Reflections on my extended camping trip

68555050_10157420302724297_911070517484584960_n
We’re home, after exactly 40 nights of camping, almost 6 whole weeks, 1/2 of summer! Phew. It’s hard to sum up what it means to me to be able to do this with my family. And I’ve had so many comments from friends, family, online friends, wondering how we are able to do this? A few things: in the spring, I work 7 days/week for ~8 weeks straight in the greenhouse business. The rest of my businesses are all online, so I can do them from anywhere on the road. Financially, the main factor allowing for this freedom is we live with practically 0 debt. I purchased a very cheap shell of a house when I was 20. I slowly chipped away at finishing, and eventually adding on to the house, as my budget allowed, often with free, upcycled, recycled materials. So I was able to pay off my mortgage at age 37. My husband and I have not taken out a loan for a vehicle in our 20 years together. We’re currently driving a Ford Explorer as our camper tow vehicle, which we purchased for $1000 from our neighbor. After ~$700 worth of new parts, all the work done by my Hubby, it was more than road worthy, and indeed did an awesome job on our trip, we put on just shy of 4,000 miles! We pay off our credit card every, single month. So basically, if we can’t afford something, we don’t buy it. Also, out of our 40 nights camping, 14 of them were at free campgrounds. We did spend 2 nights at a cabin mid-trip, which increased our nightly average, but our 40 night average came in at $23. Our biggest expense was food, but other than that, especially with Covid, we really kept to ourselves as much as possible and didn’t do a whole lot in activities that hit the pocket book. So really it is the time factor, I have always and will always maintain: time is more precious than money to me, and these 6 weeks spent traveling with my family, in our tiny little pop-up, are 100% pricless to me.
Okay, an additional bit of background, to make it even more interesting. I set off on this adventure with 2 broken bones (my foot and my ankle). When we left, it was barely 2 weeks post-break. Many people expressed disbelief that I was going through with our plans. But my main thought was: I have a limited amount of summer’s with my kids. They are growing up so quickly, and in a few years they’ll be saying what I did at 16 when my parents went to Canada and I opted to stay home and work and hang out with my friends… So no, laying around on the couch and feeling sorry for myself was out of the question. Here’s one post I did from the road about it: It’s been 24 days since I missed the bottom step in my home and broke 2 bones. The bruises are fading, although still visible.  It amazes me how quickly our bodies can heal, and how we also can learn to cope with pain. I can be heard saying “owwwww” at least 20 times/day as I get sudden, deep down, shooting pains. But they pass, and I know it’s my body healing itself back together. I’m so, soooooo grateful for my amazing Husband who has taken on his new role of caretaker with grace. It’s not easy setting up camp, and tearing down days later, on your own. I do what I can, but he does 90% of it all. And still, we’re having an amazing time and look forward to several more weeks on the road. Today is the 1st day I’ve sat an adventure out. Hubby and the kids went to one of our favorite fishing spots, but there is a super steep bank that is difficult even under the best conditions. So I’m chillaxing with my girl Shiloh, resting the foot, and reading 100 Things Pearl Jam Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die 🙂 And enjoying every second of my lazy Tuesday!

 

Updates from the road:

Night 13 of camping. No. It’s not all glorious. My son is especially prone to being hangry, unhappy over trivial things, inconvenienced. My daughter goes with the flow and is incredibly easy going and an amazing traveler. We definitely have some bumps in the road, but more often than not, we have awesome days. Today was 1 of them. Perfect 70ish degree day, with a breeze. Our dog started dock jumping along with the kids. This is something they do for hours on end, and I already lament the day that they think it’s boring. I gazed at the sky for hours. Looking back at this moment, I especially love the shadows on the dock. And for me, 1st day in 30 since my fall without crutches! Stronger by the day, and it feels ammmmmmmmmmazing!

116339109_10158486941014297_1810332069087676008_o

When I posted that we’d been camping 13 nights in my Eco-friendly USA group page, I had these comments, which is what spurred me to share my extended thoughts as I’m doing now. Comment: 13 days! Impressive! We only ever go for 2 nights (in tents). Just this morning around the fire my friend and I were discussing how we don’t think we could do 3 nights. Another comment from that post. 2nd comment: What do you all do? After hiking, kayaking, and swimming at the beach my children were getting restless and a bit bored.

