I’m a pretty nostalgic guy and am a big believer in traditions. Specifically, family traditions. We had a bunch of family traditions growing up as a kid, most of them revolving around holidays. And, for some unexplained reason, a lot of them involve waffles. More on that at a later date, perhaps.
Now, my wife and I parents ourselves, our starting new traditions with our kids. Some are things Jen and I have already been doing since we’ve been married but before we had kids, like going out with our same group of friends every year to cut down our Christmas tree or….well, that’s about it I guess. Which is why we’re working on starting new ones.
The first of which is the (hopefully) Annual Father/Daughter End of Summer Outdoor Overnight(s) Excursion. Which will someday become the Annual Father/Daughter and/or Son End of Summer Outdoor Overnight(s) Excursion, but the boy is only a year old and therefore a few years away from his father, intrepid as he may be, from venturing into the woods with him alone.
I’m not really sure where the idea came from, but I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to do and a way for Lily (and someday Henry) and I to spend some quality bonding time amongst the trees, chipmunks, and dirt. And so it was.
Being that this was the trial run of our little experiment, I thought a one night stay would be best. Lily is a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, making her Marine grandpa proud of her improvise, adapt, and overcome spirit, so I wasn’t too concerned about things going awry. However, you never know what can happen when you take a little kid into the woods. I didn’t want to play it too safe though and just pitch a tent in the backyard or at the campground in town. After all, what good is an adventure if you aren’t just a little bit adventurous? So I chose Samuel P. Taylor State Park. About an hour away in Marin County, I’d heard good things about it and had always wanted to check it out. It’s nestled in the coastal redwoods north of San Francisco, Lagunitas Creek running down the middle. Plenty of trails to explore, the creek to play in, and flush toilets.
We headed out on a Tuesday a little after noon, my little Toyota pickup bed loaded with all the gear we’d need. First things first, we needed some tunes for the road. I pulled out my iPhone and before I could even ask Lily said, “I want The Beatles!” This is going to be a good trip.
The hour drive is a pleasant one, winding through the rolling hills of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties dairy country. We passed the Marin French Cheese factory and the picturesque Nicasio resovoir, before heading into the redwoods on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
The campground, Camp Taylor, is tucked between the creek and a hillside in the midst of a large stand of redwoods. The trees aren’t quite as big as those at Armstrong Grove, but it’s just as beautiful. Lots of ferns and manzanita trees too. Made me feel like I was on the forest moon of Endor.
We found our site and set up the tent and our camp chairs. I foolishly neglected to make sure our campsite was near a bathroom when I made our reservation. You never know when a potty emergency is going to strike a four-year old. It’s one thing for a boy, where any shrub’ll do. Not so for little girls. Fortunately, we ended up just a stones throw away from a restroom. Far enough to not be bothered by the sights and sounds of others’ more intimate moments, but close enough for emergencies.
First on Lily’s agenda was to check out the creek. It was just about a two-minute walk to the water. My intention was just to take a quick peak then walk down to the camp host to buy a bundle of firewood. Then we’d head back to camp, Lily could put her bathing suit on and we’d return to the creek for some play time. Lily had other ideas. Before I knew it our shoes were off and we were wading in the chilly stream. Still, I told Lily we would only stay for a few minutes now and we’d come back later. She found a piece of wood in the water she commenced to make into a surfboard. I suggested this was not such a good idea since she’d probably end of falling in and getting her clothes all wet. No sooner had the words left my mouth when that is exactly what happened. She didn’t care. And really neither did I.
We finally did make our way to the camp host for out fire wood, where Lily immediately befriended the hosts daughter and invited herself into their fifth-wheel. Once I was able to extricate her we made our way back to camp then back to the creek for more water fun, this time in the appropriate attire.
