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Monday, February 06, 2017

In-Tents Weekend

Mason is in Cub Scouts (Tiger) now, and there are a zillion activities happening all the time. We went on his first camping trip over the weekend, over at Scoutland (a Scout Camp on Lake Lanier, near Gainesville).

So I started digging around, looking for all my old camping gear. The Boy had destroyed the big cabin tent, back in his Drunk and Doofus days, and I couldn’t locate anything but my old sleeping bag and my backpacking espresso maker (don’t judge… we’re talking dozens of pre-teen boys running around, wired on s’mores and trail mix, you gotta keep up somehow). Mason didn’t have a bag in any case, so the wife went out and got him a sleeping bag and us a tent.

I found The Boy’s old backpack from his scouting days, and there were a few useful items in it (most useful of all, a drawstring bag for clothes). So we gathered up food and other essentials, and loaded up the Miata—a backpack on wheels—and arrived at the camp as dusk was coming. Scoutland campsites have wooden platforms with metal pipe framework on them for a cabin-style tent, and several people pitched their tents on them. Our “four-person” tent1 was just slightly too large to fit comfortably on the platform, so we cleared the ground of pinecones and pitched it there. I unrolled our foam pads on the tent floor, put the bags atop them, and shoved our gear to the side. There was just enough room. I hung the battery-powered lantern on the loop at the apex of the tent, and that gave us plenty of light to arrange things as it got dark. Several people were impressed by how much stuff we pulled out of the Miata, by the way. Having gone backpacking a few times turns out to be a useful skill. ;-) For some reason, the parents’ signup sheet asked for age, and I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person there. Growing older, but not up.

The forecast low was 27°F, but that wasn’t a big deal. In fact, a couple of Girl Scouts were sleeping in hammocks. (Don’t mess with Girl Scouts!) As for us, Mason’s bag was rated for those temps, and my bag is an Army surplus down mummy bag, probably good to -40° in its prime. But I learned something important that night: when I was 28, even 38, I could toss my bag onto a foam pad and sleep okay. At 58… not so much. My hip drove into the ground, and now I find the mummy bag too confining, so I guess I need to retire it. The wife suggested (after the fact) I swap bags with Mason, which isn't a bad idea. He woke up once from the cold, and was fine after I told him to just burrow down into his bag & pull it over his head. Around 2 a.m., I fished a pool float out of the trunk of the car, blew it up (which warmed me up as well), and slept well until it deflated.

So Saturday morning was cold as you-know-what. Water buckets were iced over, cars covered in frost, etc. As Mason went to sleep at his usual bedtime, he woke up at his usual 7 a.m. The camp was dead quiet, except for him talking to me… but the Girl Scout leader (who was coordinating the campout for the county troops/packs) heard the noise and got a fire going. Soon, we had bacon and eggs going, and the kids filched marshmallows. Then the boys went running all over the large campsite, leaving the adults to wander around or sit by the fire and try to get warm.

Turns out a couple of the dads in Mason’s pack are very much into these clever things called “Hot Hands.” When you expose them to air and shake them, they produce an exothermic chemical reaction. I brought gloves that were more than adequate for 27°F, and my old ski mittens that would have sufficed for much colder temps, but my feet were cold… and I hate for my feet to be cold these days. So they tossed me a packet of “Toe Warmers,” which work the same way as the Hot Hands do. You take them out of the pack, stick them to your socks, and enjoy your day. At least I did. I also zipped into Gainesville to get an air mattress. For their part, they thought my espresso maker was awesome.

Saturday night was cold, but not as cold as before. That was fortunate, because it started raining around 2 a.m. The hammock’ers, not having thought to put up rain flies, bailed for a tent. Indeed, I think I might have been the only person in the camp who expected rain—as a motorcyclist, I know when you’re outdoors, 30% chance of rain means a near-certainty. The other pack dads left everything out, and I mean everything. So when Mason woke up at 7:15 a.m., declaring “I slept great!” I decided to just load up and go home. I always keep a towel in the Miata (highly recommended for any convertible), so I wiped down the tent and the cooler I left outside, then loaded the little car while Mason had one last run-around with the kids who hadn’t gone home Saturday afternoon. Overall, he had a blast and didn’t really want to go home.

Mason ended up with three patches for the weekend: Family Camping, Leave No Trace (for helping pick up trash), and Polar Bear (for camping in below-freezing weather). The latter is on the way, but he brought the other two home…

I left a blank spot for the Polar Bear patch

We’ll sew them onto his backpack.

1Camping equipment manufacturers love to play fast and loose with capacity. A tent measuring 6 feet by 9 feet can only be considered “four-person” if a) the people in question are children; b) they have no gear. In reality, there is barely enough room for two people and the gear you don’t want to leave outside.


  1. Patches have got a lot less obscure since I was in Girl Guides! Those are cool.

    It's the espresso maker one of those two-chambered jobbies with the filter in the middle? That or a perker make total sense for camping.

  2. Hi Katherine,
    It looks like this one: https://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/gsi-outdoors-stainless-mini-expresso-maker Internally, it works like an air-tight percolator—steam pressure pushes the water up the stem, through the coffee in the basket, then out the spout.


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