A: We’re on a 30 night+ trip! We’ve upgraded to a pop-up, so that helps. The most we did tent camping was 12 nights. And yes, the older I get, the less enjoyable the tent was. But I feel like I could live in the pop-up! My kids (and Hubby) are fishoholics, they can fish morning, noon, and night. With a lot of swimming in-between. We drive a couple hours, stay 5-7 nights, drive a couple more, stay another 5. Each area leads to new day trips and exploring. There are a lot of waterfalls up here in northern WI, and a bazillion lakes and rivers. I WANT my kids to be bored. I want them to figure out what to do with themselves when technology isn’t an option. We have several board games, a bin of art supplies, books, for some basic entertainment. My hubby told them he made homemade bows and arrows when he camped as a kid, so the other night he helped them each make one. And they “hunted” squirrels and chimpmunks in the camp ground. Don’t worry, there was no chance they were actually going to hit one. But they spent hours trying. Then our black lab ended up eating most of the arrows they made out of sticks, lol  But honestly, being bored is the goal, and we can’t accomplish that in a couple nights…. There are definitely challenges, it’s not all pure bliss. But it’s important to me to make these memories with my kids, and see as much of our beautiful world as we can. My oldest is 9 already, I know those teenage years are coming and friends will be more fun than Mom & Dad…

They would absolutely be on their tablets all day long, if I let them. Once I tell them to put them away, they find stuff to do! I hear: want to go play at the playground Sissy? Want to go scooter? Want to take the dog for a walk? We literally spend hours upon hours swimming, jumping off docks, playing on play grounds, each place is new & exciting. They are now able to pump on swings by themselves, somthing my 9 year old Son just learned how to do this year actually. So I’ve turned into the Mom who was asked to give underducks and push, to the Mom who gets to sit on the bench and observe, something I actually NEED to do this summer as I’m nursing my broken bones. These moments of sitting and watching them run and play, when they don’t need me, are so bittersweet. This is a small reminder of how quickly they are growing, and why I’m so adament about maximixing our time together.

One day they started doing handstands in a lake, and asked me to judge. This turned into no less than 3 hours of judging. They both have a competitive nature, so it was non-stop diving, handstands, me scoring: 6.3, 8.2. Over and over, and over. When I’d find myself starting to get bored and about to say let’s go, I’d stop myself. Go do what, why, what’s better than this? Again, I know these moments are fleeting. By next summer, or the following, they’ll be beyond these competitions. And I have a feeling I’ll long for them.

One day we saw a black bear cross the highway while driving, so that started a game of animal I-Spy. We put monitary amounts on each animal. Common things like squirrels & deer were worth $.25. A bear was worth $5, moose and elk were worth $20 (suuuuper rare and I knew we wouldn’t see one), and adult had to verify siting. But basically, these are the types of strategies I used to keep them off their tablets (we did a lot of driving and they like to be on tablets during drive time), keep them engaged and interested in our surroundings.

It’s super interesting watching a campground fill up as a weekend arrives. We’re at a new to us spot in Salon Springs (used to be a state park, sold back to county a few years ago). There are only 30some sites total, maybe 10 were occupied when we arrived on wed, it was pretty dang quiet. Now, the place is hopping. It’s fine, but we definitely prefer the quiet! There are dogs barking (not our good girl), games of cornhole happening, ACDC blaring, an occasional train, all the smells of 30 dinners being cooked at once. We’re having pork tenderloin stir fry, can’t wait! And my kids, well, they’re practicing shooting chipmunks on homemade bow & arrow while the neighbor kids do rounds on their electric scooters….

109932395_10158479639364297_7362530505006812167_o

We know that one of these summers our kiddos will outgrow the playgrounds we frequent around the state. But for now, we cherish moments like this, we were all cracking up so hard, hooting and hollering on a swing that looks like kids probably hadn’t enjoyed it in quite some time. These are the moments of our long summer days that I cannot get enough of 💗

118518544_10158560222874297_5336277243603603457_o

 

