Camping in the wilderness with three small children in a tent for three days is a unforgettable experience — even though there are some aspects of the experience that are forgettable. We’re 100 miles from home zipping down I-75 at 75 mph… again. Michele is driving, the kids are in “zombie mode” watching a show, and I’m reflecting on our camping adventure. I’ve already uploaded most of our pictures to Facebook and video clips to my YouTube account.
But beyond the amazing world of digital technology, something special happens when a family spends a few days together in close quarters. You fight more, you love more and you live more.
We set out on our journey five days ago, driving 750 miles north to the Chattahoochee National Forest. We camped near Cleveland, Georgia, at Jenny’s Creek Campground. On our first night, we found our campsite around 6 pm, pitched our tent and had dinner made just before the sun faded behind the 80-foot maple and oak trees. The little creek winding its way through the camp bubbled as we worked to build a roaring camp fire. The eight-man tent was plenty big enough for the five of us. We packed in two air mattresses and a portacrib for Stephen. Despite a small space heater in our tent, it was difficult to keep warm. It’s no wonder. When I got up the next morning, our car said it was 36 degrees. Much chillier than we’ve ever experienced in Southwest Florida.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage cooked on our handy Coleman camp stove, we met up with some friends who live in Dahlonega, 20 miles from the campsite. We wandered around downtown Dahlonega, the site of the first gold rush in America. After lunch at a local sandwich shop, we drove up to Amicalola Falls State Park, home to a 729-foot (222 m) waterfall — the highest in Georgia. We drove up to the top of the falls, parked and walked to an overlook where we could see the falls tumbling down over the edge. We hiked down a path about 100 yards through the woods, taking in the spectacular beauty of the valley below, the misty-blue hills in distance and the changing fall leaves. It was a great beginning. After checking out the base of the falls, the afternoon was nearly done. We headed back to camp to get a fire going and make dinner.
The second night was warmer. Only 40 degrees when we woke up. Cold noses and hot coffee for breakfast! Michele blew a shoe the day before. So after stopping at Wal-Mart for some new rubber, we were on our way to Helen, a Bavarian-themed village on the outskirts of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Our first stop was more hot coffee! Then up to Anna Ruby Falls, created by two separate streams — Curtis Creek and York Creek — which join at the base of the falls to form Smith Creek. We followed the trail, a half-mile hike from the parking lot. The paved path followed the creek to the base of the falls — a truly spectacular sight.
The kids enjoyed the hills, rocks and trees. They also loved the leaves — red, green and gold. They each had a substantial stash of them leaves by the time we got back to the car. We chose to visit Northern Georgia because it is the closest piece of nature that is substantially different from Southwest Florida. The 100-foot trees, rocks, mountains, streams, varied terrain and chilly weather was just the thing. We all appreciated the change in scenery — especially Michele who has always loved camping, but hadn’t had the opportunity since we had our first child more than six years ago.
Our final night in the tent was the warmest — a low of 58 degrees. We had nearly gotten used to the camping way of life when we woke up on Friday morning. It was after 7:30 am when I heard the pitter-patter of rain falling on our roof. Time to strike the tent and break camp! Wet weather was coming. We were on our way within an hour.
It’s the little things that have made the camping-with-kids experience worthwhile. Waking up to see the children snoozing just inches away, the smell of a roaring campfire, roasted marshmallows, picking Jenna up off the ground after she crashed her bike, throwing rocks into the stream with my three kids, Stephen throwing whatever he could find in the fire and in the trash can, and watching our little two-year-old dancing to Veggie Tales music as we drove.
They say that families who grow up in small homes are closer because they have to learn to exist in cramped quarters. They’re forced to be physically closer, so they grow closer emotionally. I think that’s true, but three days in a tent is a big enough taste for me. I’m looking forward to a shave, shower, clean clothes … and my own bed.