My husband and I dated and married under the guise of being active, outside people. We considered ourselves skiers, campers, hikers, backpackers. And when our first kid was on the way, we foolishly said that the baby wasn't going to change our lifestyle.
Add that to the list of dumb things I’ve said.
When the baby was four weeks old we drove to introduce him to my husband’s family in Washington. And since we were so close, and off work, and love it so much, we ferried up to the San Juan Islands to camp for a few nights…in April, while breastfeeding, with an infant, and our dog, in a tent. The baby cried all night long, and in the morning, I wept when I said I needed to go home. My husband tore down everything he had put up nine hours earlier. We caught the ferry and drove 10 hours back to Idaho. I felt like a failure. In a month, this little creature had changed my resolve and core outdoor identity.
When our second baby was four weeks old we made the same trek to Washington, but on the return trip we stayed in a beautiful cottage in Sisters, Oregon. Sadly, with two small kids and me on unpaid maternity leave, we knew our financial situation could not support this type of vacation for more than one night. The following summer, with two babies in tow, we returned to the tent for a one night trip to a mosquito-infested desert about an hour from our home. I don’t remember specifics, other than it was terrible. Later, we spent a night on a mountain lake listening through our tent walls to a neighbor kid get sick after sneaking his mom's bottle of tequila. Again, terrible.
We pushed through, adamant that our kids would grow up rustic and adaptable. We tented through below freezing temperatures, where I spent nights re-covering kids with extra blankets, putting stocking hats back on, and listening to the neighbors’ RV heater kick on and off. My strategy to instill a love of the outdoors and adventure into the kids was to be tired, cranky and exasperated on all of our camping trips. After many miserable nights, I grew to dread camping. And, as our careers advanced, vacations began to revolve around condos and hotels in comfortable resort towns. Holidays became easier and cleaner, with more flush toilets.
When my son entered the fourth grade, he was given an Every Kid in a Park pass, which allows every fourth grader and their family a free pass to the U.S. national park system. My husband and I committed to visiting a handful of parks that year. As a family, we fell in love with our national parks, but we struggled with the camping piece. It all came to a head after the week in Teton National Park, camping in grizzly country where food needs to be stored in the car.
A summary of that trip:
Kid 1 wants food. Take food out of the car. Make food. Clean up. Put everything back in the car. Walk back from car. Kid 2 now wants food. Take food out of the car. Make food. Clean up. Put everything back in the car. Yell about eating meals when prepared for them, and not living off snacks.
Go for a hike.
Kid 1 wants food. Take food out of the car. Make food. Clean up. Put everything back in the car. Walk back from car. Kid 2 now wants food. Walk to the car. Pour a glass of wine.
While driving home, my husband and I had The Talk. That the only way to pursue our love of national parks is to make it easier on us, and specifically me. I wanted a clean toilet, I needed to sleep better, and meals needed to be easier. We didn’t need anything big or fancy, just some beds, a sink, and a bathroom.
But…then we would be RV people, and I had painted a terrible stereotype of those people. It was ugly, narrow-minded and judgmental. “Those” people aren’t really camping. “Those” people don’t love outside as much as us. “Those” people - fill in the blank. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and we found a modest second home on wheels.
Closing out our second summer of RV life, I am electrified by how the world has opened to us. We’ve ferried up to Vancouver Island to Pacific Rim National Park, spent a week in the Redwoods, survived the heat climbing at City of Rocks and Smith Rock. We’ve camped in mountain parking lots to catch some early morning skiing. We’ve explored Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bryce Canyon. We camped under the canopy of trees in Mount Rainier and in the Sawtooth Valley. We survived 4 inches of rain at Mount St. Helens. We've celebrated birthdays and chased the total eclipse of the sun in our little trailer. We’ve hiked, skied, kayaked, surfed, climbed, and explored more than ever.
A fraction of this would have happened without changing my perspective on what it means to be outside and what it should look like to be an outdoor family. Outdoor people get out of doors as much as life will let them; some of those people are happy sleeping on the ground, and others are happy sleeping in sheets.