After 13 nights camping, we decided to spring for an adorable little cabin for 2 nights. Not like we’re really roughing it in the pop-up, but all meals happen either over the fire, our 1 burner, or the Instantpot. So, having access to a full kitchen for 2 days means I’m prepping for the next week of camping big time! A quick trip to the local grocery store (I’m so thankful that I’m able to get around well enough to do the shopping again!), and a little over an hour in the kitchen, and all this is happening!!
I love the challenge of coming up with as many meal ideas as possible, with what I have on hand and what I can find at the local grocery store. Being up in the northwoods of WI reminds me of shopping in Belize: organic food is rare, which is hard to get used to… As I tell me kids, we eat what we have, not necessarily what we want. It’s over an hour drive to a decent sized town, so we’ll definitely hit that up once we get up that way.
So I looked in my food bin from home and had 3 cans of tuna and 2 packs of organic alfredo sauce, so tuna casserole is in the oven. I still had some organic purple carrots from home too, so shredded a bunch of those into the mix, the color is so pretty! The grocery store had a discounted veggie platter, it needed to get used up quick, so the cauliflower & broccoli from that went into the casserole, along with onions & garlic. Super easy, in the oven in no time!
I was able to find a bag of organic potatoes, so since the oven is going, I threw 6 potatoes in to pre-bake as well. Potatoes take a long time over a fire, so having them pre-cooked saves a ton of time, and they can be used in a breakfast scramble, or other side for dinner. I found some local, organic ground beef, score! So I have 2 packs of that cooking into Sloppy Joe’s/BBQ’s! I love making these because they’re super easy to make, as well as super easy to re-heat. We eat them on buns, with chips as a kinda’ dip, or even on a baked potato!
Not organic, but I grabbed a pork tenderloin which is in the Instantpot currently too, while all this other stuff cooks. We love carnitas, and we can also add BBQ sauce and make it into sandwiches. I have some steel cut oats from home, so after the pork is done, I’ll make a few days worth of those in the Instantpot, and will just re-heat them with some milk for a quick breakfast. And for veggies, tomorrow there’s a farmer’s market in town, so I’ll absolutely be hitting that up! I hope to get enough ingredients to pre-make a huge salad (and yes, I bring my Vejibags on the road), and then I will wash & pre-chop/prep whatever else I find.
For storage for all of this, we left with 6qts of Kombucha in glass mason jars. Those are now all empty, so will get filled up with the above. Once I run out of those, I will use Gal Ziplocs. No, I don’t love them, but while camping I do use plastic more than I ever would at home. Glass is heavy, and bulky, and I try to balance the use of both. So, that’s my update from the road 🙂 I’ll add this to my camping meal post from last year: https://ecofriendlymamausa.com/recipes/camping-meals-made-easy/

 

Random updates from the road: 2 broken bones can definitely slow my roll, but not stop me from enjoying the rest of my summer! This dip in Windfall Lake felt nothing short of baptismal!

109926559_10158462332464297_9014491469926188865_o

Putting my foot up after a long day of hobbling around without crutches (YAY!)

116337079_10158487921689297_360680908193545594_o

 

 

One of the best investments that helps us cut costs (literally) while on the road is this electric chainsaw! Wood is super expensive, at least $10/ night if we have to buy it, $20 if we want to stay up after dark. TIMES 30 nights or more that more than pays for this @ $200! Rechargeable, quiet, lightweight, gets the job done!

116154676_10158479785714297_8129849744338663359_o

One rule of the road is ABC: Always Be Charging. And we were, especially when we were at off-grid sites. We drove somewhere daily, so my phone, the chainsaw, the kids tablets were always plugged in to be topped off while they could.

One of our other investments that we’re looking to cut out is ice. We have a tiny fridge in our pop-up, and the Instantpot actually blew all but 1 circuit (including the fridge) while we were on the road. Now that we’re home, my Hubby was able to fix it all. But, we lived out of 2 coolers for the majority of this trip. So we had to buy ice daily, running us ~$5/day. We mulled over several solutions, but ultimately have decided it’s time to upgrade to a larger, hard-sided rig with a decent fridge/freezer combo.

As I mentioned above, we spent 14/40 nights at free campgrounds. We got really lucky and found 1 that even had electricty, free + electric is pretty rare. There are websites/apps devoted to free camping in each state, for many, it’s a way of life. We like to do a mix of free and fee sites, as I have grown to like some ammenities. Potato Falls is our free, but no ammenity site that we’ve camped at for 4 years in a row now, and have really come to love. Here is the post I did when we got set up there, along with a few pics:

We’re all set up at Potato Falls! Always a gamble with just 6 sites, but we haven’t struck out yet in our 4 years of coming here (we always hit it on a Mon). 3 of the 6 sites were occupied, but we got ours. No electricity, 1 pit toilet, can barely see the next site, also free! It’s heavily shaded and always breezy. It rained a lot up here yesterday so all creeks and rivers are raging. There are more vehicles than we’ve ever seen here at the trailhead to the falls, you can hear them raging from our camper. Trent and kids just went to hike down to them now, something my ankle isn’t quite ready for yet. Feels great to be back at one of our favorite spots! NO electricity, so when it gets dark, we pull out lanterns, and generally go to bed fairly early, or sit by the campfire for awhile.

Going off grid means you need to simplify. We made cold brew coffee instead of using our electric perk. Instead of toast with eggs we’d make scrambles and use tortillas. Every problem has a solution, and you get creative when you need to. And believe me, we were just as happy, if not happier, off grid. It’s soooo quiet and beautiful, we really enjoyed feeling more connected to nature. I’ve found that when you lower your expectations, you are often pleasantly surprised!

