Every parent occasionally thinks about faking their own death. They’re lying if they say they’ve never considered it. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. It’s only natural to want a little escape, so sometimes, yeah, I think about staging a car fire, changing my name, and living in a medium-sized midwestern town in an apartment where I don’t have to clean the gutters and shuttle seven kids to soccer practice twice a day. Other times, I fantasize about getting arrested for some benign, non-violent crime like insider trading so I have to spend 18 months in a country club prison reading books and working out. Alone. That would be nice.
Nothing makes me want to fake my own death like a family camping trip. Because there is no parental duty more difficult in the modern world than trying to survive with a family of four in the woods for three days. I’ve heard the Shackleton Expedition was troublesome, but did he have to squeeze three different kinds of milks into a cooler because everyone in his family has different dairy requirements? Did Shackleton have to bring an extra chair for his dog to sit in? Did Shackleton’s wife insist he bring an extra tent just so she could have a place to stand up and change clothes because his rooftop tent wasn’t big enough? Did Shackleton have to deal with those sorts of logistical nightmares? I think not.
My family and I recently spent three nights car camping and I had to bring a rooftop tent, a truck bed full of gear and just for good measure, more gear stuffed into a separate trailer. I once spent a month driving and camping across the Western U.S. in a four-door VW Jetta with a single backpack and a mountain bike, and now I can’t go into the woods for a weekend without renting a U-Haul truck.
And when I say “gear,” I mean things like a duffel bag full of shoes for my wife, a sleeping bag for the dog (in addition to his own chair), and for some reason, every single beach towel we own. Each kid had their own tent, and even though my wife and I were sleeping in a comfy rooftop number, she insisted I bring a separate tent tall enough for her to change in while standing up. Then there’s all of the cooking gear, two massive rotomolded coolers, a doormat(!), every single item of clothing from our closets, volleyballs, soccer balls, snorkels, tables, a tailgating tent for shade…
It’s a lot of stuff, and someone must pack all that stuff, and set up all that stuff at the campsite, and take down all that stuff, and unpack all that stuff and clean all that stuff. Sure, my wife and kids always have fun once we get out into the middle of the woods, but is it worth all that effort? Honestly, most camping weekends leave me feeling a little disappointed.
My expectations for the camping trip are admittedly higher than they should be. In my mind, we’ll catch wild trout for dinner, enjoy sunrise hikes as a family, discover a secret waterfall that hasn’t been dipped in since the days of the Cherokee, and I’d finish each night by regaling my wide-eyed kids with tales of the fish I caught earlier that morning. At the end of the weekend, my family would approach me as a group and ask in earnest if we could extend the camping trip for a few more days. Eventually, my children would become wilderness-based therapists because of the quality time we spent together on this weekend trip.
In reality, we eat mostly bags of chips and pre-made sandwiches from the grocery store, nobody wants to hang out at the fire with me because “it’s too buggy,” and I spend half of Sunday afternoon trying to jumpstart my truck because someone left the damned door open all weekend.
I’m starting to think it would be smarter to just take the family for a day hike, hit the BBQ place on the way home, and sleep in our beds with the windows open. That’s sort of like camping, right?
Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to all my family camping woes. It’s called Cold Springs Basecamp, a collection of restored historic cabins tucked into the side of a mountain near Dupont State Forest, maybe 45 minutes from my house. It’s a cool property with a creek, waterfall, and a couple of miles of flowy bike trails right on site. Even better, there’s some world class mountain biking and road biking right out the door. You’ve got the singletrack at Dupont, but also the shuttle-served downhill trails of Ride Rock Creek and the e-bike friendly downhill trails of Kanuga, both of which are just a short drive from Cold Springs. But the real beauty of this place are the three-side shelters that come completely stocked with everything you need for comfortable camping. Imagine an Appalachian Trail-style shelter, except instead of mice, they have comfy beds, cooking gear, chairs, Goal Zero generators, and fresh water.
Do you realize how amazing camping can be if you don’t have to pack the gear you need to go camping? I recently organized a quick, last-minute getaway for a handful of dads and we all showed up to Cold Springs after work on a Monday evening ready to enjoy the great outdoors. And I literally mean, we just showed up. I packed a sleeping bag and a pillow and a bottle of whiskey. I didn’t even bother with a change of clothes. One dude brought some bratwurst that we cooked over an open fire, and another brought beer and chips. Everything else was already in the shelter waiting for us. Cooking gear, sleeping platforms with mattresses, chairs, tables, there was even a writing desk in case we wanted to correspond with the families we left back in the city.
At some point, while sitting around the fire sipping whiskey, we started contemplating how many nights we could survive here at Cold Springs with the provisions we had on hand. We had already knocked back half of the whiskey and all of the bratwurst. There were some pretzels and a pack of spaghetti left. I gave us two more nights before we had to return to the real world. Three nights if we ration like a grandmother who lived through the Great Depression.
We knew we couldn’t make this respite last forever, and it was okay, because I couldn’t wait to come back to Cold Springs with my wife and kids. Sure, I’d still have to pack three types of milk and my wife would probably still bring a duffel bag full of shoes, but I think we could spend three nights in Cold Springs Base Camp with just a single truck full of gear. No U-Haul necessary. I might not have to fake my death after all.