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Growing Up Camping

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By Katie Ely
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Growing Up Camping

In my 25 years of life, I have spent a lot of time outside. When I was younger, the majority of the time I spent with friends was outside, whether we were at our elementary school's playground, hanging out in our backyards, or playing Four Square in the neighborhood streets. Most of my family's vacations were camping trips. We would road trip to these places, and my parents always encouraged us to look out the car windows and appreciate the nature we were driving through. I credit my love for the outdoors to my parents and how they raised me, and I am so thankful.

My parents took my brother and I camping when we were as young as 3 months old. These were all car camping trips, usually around Michigan. Our favorite spots to camp were Nordhouse Dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and North Manitou Island. I have relatives that live in Arizona, so we would also fly out to visit them and camp at the Mogollon Rim. I may have been too young to fully remember these trips, but it's always so much fun looking back at pictures and hearing stories from my family about them.

My first time backpacking was when I was just 3 years old. My dad heard somewhere that a good rule of thumb is that kids should be able to hike as many miles as their age. Whether that rule of thumb is actually true or not, my first backpacking trip was a perfect 3 mile hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Since I was so little, I lucked out and didn't have to carry more than my stuffed animal and maybe a small water bottle. Even with basically no extra weight, I still would stop multiple times to whine about how tired I was and beg my dad to carry me. Since my parents didn't want my brother and I to think of hiking as a chore or not a good experience, they did whatever they could for us to enjoy it. Up on my dad's shoulders I went! This only lasted about 100-200 feet, then I'd ask my dad to put me down and I'd zoom down the trail, leaving my dad even more tired from carrying his heavy pack plus a child. He also would realize that I was not actually tired, and was just testing to see if he'd carry me... classic 3 year old things! Eventually my little trick stopped working, but luckily, I continued to enjoy hiking and backpacking.

Over the years, we'd continue backpacking at the same places we car camped: Nordhouse Dunes and North Manitou Island, as well as other places. One location we went camped at was Pancake Bay in Ontario, Canada and I remember that being one of my favorites, probably because of the name.

In 2007, when I was 10 years old, we took our first family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). The BWCA is a wilderness area in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota, and turns into Quetico after you cross the border into Canada. The BWCA / Quetico is for canoe tripping. Canoe trips are basically backpacking trips, but instead of hiking from campsite to campsite, you canoe! Connecting each lake is a trail called a portage, where you carry all of your gear (and the canoe!) to the other side. Some portages are very short, like a couple hundred feet, while others can get up to a couple miles. Now if you're a hiker, that probably doesn't seem so bad, but unless you can carry all of your gear in one go, you'll have to do the portage 3 times: twice with a load of gear, and once without. The portages were tiring since you had to carry all your gear, but also felt great to get up and on your feet since the rest of the day you're sitting in the canoe or sitting at camp. Arriving at the portages was always a mix of excitement and nerves because you never knew what the trail was going to be like. Some portages had a beautiful flat trail, some were straight uphill and rocky, and some were mosquito-infested swampy trails. The same nervous-excited feelings arose when paddling up to a campsite. Some campsites were just average campsites, while others I can still picture so vividly. There was one really small campsite we stayed at one year that was super buggy, and pretty miserable. Another one, on Grandpa Lake from one of our earlier trips, was a big and beautiful campsite on an island. We stayed 2 nights at this site because it was just that great! On the extra day that we stayed at the site, we went fishing, read books, went swimming, and just hung around camp soaking up the sun and enjoying the rest day.

Between 2007-2016, we've done 7 trips as a family to the BWCA / Quetico, and in 2019, I went to the BWCA for a Leave No Trace Master Educator course. To this day, the BWCA is one of my favorite places on the planet, and canoe trips are one of my favorite kinds of trips. Canoeing was an activity that my family did together a lot, on top of camping. We lived fairly close to some state parks in Michigan where we spend the day at the lake canoeing. We also would spend some Memorial Days canoeing down the Huron River and stopping at a park for a picnic, then canoeing back up. All of these experiences canoeing while I was younger made me so excited for our trips to the BWCA. Camping and canoeing were two of my favorite outdoor activities, so putting them together was amazing!

My parents are the reason why I love the outdoors. We unfortunately haven't been able to go on as many big family camping trips like we used to because of college, previous summer jobs, and with me now living in Utah. My brother and I not having the time in our schedules didn't stop my parents though. They have gone on so many adventures over the years, just the two of them. They've backpacked in Alaska and Colorado, canoed more routes in the BWCA / Quetico, backpacked more in Michigan, and hiked the John Muir Trail. I already know of two different trips they have planned for this year, and they are always dreaming of and planning future trips. Seeing their adventures and hearing stories is so inspiring to me. They are just always trying to get outside and explore new places, and I hope to do the same for the rest of my life. I also hope to raise my future kids very similarly to how my parents raised me. I want my future kids to love and appreciate the outdoors, and go on a lot of camping trips and other adventures.

 There are a lot of places around the world that I want to explore. Number 1 on my bucket list is the Netherlands since I am half Dutch, and it would be really cool to pair that trip with a backpacking trip somewhere around Europe. I am also excited to backpack in the Uintas and other places in Utah this summer. I am still fairly new to Utah, so I feel like there are so many places I need to go see. Going back to the BWCA / Quetico is also something I would love to do because there are so many more routes I can explore. Those are just a few of the places I would love to go, but I know my list will just keep on growing, and I am excited for when I am able to check them all off.

I've learned a lot from my experiences camping, from how to build a fire, to Leave No Trace ethics, to knowing how important it is to unplug from the world sometimes. I am so thankful for the experiences I have had, and I am excited to live the rest of my life going on more adventures and continuing to learn.

Do you have a favorite camping location? Leave a comment below!

May 13, 2022
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