
  2. While they are building the fire, lay in the bed under the covers and call out helpful pointers, such as, “Maybe the wood is wet!” or “Is it getting enough air?” until your spouse begins to get an ominous twitch on the left side of his/her face and starts looking at the firewood in his/her hand then glancing at you in a way that you find alarming.  At this point, resume shivering in silence.

If you can’t master these steps, my advice is to check in to the nearest Holiday Inn.

If you succeed in lighting it, I must warn you, a fire is hungry.  The husband and the son had tickets to WVU’s football game on Saturday, so they abandoned me and my daughter for the day to go see it.  All I did was put wood on that fire.  If I turned my back for more than a few minutes, the fire became jealous and began to produce copious amounts of stinky smoke instead of flame.  Then for a change it would burn furiously and devour all of the wood I had just put on there.  I could actually hear it chuckling when I turned my back.  Once, I decided I’d lay down with my daughter and have a nap, and I was laying there innocently trying to doze off.  Through the drowsiness my nose started sending me a message.

Alas, the fire, sensing my inattention, had slyly shifted a log too far out onto the hearth, and caused it to smoke merrily, thereby filling the cabin up with smoke.  Thank God there was a nice tall vaulted ceiling for the smoke to retreat to, and I opened the door to let some more get out.

So aside from feeding the fire, it was a very relaxing time.  As always, cabin or tent, there is no cell phone service up there, so it’s very quiet.  The cabin area is even quieter than the campground, although the whole park was pretty busy with the leaf peepers (people who drive from all over to see the fall colors.)  It was great to spend time together as a family, doing all of those fun family things that bring us all closer–feeding the fire, disposing of dead mice, extracting children from collapsed chairs, feeding the fire, hiking, laughing, feeding the fire, napping, feeding the fire…….

Seriously, it was great.  Next year, though, we’ll be sticking to the tent.  The mice can feed the fire.

 

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