Authentic Car Camping – A Lesson in Poor Planning


Oh this weekend went off without a hitch.” I said in the most sarcastic voice I could muster.

The family and I headed out for one last weekend of camping before the cold touch of winter violently slapped us in the face and the cold became to unbearable. Here is the Twin Cities it’s not uncommon for the snow to follow by Halloween, or in the case of 1991 a blizzard which dropped around 28″ in a 24hr period.

We decided that to beat the cold we’d head south by about 2-3 hours which would surely yield somewhat warmer conditions because we are THAT much closer to the Equator and by extension it will be warmer. So we decided on Beaver Creek Valley State Park near the south-east corner of the state.

The Welcome Sign

A few days prior to the trip our son developed a wet cough and had been hacking up some seriously disgusting mucimus (his words, not mine I know how to spell mucus…see!). I’ll spare you pictures, because I decided that it was so nasty even I didn’t want proof of it.

We were unsure of how the weather would affect him and we weren’t sure if it would be torture to drag him along with us. See, despite what other say we are considerate parents!

We woke up Friday morning still unsure of what we were doing to do. (Mistake #1) We had not prepped the meals the night before since this was a more relaxing camping trip we decided against totally going with freeze-dried meals. This also led to us not buying the food we needed before the trip (Mistakes #2 & #3). After hurrying up and throwing the gear in the car, quickly buying the food, prepping the food and me going bananas because nothing was done beforehand we finally left without a gear checklist (#4) and in a furious/hurried mood (#5).

Little Man getting his exploration on. It was hard to keep up with him, dude wanted to keep going safety be darned.

We finally calmed down and were able to enjoy the trip down and eventually settled in to our site. It was located in a valley (hence the name) which meant that the sun would be restricted from hitting the site at either sunrise or sunset. Being in a depression, such as a valley or bowl, would mean cooler air would remain and the nights would be colder (mistakes #6 & #7). I also failed to determine which side of the road would be best for the sun hitting the site and also failed to read that the weekend prior the water would be shut off. (#8 & #9) Totally awesome to get the water you need out of the faucet and needing to fill the campsite water jug with a coffee mug 30-40 times!

I hastily decided to set up the tent without a ground cover (#10) even though my wife suggested it to me (failure to listen to the wife usually accounts for at least 5-20 mistake in-and-of-itself). In our haste I had forgotten to pack two of the most important items of camping equipment for fall camping…… sleeping pads! (EPIC FAIL!)

With temps reaching 32-35 degrees at night and having been doing so for the last week, I failed to bring the piece of equipment that provides comfort and protection from the hard ground and the cold. It was a monumental disaster that had to be remedied, and the only way we knew for sure it would happen is if we set the family up in the car. Yes, we camped from our car!

The new hard-sided tent.....makes for cozy sleeping.

We had slept in that kind of cold before a few months back when we went up the North Shore, but we had sleeping pads to provide cushion and insulation. A stiff back, sore hips, and a freezing body does not make a night enjoyable. So we put the little one in the back, then we each reclined in the front seats. Oh and did I mention we drive a mid-sized sedan? Not a full-sized SUV or bigger, nope a 4dr car. We also changed into our camping pj’s in the car too which was an act of flexibility and movement that would make yoga instructors jealous!

I had to deal with the steering wheel and pedals preventing a comfortable night’s rest waking every morning to my knees being sore. I also realized after we packed up that I didn’t move my seat back as far as it could go which would have eliminated those issues (#11). While packing up we didn’t realize that at least 1 car door was open the whole time draining the battery to the point where there wasn’t enough juice to crank the engine over (#12), and we were the last campers in the entire park with the only other cars being hikers off on the trails (#13).

Gear equals comfort right? Now where are those tent pads?

The morning before we were to break camp it rained, leaving the tent wet and the night before I had left some gear out (chairs, bags, etc) which meant getting up at 5am and running around in the dark in my polypropylene long underwear and boots hurriedly securing my gear. Prior to that at 3am my son woke up needing to potty, him in his  polypropylene long underwear too, and dealing with a coughing fit. So that night we didn’t sleep much which meant we slept in thanks to the cloud cover and the hill behind the site. We got out of the car around 10am (#14). Oh did I mention that my son somehow had soaked his pants with urine? Not sure how that happened since I took him to pee at 3am. He soaked it so much that it went through the sleeping bag and into the car cushions. Good times.

View from Great River Bluff State Park of the Mississippi River Valley

Because of the position of the camp site and the cloud cover the sun didn’t hit the tent until closer to noon giving me a hand with drying it off. Luckily we always carry a few chamois pads. A park worker did give us a jump (THANK YOU!) and the drive home was nice. We stopped at 2 other parks and found a great place to camp next fall. We also did a quick hike to a sport climbing crag40 min south of our home.

No signage from the bottom of the trail.....not our fault

Lovely Wife rocking the bandanna and trying some bouldering-lite from off the trail.

The weekend wasn’t all bad. We had a great hike and I watched my wife and son doing some ‘baby bouldering’ and do some traverses on some rock outcroppings off the trails. hard to do in hiking boots without chalk but they did there best and got to experience some real rock. I couldn’t participate but of my shoulder still bothering me, but as you can see in the pics they sure did enjoy themselves.

We learned some valuable lessons over this trip as we do on many of our adventures that we use to make every trip better, the first being also check your gear as a climber would. Lay it all out  and check it all off. The second is just in case you forget to do the first be sure your car is big enough to accommodate the entire family!

Yea....this might be big enough. We still might be a bit cozy.

Adventure On!

Categories: Camping, Family Vacation, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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