Pack the Van and Go!

Sep 17, 2023

For the past several years we have established a tradition of enjoying a family car camping trip over the first weekend following the start of the school year.  I can’t recall exactly how or why it started, but whatever the reason, it is a great way to ensure we still have something to look forward to after the official end of Summer vacation, and it’s one of the only times throughout the year that we get to experience time away just the four of us.  Though we have always loved, and will continue to love throwing a party or planning a large gathering, with this event there’s no hosting, no entertaining, no coordinating schedules, no thinking through the needs of others; it’s just us.

car camp·ing


  1. a type of camping which involves driving rather than walking to a campsite.
    “the best part about car camping is that we get to use real toilets”
backcountry camp·ing


  1. a type of camping in an area more than 1km away from any highway or park road. Backcountry campsites are not accessible by vehicle and have very limited facilities.
    “without the light pollution, backcountry camping lets us see nature for what it really is.  Plus we get to poop in the woods.”

While we cherish and adore our backcountry trips, and we wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, there’s something about car camping that feels equally refreshing and relaxing, just in a different way.  Whereas backcountry excursions require careful planning, packing, meal prep and a whole lot of very rewarding work, car camping sees us clear out the fridge and simply toss stuff into the back of the van without much concern for how heavy, bulky or seemingly unnecessary it might be.  Canoe?  check.  Bicycles? check.  Board games?  check.  Rolling pin?  check.  Yoga mat? check.  Pickleball paddle?  I didn’t even know I owned one; what the heck – check!   Best of all, however, when car camping, we bring the one thing I miss more than anything when we’re in the backwoods of Algonquin, far removed from society and technical devices.  It’s the one thing that, in all the years we’ve been doing those portage trips, I haven’t been able to source an acceptable substitute for, the singular ‘luxury item’ that makes car camping just that much more special: my pillow.

Creature comforts aside, our little family tradition has become one that we all look forward to and anticipate as the first week of school comes to a close.  Be it the temperature of the air, the slower pace of day to night, or the opportunity to explore at our own rate, there are a number of reasons we enjoy our weekend, and this year was no exception.  Picking our destination location needs to follow only one simple rule: we need to be able to drive there within an hour; the whole point of the trip is for it to be easy and low maintenance, and those with young kids understand why the least amount of time we can spend in a car together, the better.  So with the van packed, the spot picked, and the weather on our side, we headed out to enjoy our weekend, checking all the possible boxes,  and even grabbing fresh Tim’s coffee before we headed into the park, using up that last bit of change I had sitting in my cupholder, since we certainly don’t need cash on a camping trip.  Yes, we were fully prepared for whatever could be thrown at us.  Yeah.

Fast forward to the end of day two, minutes before bedtime: Audrey, mid-routine in brushing her teeth, lets me know that her loose tooth has come out.  For a few moments we are caught up in the cheering, pomp and circumstance that comes with such an event, and then, she speaks: “Daddy, will the Tooth Fairy know how to find me out here?!”

We have a tradition in our household that, whenever a tooth is lost, we write the Tooth Fairy a letter, thanking her for her kindness and asking her a few questions about her process: what do you do when it rains?  where do you keep all the teeth you collect?  where do you get your money from?  The expected types of questions that come to the top of curious young minds.  She always writes back and answers in earnest, alongside the one or two coins she leaves behind.  Hmmm….coins….

I will let the adult readers fill in some blanks here.

I want to take this opportunity to give the most heartfelt and sincerest of thanks to the park rangers, who stopped when I flagged them down in the middle of the night on a dirt road in a dark forest.  From their perspective the flailing of my arms to get their attention could have signalled many different things, and yet what I needed their help for, they admit to being a first.  Without question, however, likely due to the desperation in my eyes, still clear and present despite the dark night sky, they opened their hearts and pockets to help a father out.  I will likely never cross paths with them again in my life, so the only way I can pay them back is to pay it forward, and on that I give my word.  The kindness of strangers will never stop warming my soul; more than any warm, drive-thru beverage ever could.  Lesson learned.

Though every year we’ve been camping, which has been since the year Nora was born, has been enjoyable, this year immediately gave us something different.  As we pulled into our site and Alison and I began setting things up, the kids instinctively jumped onto their bikes and started to explore, entirely on their own.  As I watched them peddle away onto the trails, I was instantly taken back to when I was a kid, doing the exact same exploring with my brother along the paths and trails of Earl Rowe, where my Dad would take us every year.  Alison and I both paused in this moment to recognize that these kids are building memories and we are fortunate enough to both witness and be a part of them.  They didn’t get off of those bikes for two straight days, enjoying an independence to explore that they haven’t really been able to do on the busy tourist street of Elora (remind me to go on a rant about how this town needs to do more to ensure the safety of pedestrians one day).  After hours and hours of cycling around, climbing trees, and adventuring, they couldn’t have been prouder to lead Alison and I around the park, providing us a tour of everything they’d discovered.  The whole notion of their independence, willingness to explore and challenge themselves was the perfect cap to summer.  Yeah – I like this tradition.

1 Comment

  1. Mama J

    I took Lilly and Evy car camping and we had a great time. Even at my age I found so much joy. BTW Lilly abd Evy can build an excellent campfire!!


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