ROUGHING IT

Camping for spring break: A fun two days for the family at Fort Boggy State Park

The campsite at Fort Boggy State Park. Courtney Sellers/SportsMap

Many years ago I read the book and then subsequently watched Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s the memoir of a woman who, struggling with the pain of losing her mother and an increasingly problematic addiction to heroin and sex, hikes (almost) the entirety of the Pacific Crest Trail that leads from the southern tip of California up to Oregon. She decides to hike the trail after seeing the guidebook at an outdoors store. With no outdoors experience, she hastily plans her trip and not only survives, but is profoundly changed by the experience. It was recently that I thought back on reading that and decided if Cheryl Strayed could spend months hiking from Mexico to Washington, I could certainly survive a two day camping trip with my six year old daughter. Right?

Our story actually begins on last year’s Amazon “Prime Day” when I purchased a tent, sleeping pad, and a light/fan combo. After making this purchase I thought I was definitely ready to go camping. I’ve lived in a city my entire life. First Katy, then San Marcos, and now Houston. Despite attending college in the Texas Hill Country, I never camped overnight. When we were younger I remember my parents taking us camping sporadically but always in an RV - which isn’t the same sort of camping that I was hoping to enjoy with my daughter. I’m also not particularly outdoorsy, which everyone close to me knows. Honestly, when I told people I was taking my daughter camping for spring break, I could see the fear start to seep into people’s faces. One of my neighbors particularly panicked and tried to get her boyfriend to travel with us just in case. This was going to be a true test of mettle.

Before we even left, I’d already hit my first roadblock when I severely underestimated the number of families that choose to go camping over spring break; and because of this I almost couldn’t find a single state park with an available campsite. State parks are great because they are generally less expensive and well maintained. I mean it cost us only $10 a day for the camp site, and you know that money is going back into the park. Finally, after an hour of searching I was able to find an available campsite at Fort Boggy State Park - a tiny state park with only six primitive campsites and three cabins two hours north of Houston.

Our camping trip was starting on Tuesday afternoon and ending Thursday morning, so I could get back to work for Thursday evening. On Tuesday, we got a really late start and didn’t end up getting to Fort Boggy until after the sun had gone down. The park supervisor saw us struggling with our car load of belongings, and took mercy on us driving us up to the campsite, helping me pitch the tent, and helping get our fire started.

We cooked some hot dogs, fed the dog, and sat outside our tent in the pitch black staring up at the stars. Never have I seen that many stars so clearly visible that you could make out all of the constellations. There was only one problem Tuesday night, which came in the form of a forgotten blanket.

I’m an idiot who sleeps inside at night, so I failed to realize how cold it can get when the sun goes down. The temperature got as low as 39 degrees and sharing a single sleeping bag was difficult to say the least. By the time the sun started to rise at 6:45 I was ready. That morning I was wearing every pair of socks I own, my jeans, a sweater, and a rain slicker. It was beautiful out. For a full two hours I just sat at the picnic table with my coffee and a book, letting the dog run around and my daughter sleep in.

We trekked the ¼ mile back to our car and grabbed our fishing poles. Wait a minute - I’ve been fishing before but I had never set up my own fishing line. This is where being alive in 2018 and camping somewhere that’s not too remote was a godsend. I pulled up YouTube and watched a video and we were off and rolling in minutes.

We fished for FIVE HOURS. I didn’t even realize we had been there that long. For the first two hours or so we were posted up next to a guy who was there giving his wife a break from the kids for the afternoon. My daughter played with the kids and would occasionally come check on her pole. We didn’t know what we were doing, so we were just using hot dogs as bait. Not ideal.

We didn’t have a single bite until another guy near us was leaving and gave us the rest of his bait which must have had fish steroids in it because within 10 seconds of casting the pole, we had a bite. This went on and on and on. Eventually we had caught eight fish and I noticed we were both severely sunburned. So I called it. Six hours after we started our journey we were lugging a cooler full of fish back to our campsite, thoroughly exhausted.

Something you might not know about fishing is that once you have caught the fish, you don’t just toss those bad boys on the fire and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Oh no, they have to be gutted, skinned, and filleted. I’ve never done this. In fact, I’ve never eaten anything (besides crawfish of course) that someone else hadn’t already made not look like an animal.

My saving grace here was that rainbow trout don’t need to be filleted. They can be gutted and then cooked whole - the skin falls off the bone on its own. How did I learn this? The park supervisor that I mentioned earlier gave me the rundown on the fish situation as he was helping me set up our tent.

