It’s not all fun and games: Our worst camping moments

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that my son accused me of always focusing on the positive aspects of camping while consistently ignoring everything that ever goes wrong. And he is not the only one who has charged me with practicing “joy-washing” as I called it. My friend says that whenever she asks about a trip, my answer is always: “It was great!”

Well, I’ve never denied that camping involves certain hardships and inconveniences but to me they are insignificant compared to all the joys that every trip brings.

However, in the spirit of total disclosure, I decided to pull together some stories when things didn’t exactly go as planned starting with…

Our first camping trip

It was our second year in Canada when our friends invited us to join them on a trip to Grundy Lake, a beautiful provincial park located north of Parry Sound. It usually takes about 3 hours to get there but back in 2006 there was some major road work happening on Highway 69. So our ride took more like six hours, which our 14-month-old son didn’t appreciate. With a screaming toddler by my side, six hoursbear on a picnic table stretched into an eternity. During short breaks between singing, reading, clapping, making faces and juggling toys, I kept questioning the soundness of our decision.

And it wasn’t even the end of it. A bear dropped by to say ‘hi’ on our first night and never really left showing up periodically and causing lots of havoc in the campground. On the last night he destroyed our neighbours’ food shelter and made them flee their tent in underwear. You’d think it would have nipped this whole camping lark in the bud but we were hooked. Because once you immerse yourself in nature’s beauty and tranquility, steeped in starry summer nights and accompanied by the call of a loon, there is no going back.

Lesson learned

  • Benefits of camping always outweigh inconveniences and hardships.

swimming in the lake at Grundy Lake provincial Park

kids camping

*Sorry for the photo quality. These were taken in the pre-digital era so it is a picture of a picture.

That time we got soaking wet in a canoe

On our first Thanksgiving trip in Algonquin, we decided to go canoeing on Lake of Two Rivers. We enjoyed a peaceful paddle across the lake admiring the fall colours around. When we reached the first portage, I suggested we look for shelter as it was about to start raining. My husband dug in his heels and insisted we go forward because how could I tell it would rain. Apparently, the weather forecast and, most importantly, the ominous-looking skies weren’t enough. So I got annoyed and said let’s go only because I wanted to prove him wrong, which I did. Five minutes after we hit water, rain started coming down in bucketfuls. By the time we reached the shore of a very narrow creek, we were wet down to our underwear. We spent the next hour huddled in an outhouse at the Pog Lake campground shouting at each other discussing what we should do differently next time. On the way back, we were both seething with emotions so the canoe, always so tuned into the paddlers’ moods, refused to go straight. We spent the rest of the trip trying to dry up our stuff and it smelled of smoke for months.

Lessons learned 

  • The most frustrating experiences often turn into amusing stories to tell.
  • Canoeing requires peace and cooperation.
  • Most importantly, listen to your wife!

family canoeing

campsite at Lake of Two Rivers

That time I sprained my ankle

A couple of years ago we decided to go on a backpacking trip at Bon Echo Provincial Park. Its Abes and Essens trail is only 17 kilometers long and not particularly challenging so it was supposed to be an easy hike. That is until I fell down and sprained my ankle right at the midpoint. Once we determined that nothing was broken, we decided to keep on since going back would take as much time. Armed with a stick my kids found for me, I hobbled along while my husband carried my backpack in addition to his. In the end it was fine. My ankle healed and I was soon ready for more hiking.

Lessons learned 

  • Take a first aid course so you know what to do in case of emergency
  • Proper footwear is key!

BonEcho hiking-1

That time a bear ripped our tent

Last year, we went to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. It was our second visit to the park, and I was super excited. We were planning to do some backpacking: explore the park’s interior, stay at the foot of the giant, enjoy beautiful views all around. As you’ve already guessed, it didn’t go according to plan. One very curious bear showed up on our first day, submerged our neighbours’ kayak into the lake, destroyed most of the tents around, and clawed our tent door. Luckily, it was just the outside fly, easily fixed with a duct tape. Our scared son was a bit harder to deal with. In the end, we decided to pack up our stuff and go back to the campground. Because even though the rangers arrived and scared the bear away, he was back minutes after they left. I could see why our son didn’t want to share a tent with a bear and neither did I, still it was a frustrating change of plans – going back to a noisy packed campground instead of backcountry’s peace and quiet. Although how peaceful would it be with a bear constantly following us around?

