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S'mores: The Secret to Camping Success
S'mores: The Secret to Camping Success

Child on a Bike


Photo by Gail Benun

By Gail Benun

When the girls and I were invited to go camping with friends this summer, the first thing that came to mind was getting stung by a bee on my first camping trip at age 12. Let's see then came the memories of smelly communal toilets (and having to remember to bring your toilet paper with you!), licking the salt off potato chips to stave off dehydration, and being dirty the whole time. Nice.

I mean, come on, I have slept on the floors of train stations all over Europe, but that was a long time ago. Could I go camping again, and this time, with 2 young girls?

We soon found out the trip was not entirely "back-to-nature" (whew!). No tent camping: this involved a trailer (I know, you start thinking "white trash" here...). But, this trailer had beds (sort of) with clean sheets, a refrigerator, oven/cooktop, sink, toilet, and, best of all, a hot shower! Ok, I thought, this is doable. So, we accepted the invitation for a 6-day road trip to California's Lake San Antonio and venerable Morro Bay.

I offered to plan the menus and do the food shopping. That was fun, until I tried to pick one salad dressing that 6 different people would all tolerate - space is at a premium you know. Thankfully, I remembered to get a big bag of marshmallows (purely sugar and chemicals, but who's checking?), two very large chocolate bars, and enough graham crackers to choke a horse - everything you need to make s'mores.

Our first stop, Lake San Antonio, had a large selection of campsites at which to park. We set up camp under a large tree just a short walk from the communal toilets (you never know when more than one person will need to go at the same time!). The campground was large and, aside from the dirt and dried weeds, it had great hills and space for all four girls to ride their bikes, and ride their bikes and ride their bikes... Good luck getting any help setting the table!

Preparing the meals was a challenge - imagine trying to prep food for six with a standing space of about 2 square feet and a small pullout table for a counter. That was when I thanked my lucky stars that only one of the girls was interested in helping! But, best of all was when I later emerged from the trailer bearing the fixing for S'MORES!!! You'd have thought I was the best mom in the whole universe (well, I am, but that's another story...) This was the highlight of the day - finding metal coat hangers to stick your marshmallow on (tetanus, anyone?) and then enough Kleenex to wipe the millions of tears resulting from marshmallow conflagrations and burnt tongues. But, love those s'mores, they did! And, after two or three, they were happy campers and off to bed.

The next morning it was 95 degrees by 10am and we were looking forward to cooling off with a big dip in the lake. We made our way to the lovely lake but found an uninviting place to swim. The water was cool, but muddy and full of lake grass. And aside from an unused picnic table, there was nowhere to sit. While four young girls can have a good time with that, we decided to pack up and try the nearby Lake Nacimiento campground. Here's to road trip flexibility!

The clear Lake Nacimiento has shady, grassy knolls perfect for spreading beach towels and relaxing. The girls were happy swimming and delighted when on the second night I once again pulled out the fixings for s'mores.

The final stop on our camping trip was the Morro Bay campground. Thirty degrees cooler and famously picturesque, we parked among eucalyptus and sycamore trees and unpacked those bicycles! It was a calmer, more restful campground with a (mostly) friendlier, quieter group of campers.

But, what do you think the girls wanted most? That's right! More s'mores!!! We had them every night after dinner, they even asked for them during the day. And while a propane cooktop will suffice, you need a campfire to make s'mores taste just right. And let me tell you, when equated with getting s'mores sooner a 10- and 11-year old can be quite anxious to learn how to use a hatchet and help chop firewood.

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