Backcountry Camping 2018

We went on our first family backcountry camping trip this last weekend!

For those of you who don't know what backcountry camping/hiking is, it is defined as "spending at least one night in the wilderness, usually at a designated backcountry campsite or trail shelter far from the nearest road".

I was pretty excited. For us, it meant that we had to hike a couple of miles to our campsite from the ranger station and other regular campsites. We were to be alongside the river. We did lots of preparing for this trip. Although, looking back on it, I don't think you are ever fully prepared for this kind of trip with a family of 6.

Day 1

We had our check-in late afternoon on Saturday. We were handed a map and an itinerary of the all-day events that take place on the campgrounds. We got to meet the resident Barred Owl named Cotton since this program was taking place as we were checking in. Since we had quite a trek to our campsite, we knew we wouldn't be back for any of the other events taking place in the main facilities, but it was nice to know they were going on just in case. We found the trail that would take us to our campsite. It is then we realize just how much we had to carry between 2 adults, 2 kids, a pre-schooler, and a soon-to-be toddler, but we made it work.

As we get deeper and deeper into the woods, there's an uneasiness starting to creep over me. I've never camped so far away from civilization. I go over in my head the weapons we have with us. You know, just in case. I made sure my sister had our coordinates the night before so if we are never heard from again, at least authorities would be able to pinpoint where we were when they start the search for our bodies. Then I suddenly feel very uncomfortable that these are the thoughts running through my mind during our beautiful walk and I wonder if hubby is right when he constantly tells me that I watch too much Investigation Discovery channel.

We get to our site and begin to unload and unpack. By now, it is evening and we want to set up the tents right away before it gets dark. We also realized that a couple of things were forgotten back at the car so we do what you are never supposed to do if you have seen any horror movie...Jon heads back to the car and I stay at camp with the kiddos to start dinner. They certainly didn't mind.


Giving me the stink eye

If you follow my Instagram, you probably noticed that I posted a video about the forest sparkling. The lightning bugs and fireflies were in full force and it was magically beautiful. The pitch darkness only made being surrounded by the twinkling that much more stunning. I was in love.

By the time Hubby got back, it was pretty late. He quickly ate then we got to work cleaning up, getting the kiddos ready for bed, and making sure our food and supplies were strategically put away in case the local wildlife got hungry. It was warm so we took the covers off the top of our tents, so we would be sleeping with nothing but a mesh ceiling. As I lay there in the darkness with only the moonlight to see, I see the storm that we knew was coming slowly make it's way in. At first, it's incredible. Watching the sky completely light up with every flash of lightning and hearing the very loud surrounding creatures of the night go quiet with every rumble of thunder. When we moved to Tennessee, I learned that the normal thunderstorms are nothing like anything I ever experienced living in Southern California or anywhere else. The storms are big and loud. The thunder sounds like cannons that rattle our windows. I've never camped in anything like it and it was a pretty beautiful experience. Then the slow trickle of rain began. Hubby jumped up and out of the tent and scrambled in the dark in nothing but his underwear to put the covers back on the tents. Right after, it began pouring and we were all lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain.

Day 2

We survived the night. We were not eaten by any large forest creatures, however we are slowly being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I am, anyway. While everyone else has a couple of bites here and there, I have quite a few. So let me just say, we did everything to be prepared for bugs. We bought several of the best citronella candles. I made my own bug spray that included peppermint and tea tree oil since I know how sensitive we all are to mosquito bites. We all wore bug bracelets. We put dryer sheets in all of our pants pockets. We brought Benadryl cream, hydrocortisone cream, After Itch, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal with us. None of this stuff worked for me, but I'll talk more about that later.

Thankfully, Hubby is amazing and made sure to bring the required tools to make me coffee. We decided to spend some time on the river on our second day to do some fishing and possibly swimming. It was fun but so incredibly muddy. We had to retire some shoes after that. Haley was the only one to catch any fish, and she actually caught 4 within a 15 minute time frame. None of them were very big so we threw them back. I guess we weren't having fish for dinner. Wesley and Liam enjoyed splashing around and putting their feet in the water. The water was pretty cold so we decided against swimming. Wesley also did some fishing until what we think was a giant turtle decided to take off with his bait. After the river, we did more hiking and hiked back to the ranger station so the kiddos could shower off a bit of the mud and play on the playground while shoes dried.

How did this happen, Mom???

By the time, we made the long hike back to our campsite, it was time to change into jammies, eat dinner, start a fire and do what everyone had been waiting to do since they found out we were going camping...s'mores!

Daddy making pasta for dinner (I still would have rather had fish!)

Also, apparently watching stovetop popcorn pop is very fascinating!

So, I just have to say...for some reason, night two was so much harder than the first night for me. I was seriously creeped out. I think it was because the campsites in general were all pretty empty since most people had packed up and headed home for the end of the weekend. That, on top of the fact that we were already far from any other people. We were seriously all alone in the middle of the woods. Well, except for the crazy amount of bugs and animals that surrounded us. The incredibly loud noises this forest made at night would put any busy city to shame. Sounds from animals that I couldn't even identify after some extensive research on Google. So many thoughts ran through my head as I lay there staring up at the clear night sky. Are these loud animals going to eat us? Is it possible for a person to be trampled to death by deer? How big do the snakes get here? Would they swallow us whole or would it take a while? Is that episode of X-Files where the the bugs swarm and eat people actually possible? How long will the crazy axed woodsman wait to chop us into bits?

It was difficult but eventually I was able to put these questions further into the back of my mind. I lay there realizing how lucky I was to experience something so amazing. I stared up at the twinkling of the stars above the trees and the twinkling of the lightning bugs below them. I was eventually able to drift off to sleep while only waking about 4 times in the middle of the night thinking that I heard the crazy axed woodsman.

Day 3

We survived the night!!! I've never woken so happy so early in the morning! It's now time to say goodbye to the beauty of nature and start packing up to head home. As we make the lovely, yet exhausting, hike once again to get back to any kind of civilization, I tell Hubby that next year, we camp next to our car. He agrees and jokes about how he needs a vacation after this trip. I kindly remind him that there is no such thing as a relaxing vacation when you have kids. Four kids, anyway. We finally made it home, so grateful for hot showers and comfy beds. At this point, I'm basically suffering with over 35 bites that have also turned into hives covering my body. I take a Benadryl or two, soak in a hot oatmeal bath, ice my wounds, and Hubby paints my body with calamine lotion. Have I mentioned how happy I am for our comfy beds???

So here are my thoughts on this type of trip in a nutshell: This was an amazing experience and I am so grateful that we are able to provide these experiences and memories for our children. We are definitely outdoorsy people and love camping. However, this backcountry camping stuff is definitely more for a time when our kiddos are a bit older...and can carry their own stuff...and we have actual backpacker's gear (you know, the kind where your tent and sleeping bag and all that is conveniently tidied up in one pack). As I sit here typing this, trying not to incessantly scratch the top layer of my skin off, I'm thinking next year we will have to try glamping. ❤


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