In college I went camping a few times and enjoyed myself reasonably, but not enough to invest in any serious gear - you know, like a sleeping bag (I'm not sure whose sleeping bags I borrowed those few times). The last time I went was right before Brandon and I got married, over nine years ago.
So this weekend we conducted our first trial run in the Shenandoah National Forest. My cousin and his wife and a friend with her two girls consented to come join the circus with us. Just in case things started going south, we would have witnesses to keep us from throttling an exasperating child.
We got started a little later than I had hoped (who doesn't when they're going anywhere with five children?), but were pulling away from FSI with Brandon on board by 1:45. We had an uneventful drive with a few stops and pulled in by 4:45 with plenty of time to unpack the car, pitch the tent, and start our fire (with nothing but a lighter and some paper. Next time we're bringing something less... boy scouts) before everyone else showed up.
When I planned out our trip I remembered lessons learned from hiking in Baku and attempted to keep everything as simple as possible (with seven people, that can only get so simple). For food I had one rule: it had to be cooked on a stick. I wasn't going camping so I could wash dishes half the night, and I had no concern at all for nutrition. If the children didn't get full on hot dogs, they were welcome to top off with as many s'mores as they liked.
So after lots of hot dogs (and vegetables and watermelon brought by a much more nutrition-conscious member of our party) and s'mores everyone was happily bundled off to bed at an hour late enough to ensure that everyone fell asleep within five minutes of being put into their brand-new all matching green sleeping bags. Then the adults enjoyed a beautiful three-quarters moonlit after party with even more s'mores.
Breakfast the next morning was more stick-cooking (sausages and biscuits - originally cooked on sticks until someone more clever than me brought out the tin foil) with a token nutritional supplement of orange juice and bananas.
After packing up the camp (it's amazing how long that takes when you have twelve people) we went for a child-and-pregnant-woman appropriate hike.
We stopped by a waterfall for lunch and let everyone enjoy their favorite pastime, rock throwing.
The hike was just long enough - one and half miles round trip - that everyone got good and tired out for the two-hour ride home.
As we drove home, enjoying the gorgeous scenery along Skyline Drive and beautiful silence of five sleeping children, Brandon and I reviewed the trip. I think we have been worn down by so many small people to take care of, because we both decided that the entire trip had been a stunning success. Of course there were things to improve on, but we all had a wonderful time. Our friends were so much fun to have along, the weather was pleasant, the s'mores were delicious, and even sleeping was comfortable. We're already making plans for the next trip.