Back at camp, we roasted hot dogs for dinner, had hot cocoa with way too many marshmallows–or in Lily’s case had some marshmallows with way too much hot chocolate in it–and relaxed by the campfire. I let her put a long curvy stick she found in the fire and get way to close to it then her mother would’ve liked. Isn’t that what camping with dad is all about? She almost poked my eye out with her flaming stick only a couple of times. Once darkness set in and it was time to hit the hay, we retired to our tent to watch Toy Story on my Kindle
Once the lights were out, so was Lily. I, on the other hand, always have a hard time sleeping my first night on a trip, especially camping trips. I laid there, drifting in and out of sleep, for a long time when I thought I heard the rustling of wild life outside. I had been warned that the raccoons at Samuel P. Taylor State Park are not shy about helping themselves to campers’ foodstuffs, and I was very careful to secure all our food before bed–or so I thought.
At first I was pretty sure the sounds were coming from another campsite, but they seemed to be heading our direction. Each campsite is equipped with a wooden food locker at the end of the picnic table to secure your food in. Suddenly I heard the distinct sound of wooden doors being pulled on, if not opened. I had made sure our locker door was latched, but now I thought I was hearing the sounds of wrappers and bags being torn and little mouths chewing food. Specifically Cheetos. Jalapeno Cheetos. My jalapeno Cheetos. For some reason I didn’t get up right away. It was 3 AM by this time, and I don’t know if I was just in a sleepy stupor, or if I thought they’d go away, or what. But I laid there listening to these filthy thieves eat my Cheetos (and trail mix, as it turned out) for the better part of an hour and a half. They would get quiet every so often, and I’d thought they’d left. But just as I would be about to drift back off to sleep I would hear the banging of the doors again and the rustling of wrappers. Every once in a while there’d be snarl or whatever sound a raccoon makes, so I figured there must be more than just one out there helping themselves.
Finally, at about 5 AM I had enough. I unzipped the tent and pointed my Maglite in the direction of the picnic table and sure enough there they were. Two raccoons, eating my food, as nonchalant as if they were walking through the park. When my light caught their beety little eyes, they didn’t even so much as flinch. Just kept right on eating my Cheetos. The nearest offensive weapon at my disposal was a couple pairs of shoes. I heaved them in the direction of the rascals and they took off. Not in a hurry, mind you. They were more inconvenienced then frightened. After giving them ample time to clear out, I surveyed the damage. They weren’t able to get the doors of the locker open, but were able to pull them open enough to reach their grubby little hands inside and grab the trail mix and our garbage bag and pull them out. They couldn’t actually get the Cheetos bag out, but were able to grab handfuls and they ate every last morsel. Fortunately everything else was fine, including our breakfast.
As I cleaned up the mess I noticed there was a second latch at the bottom of the locker doors I hadn’t seen. This second latch is to prevent the critters from doing just the sort of thing they did. I cleaned up the mess, latched the bottom latch and headed back to bed. Not two minutes later, I heard the banging of the locker doors again. “Ha!”, I thought, “You won’t be able to get in now.” That’s about the time I heard the crinkling of the wrappers again. What the….! Now I was just angry. I climbed out the tent and shined my light at the picnic table and saw that one of my visitors had returned and managed again to get the trash bag out. I heaved my shoe and scored a direct hit. This time the varmint left in a hurry. I cleaned up the mess, again, and re-latched the doors, again, this time noticing the spring-loaded piece that actually keeps the bottom latch in place. Just for good measure, I stuck my camp chair in front of the door. By this time it was nearly 6 AM and I’d had maybe an hour of uninterrupted sleep. I finally drifted off, only to be awoken by Lily at about 7:30 raring to start the day.
We had some campfire pancakes for breakfast with more hot cocoa, then hit the trail for a hike. We discovered a narrow dry creek bed with high walls, surrounded by ferns and fallen tree trunks. Lily lead the way as we traveled the creek bed to the “rock garden.” I don’t know what or where the rock garden was as we never reached it, but that’s what Lily said we were looking for. Along the way Lily balanced across every log, climbed onto every stump, and jumped off of every rock.
After our hike we packed up camp then headed to the creek for the rest of our time there. I just sat on the bank and watched as Lily waded through the water and threw rocks to make splashes. I wished we had more time, but then she’s only four. I’ve got plenty and I intend to spend a whole lot of it doing the same thing.