Last week, we went on our first homeschool camping trip. It was the longest camping trip I’ve ever been on (well, at least, the longest one I’ve been in charge of packing and cooking for).
Five nights in the desert. Yes, I had to cook with a camp stove for 5 nights! I was nervous but it turned out OK.
After the first night, that is. The first night was hell.
I did not know this but apparently wind is your number one enemy on a campout. Rain, even snow, are no big deal compared to wind, the most heartless and vengeful of Mother Nature’s henchmen.
The wind was so bad, our tent collapsed. Eight-year-old Kate was scared after the wind snapped one of the poles. The wind was so strong, we had to secure it so it didn’t blow away. Jennifer and I put large rocks all around the tent, on the inside and out.
Snuggled in our sleeping bags, the wind whipping and howling all around us, Kate asked me in a little voice, “Mom, what if the tent falls on us?”
I said confidently, “Honey. This tent is not going to fall down. We have hundreds of pounds of weight on this thing, when you factor in all these huge rocks plus our own body weight. Like 500 or 600 pounds. This tent is totally secure.”
A few hours later, I woke up, whimpering. It was like an episode of Naked and Afraid.
“Help!” I squeaked, making a futile attempt to hold my hand up to try to keep the tent from falling on us.
OK, so I was right, the tent wasn’t going to blow away. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t going to fall on us. And you can’t sleep under a collapsed tent.
So, around midnight, we got up and moved to the minivan, which involved unpacking and repacking everything so we could fit.
There really wasn’t enough room for all of us to fit but somehow we made it work and got a few hours of sleep. OK, yes, this involved Jennifer somehow sleeping on the bucket seats. I don’t know how she did that but I’ll tell you what, that girl is a trooper. I owe her big time.
As we tried to fall asleep, Kate was hugging me tight and she kept saying over and over, “I love you, Mom.” I think she really thought we were going to die.
We woke up laughing and bragging together about how made it through the night. Yeah, we were traumatized, but as I said to Jennifer, it was like Battle of the Bulge. Those guys who fought in the trenches in World War I were friends for life.
It started to dawn on me that camping can be a very powerful tool to form strong relationship bonds. Maybe that should be what we do when we’re dating. Go on camping trips. You could speed up the whole getting-to-know-you process and I bet there would be a lot fewer divorces.
After I got some coffee in me, I headed over to the ranger’s station to inquire about cabins. There was no way we could stay in the tent again. The poles were snapped and warped and completely destroyed.
I’m not a religious person, but as I stood in the ranger’s station, I was literally whispering prayers to God, asking the Universe for a cabin. Otherwise we were going to have to go home. And I really didn’t want to have to leave. I had been looking forward to this campout for months.
Homeschooling can be lonely in the early days, when you don’t know any other homeschoolers yet. We started homeschooling eleven months ago, and it’s been tough for Kate to make friends. I felt instinctively that this camping trip was really important for Kate.
And also for me. I really wanted to get to know the other homeschool moms. We don’t always make it to park days, and even when we do, I’m always chasing after Ollie and I don’t get much down time. I was really craving this time to spend with other homeschool families.
Thankfully, they had one cabin left.
It was like moving into the Ritz Carlton. It had no air conditioning, no shower and no beds — just wooden slabs you put your sleeping bags on. It also had a busted screen door and the toilet broke on us twice. But this cabin was a 5-star accommodation compared to that Naked and Afraid experience in the tent.
Kate and Jennifer went for a bike ride while Ollie “helped” me take down the tent and move everything to the cabin.
Now that we had secured shelter, I could focus on our next task… procuring food. It was going to be lunchtime soon and I was not prepared.
Jennifer grabbed some granola bars and fruit and took the kids swimming at the pool.
I headed over to the “Kitchen Village” to set up our pantry and camp stove.
Honestly, I was very intimidated by the whole campout cooking thing. I had just bought the stove for this trip, and this was all new to me.
But we did okay.
One of the best camp purchases I made was this $5 “toaster” which made perfect toasted bagels which we ate with cream cheese that first morning.
We used it that night to warm up the homemade cornbread. This cornbread is the bomb, baked in a cast iron skillet. Cornmeal, frozen corn, heavy cream, sharp cheddar cheese. I figured it would be a good idea to precook the cornbread and then freeze it and eat it with the chili we froze in a Ziploc bag.
The next morning we inverted the camp toaster and used it to make cinnamon rolls (the kind that come in the tube; got them at Trader Joe’s). Eating cinnamon rolls with French press coffee and milk is such a treat when you’re camping. We fried bacon, too.
At the HSC (Homeschool Association of California) campouts, we all make our own breakfasts and lunches, and then every night there is a potluck everyone makes a dish for.
And the other moms helped me learn the ropes with the whole cooking outdoors thing. Some of them have been doing it for 15 years, and they are seasoned pros.
Someone loaned me a lighter when I couldn’t find mine. Someone else let me borrow a can opener.
The best part about camping though, is the friendships you make.
Like I said above, there is that “Battle of the Bulge” effect… fighting the elements brings you closer to people.
And homeschoolers are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet.
We sat around the second morning drinking coffee and talking about Breaking Bad. The fact that so many of the homeschool moms love Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul just tells you these are smart people.
And ha! This is what the campground looked like. Could this landscape look any more Breaking Bad?
Not only are they smart and cool, homeschoolers tend to be freedom-seeking, creative thought-leaders. These folks are thinkers — they question everything.
They’re into all kinds of geekery from knitting to books to computers to music and TV. We had the best conversations over the campfire.
I met writers and entrepreneurs and foster parents and world travelers and horseback riders and computer nerds and just the coolest, most interesting people.
We played board games, too. Bananagrams, Life, and Cashflow.
Our little introvert, Kate, actually disengaged from her iPad long enough to have some fun with the other kids. They climbed rocks, watched Gravity Falls in one of the RVs, rode bikes, ate s’mores, played ukeleles and sang songs from Steven Universe.
And Ollie, people person that he is, bonded with everyone.
If you’re new to homeschooling, or you have been homeschooling for a while but are having trouble making friends and building a community, I really recommend joining local meetup groups and going to campouts.
If you live in California, join the HSC (Homeschooling Association of California). The HSC hosts these fabulous campouts several times a year throughout California.
They also have an annual conference which happens in the beginning of August every year. I’ve been three times and it is truly awesome. We are going this year — so if you go, please RSVP!
Also, please feel free to join my local meetup group here in LA — we have over 500 members in our LA Freethinking Homeschoolers group.