Lessons learned

  • Be prepared to change your plans – better safe than sorry.
  • Learn bear safety.
  • Duct tape rules!

bear playing with a kayak at Sleeping Giant

ripped tent

That time we were almost eaten alive by mosquitoes

You may think “being eaten alive by mosquitoes” is just a hyperbole, a literary device used for effect. Well, you just have to go to Everglades. A couple of years ago, we decided to go camping at Everglades for New Year’s. It seemed like a lovely plan until we got out of the car on our first night and were instantly attacked by hordes of hungry mosquitoes. There were a lot of them, multitudes, black clouds buzzing around, getting into eyes, nose, mouth, as we tried to set up our tents. For the first time in our camping history, I felt like getting into the car and running away. We stayed and had a great time canoeing, hiking, biking during the day. Evenings, however, were still a challenge even with long sleeves, pants and bug repellent. So we spent a lot of time playing board games inside the tent listening to the buzzing outside. Everglades’ salty marshes are to blame for this infestation. And, according to the park staff, that wasn’t even the worst of it. Try going in the summer, if you dare!

Lessons learned

  • Bug repellent doesn’t always work; mechanical barriers, like long sleeves, pants and nets are much better. Although they are not 100% effective either.
  • Make sure all the cooking and cleaning is done before sunset (we were joking that we were in one of those zombie movies where monsters come out in the dark).
  • The beauty of the sunset or sunrise works well as an itch-reliever (at least for me).

campsite at Flamingo campground at Everglades

That time we had to hike all day in the pouring rain

This one is for my older son. Apparently, that’s one of his most challenging camping experiences. Last year, during our hike on Algonquin’s Western Uplands trail, we had to walk all day in a pouring rain. At least it was warm but I have to admit that trudging through mud in wet clothing wasn’t much fun.

Lessons learned

  • Always keep a change of clothes in a waterproof bag – changing into dry clothes after a day in the rain feels like heaven.
  • Invest in good waterproof boots – having dry feet makes all the difference. Plus hiking shoes keep your feet steady as you walk through mud.
  • Keep your sleeping gear dry!

soaked through after the day on Western Uplands Trail

That time we lost our kids

A few years ago, when our older son was 11 and the younger one was four, I spent a week camping with them in Pinery while my husband was back in Toronto working. He then joined us for the weekend together with some friends so altogether we had about ten adults in our group. You’d think that’s plenty of eyes to look after the kids but that’s exactly when we managed to lose them. They were playing in the sand dunes, gradually moving away, until we lost them out of site. At first, it wasn’t that big of a deal but after all of us spent thirty minutes looking and shouting I started to panic. Right when we were on our way to notify the park staff, they reappeared out of nowhere walking along the beach oblivious to all the mayhem they’d created. Huddled somewhere amidst sound-absorbing dunes, they couldn’t hear us calling, and time moves differently when you are a kid immersed in a play.

Lessons learned

  • Talk to your kids about what they should do in case they get lost – stay in one spot, hug a tree, reply when being called.
  • It is tempting to keep them close but today’s kids are already the most watched after and freedom-deprived generation in history. So instead set some limits, discuss rules and let them explore!

kids in the dunes

That time our younger son thought he’d lose his leg

Last year, during our canoe trip to Quetico, we got caught in some nasty weather: rain, wind, high waives throwing us around. Luckily, we didn’t get capsized but our son did get splashed quite a bit and with winds and low temperatures, he got cold pretty fast. By the time we found a place to land the canoe, he lost feeling in his leg and, as he later admitted, thought he’d need to have it cut off. The way he put it, “Well, at least I had it for eleven years.”  Once we were on the shore, we got him into dry pants, fed him some snacks and then made him run along the beach to warm up. Fifteen minutes later he was back to his normal self, crisis avoided, leg saved.

This trip is also known as that time we encountered the highest waves, that time we weren’t sure we would come back, that time our car battery died while we were canoeing, and as one of the best trips we’ve ever had!

Lessons learned

  • Know what to do to prevent hypothermia – it can save your life!
  • Be prepared for all sorts of weather and plan ahead.

at the end of the canoeing route in Queticoroute

I am sure there were other terrifying/challenging/frustrating moments in our camping career but these are the only ones that come to mind right now.

What are some of your worst camping moments? Share in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “It’s not all fun and games: Our worst camping moments

    • Absolutely agree! Those challenging and frustrating moments are the ones we remember the most, plus they have brought us closer together over the years even if at first they created some tensions. To paraphrase, families that camp together, stay together 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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