This summer I plan to try kayak camping for the first time, so this weekend my daughter and I did a one-night scouting trip to a campsite on the banks of the Toccoa River in north Georgia. Sandy Bottoms Recreation Area marks the end of a different kind of trail, the Toccoa River Canoe Trail, a 13.8 mile float down the river that takes you from Deep Hole Recreation Area to Sandy Bottoms. After a leisurely float, you take out at Sandy Bottoms before hitting some rapids further down. I plan on taking my daughter and her friend on that trip, and I wanted to make sure that it would be easy to get out of the river at the appropriate spot, because the last thing I need is two 10 year-olds getting swept down the rapids. No one got swept away on this trip, but it turned into an adventure for a much less exciting reason.
I decided spontaneously to take this little trip. Luckily, I’ve got a system for camping that requires very little preparation should the notion strike me to get out into the wilderness. It helps that even when I car camp, I pack light like a backpacker. I keep all my camping gear in a closet in my basement- tents, packs, hammocks, sleeping pads, etc… I also keep my pack stocked and ready to go. All of my gear is organized into sacks- kitchen stuff in one sack, hygiene in another, and food in the last. My kitchen sack is always stocked with a lighter and fuel tabs for my Esbit stove. My hygiene sack has contact solution, contact case, toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, band-aids, and chapstick. It’s already stocked so all I have to do is grab and go. After each trip I refill or replace whatever got used up, and that way I’m always stocked and ready. The only thing I have to pack is clothing and food. I don’t need much clothing for a one-nighter, so all it took was a quick trip to Wal-Mart for some Mountain House meals and we were ready to head north to the mountains.
It’s important when camping with kids to make it fun. My daughter brought along her Fuggler (funny, ugly monster) and she picked out the food. We always take beef jerky, gummy bears and hot cocoa. I see a long drive as a way to introduce her to music everyone should know, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” We have some good conversations on those long drives to the campsite, when she’s excited and talkative. There’s something about a road trip with junk food and good music that is a balm for the soul.
I worked Saturday morning and my GPS decided to take the scenic route, so we didn’t arrive at our campsite until after 5 p.m. When we parked and started to unload, I heard a strange hissing sound coming from my truck. I had either parked on top of a very angry snake, or I had a flat tire. You guessed it- flat tire. It was punctured and losing air fast. I knew there was nowhere to get it fixed at 5 p.m. on a Saturday in the tiny hamlet of Blue Ridge, Georgia. I had a spare and a jack, but no idea how to change a tire. That was on my list of skills to acquire this year. I actually wrote down “learn how to change a flat,” but hadn’t gotten around to it yet, and I had no cell service to find a YouTube tutorial. I decided to enjoy the trip and deal with the tire first thing in the morning.
The Benton Mackaye Trail was about a mile down the forest service road, but we weren’t sure which direction. After walking over a mile looking for it, my daughter was ready to head back to camp and start on dinner. Luckily, the forest service road followed the river, so we got to walk along beside it for pretty views.
Back at the campsite we fired up the Esbit stove. I’m the only camper I know that uses an Esbit. I like it for two reasons. One, it uses solid fuel tabs so I always know how much fuel I have left. Two, those little fuel tabs make excellent campfire starters. Elle worked on the campfire while I worked on dinner.
My husband is way less into the outdoorsy stuff than I am, so my daughter is growing up watching a woman outside. She is being raised with the idea that the outdoors is just as much for her as it is for anyone. She can collect firewood, build a campfire, set up a tent, and make a dehydrated meal. She’s seen me hike, kayak, and backpack. In her mind, these are things women do. These little one-nighter trips throughout her life are insignificant taken one at a time, but as a whole they build a foundation of comfort and belonging in the outdoors. She’s growing up in the woods, not the mall.
We enjoyed our campfire and our backpacker meals. That was my first time trying Mountain House, believe it or not. I usually pack an assortment of things like tuna packets, beef jerky, hard cheese and instant rice. I’m a big eater and I hate being hungry on a camping trip. The food is one of my favorite parts! I didn’t think there was any way that little packet could serve two people, but the food was surprisingly filling and Elle and I were both full afterward. For dessert we shared a chocolate bar brought to me from Germany from my friends who are hiking the AT right now. After the campfire died down, we climbed into the tent for another of our traditions, playing cards before bed.
By the next morning, my tire had gone completely flat and I knew I was going to have trouble finding someone to fix it. I was hoping to find a Wal-Mart with a tire center and praying that it would be open on Sunday morning. On the way in to the campsite, my GPS had taken me the worst possible way, over miles of rough forest service road. I checked the map at the parking area and realized there was another road that would put me back in civilization much faster. We took that route (and finally passed the Benton Mackaye trailhead we had been searching for last night) and in just a couple of miles we came to a little restaurant and general store on the river.
I went inside hoping for a tip on where to get my tire fixed. The answer was basically, “There’s nowhere close to here open on a Sunday.” After seeing the look of panic on my face, two local men got up from their table and offered to change it for me. I was obviously extremely grateful for their help.
You may look at their picture and be appalled by the one guy’s sweatshirt, but unfortunately that is par for the course in many small towns in the South. At that point I didn’t care if he was wearing nothing but a tutu, as long as he could get me on the road again.
The night before I had put a Band-Aid on the tire, because it stopped the hissing sound. It made me feel better when I couldn’t hear my tire hissing at me. To the credit of the Band-Aid company, that little piece of adhesive plastic stayed on my tire over two miles of rough gravel road. When those boys saw that Band-Aid, they thought that was the funniest thing they had ever seen.
I offered to buy both men breakfast, but it turns out that one of them owns the restaurant. I thanked them profusely and headed home, another mother/daughter camping trip in the books. I plan on learning how to change my own tires in the future!