Even as someone who has grown up in this state, and been to the northern part of the state several times, it still boggles my mind how much water is up here. Those blue specks are all lakes and rivers. Today we head north a couple more hours to the shores of THE greatest of all lakes, Superior!

68436180_10157440778079297_8583677675053252608_o

117769663_10158541135659297_3953498880780276649_o

I don’t think we could’ve done this many weeks without our kids revolting had we not had 2 of our best families of friends coming to join us at the 1/2 way point. 2 families drove 6 hrs to spend a week on Lake Superior with us. And it was nothing short of epic. None of us had camped more than 3 nights together before. And we had THE best time. We each have 1 girl, 1 boy, and 1 dog, all very close to the same age. The kids played for a week straight. We fed and watered them, took them fishing and swimming, and they seriously just played together from sunrise past sundown. Each family has a dog, and they played so hard, so good, non-stop. The Dad’s took a day to go kayaking together, the Mom’s took a day to go out for lunch and to a casino (a 1st for all of us). We stayed up past the kids bedtime every, single night and laughed around the fire. My soul needed this so badly, and it was just amazing to share this time together, in one of my all-time favorite spots. I’m so grateful they took me up on my offer!

Our dog really did amazing too. This is our 1st summer with her, we adopted her last fall. She definitely felt the need to be guarddog of our site, but she adapted really well to all the moving, setting up & tearing down, and generally is just a true joy as an addition to our family.

Soooooooo much history up here. Every day is a lesson, for adults and kiddos. Homeschooling doesn’t take a break for summer vacation. One major lesson we’ve learned about our state is how important rivers were, vital to the fur trade and other early development.

116439494_10158498927724297_1497648175572850707_o

Update on my healing progress: 6 weeks ago today I broke my foot and my ankle. 2 weeks ago I weened myself off crutches. Yesterday my new crocs, 2 sizes 2 big, arrived at my friend’s house up north. I’m still taking it slow, but my body says it’s ready for this new stage, and it feels soooooooo gooooooood!

117259758_10158519892934297_6491305216450595385_o

So, here’s my conclusion:

I believe that just about everything has a silver lining, even a pandemic. Just about every, single thing we had planned for this summer was cancelled. We celebrated my Baby Girl’s 7th birthday with a campout, came home for 2 days, and headed out for what turned out to be 2 nights shy of 6 weeks of camping in this amazing state of ours. Normally, we’re lucky if we have 2 weekends in a row free, so something like this would never have been possible before. Our home, sweet home shows the signs of a birthday campout, turning around and leaving again. Of my nest on the couch, where I spent 2 weeks doing just about nothing while nursing my 2 broken bones. An office that I used my wheeled office chair to scoot around in, and fill my 90 buying club orders before heading out of town. Our yard looks like a jungle, what did we expect leaving it in July & August?
Yet, it’s home, and we are so grateful for this place on the banks of the Kickapoo River. When we left I was not even bearing weight on my broken foot/ankle, hobbling along on crutches. And during the course of our trip, I was able to start putting weight on it. I eventually ditched the crutches. I eventually ditched the boot. And here I am, walking with a lace-up ankle brace, climbing stairs even, instead of crawling on my knees and butt-scooting down. And it feels nothing short of AMAZING! And slowly but surely, everything is going in its place. We were greeted with a huge box of freshly picked veggies from my in-laws garden: tomatoes, potatoes, cukes, onions, YAY! Our kids are overjoyed to be able to play Minecraft with their friends once again. Our dog has slept in the coolness of the A.C all day. Grateful. Humbled. Blessed. Happy. Healthy. Home.
It was very interesting to see how attitudes towards mask wearing differed from county to county throughout the state. While we were gone the Governor put a mask mandate into effect. Yet 70/72 county Sherriff’s said they would not enforce the rule. And for sure, some counties we saw very high levels of compliance, other counties were very lax. When we went out to eat we tried to stick to places with outdoor dining. We went to a pizza joint towards the end of our trip and not 1 member of the staff, nor anyone dining inside had a mask.
My perspective on Covid was this: we have a chance of catching it anytime we leave the house. Am I willing to stay home for a few weeks, or even a few months, in isolation? Yes. Am I willing to stay home for months, even years, on end? No. As I think I’ve made pretty clear above, time making memories with my kiddos is precious, and they are growing super quickly. I don’t get a do-over on the summer of 2020. So no, I’m not willing to sit it out. I am willing to take some risks. WI is a rural state. We are not a hotbed for the virus. Camping allowed us to social distance, while making amazing memories at the same time.
118232576_10158550420479297_4710658364176516028_o