I thought back on my time in high school biology and how we cut open the stomachs of the animals we were dissecting. Before I knew it I had pulled the guts out of each fish and hacked off their heads. I still can’t believe I did it. I tossed them right on the grill at our campsite and cooked them with some lemon pepper seasoning and brussel sprouts. They were delicious and there’s something about eating an animal that you caught and prepared yourself that is unmatched.

I felt accomplished, strong. I was not to be trifled with. That night we met a couple from the campsite next to ours and they ate some of the fish with us and stayed for s’mores and star gazing. When you’re camping it’s crazy how quickly you become exhausted. At home I usually go to bed about midnight and wake up around 7:15. But by 10 pm we were so beat, we crawled into our tent and were asleep in minutes, my daughter using our dog as a pillow.

The plan for Thursday was to wake up, have breakfast, pack up the car, and try to do a little hiking deeper into the path than we had gone for our campsite. But things took a turn. First, my daughter put her hand in the fire dirt, and she got burned. Her hand started to blister pretty quick so we had to take care of that.

Then, I realized I’d been bitten by a spider and my right arm had swelled up. I started to immediately panic because I’ve never been bitten by a spider before and I assumed they will all kill you. After all of our maladies had been handled, we packed up the tent and decided to leave the dog tied to the picnic table so we wouldn’t have to lug her back and forth to the car. She’s a rambunctious pit bull and it’s a struggle walking her under the easiest of circumstances, nevermind when you’re walking in quarter mile bursts to and from a car with camping supplies.

When we got back, she was nowhere to be found, having somehow escaped her harness and either gone looking for us or ran off to play. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this one will weigh heavy on my heart forever. Cindy had been abandoned by her first owners and it was obvious that she thought we were abandoning her also. I was in a hurry and didn’t think; I almost lost my dog because of it. After an hour and a half of searching - alone and then eventually with some help we heard hikers shout that they had found her.

She was fine, just laying by the side of the road resting after a busy hour of play. I could have killed her big dumb ass. She had some scratches on her leg from running through the trees but she hadn't been bitten by anything and she wasn’t hurt. On the way to car with the dog we saw a diamondback snake slithering across the path and it was very evident that our time in the outdoors needed to come to a close.

After we drove the two hours home, unpacked the car, returned all of the things we had borrowed from friends who have more experience camping than us and showered I started to feel the pain that comes with sleeping on the ground after you turn 30. My back felt like I’d been beaten with a baseball bat and my legs simply didn’t work. I tried to get up at one point and crumpled to the floor in defeat. I was done. That night I went to bed at 10 p.m. and slept for twelve hours. Am I now prepared to hike the Pacific Crest Trail? Not quite. But I’ve now done more than just read a book about surviving in the outdoors. I did it for two days. The best two days ever.

The right shoes are a big deal for runners. Courtesy photo

I bought my first pair of running shoes in 2007. I decided that I was running the Houston Marathon. I had no idea what I was doing, so I found a running group to train with (Kenyan Way, because I wanted to be as fast as the Kenyans). The next thing I needed was shoes. So, I went to Lady Foot Locker.

Until then, I bought my shoes at Payless or Wal-Mart, so I was really excited to buy real running shoes. I looked at all the shoes lined on the walls. The smell of leather, rubber, cloth, and whatever else shoes are made of filled my nose. A gentleman came by and asked if I needed help.

At this, I proudly announce:

“I need a pair of running shoes because I am running the Houston Marathon this year!"

He immediately recommends the $200 pair of shoes on the top shelf. I was thinking more like $70. After bargaining and pleading, I walked out of Lady Foot Locker with a brand new pair of Nike Shocks and $160 less in my bank account.

.The next morning, I meet the group for hill running at Allen Parkway. I was so excited. My first time in the runner community and.....

Everyone I met kept looking down at my shoes. Turns out Nike Shocks were the worst shoes to run in because of their heavy soles. That's what I get for going to Lady Foot Locker.

The problem is there are too many shoes and way too many opinions. Who is right and who wants a fat commission on their check? After twelve years and many pairs of running shoes later, I've gotten the whole thing down. So, I made a guide for you first-timers.

1. Buy your shoes at a specialty running store.

(I recommend Fleet Feet). The staff is usually made up of marathon runners who make it their personal business to keep up with running technology. You can also find out about running events.

2. Find the Right Salesperson.

This person should be friendly and patient. They would start by asking about your goals and they should find out about prior running experience that you may have. They would then start the gait assessment.

3. Gait Assessment.

This procedure separates Fleet Feet from Academy and Lady Foot Locker. This assessment is done in two ways:

Manually. The salesperson records you running on a treadmill to see exactly how you run. They are looking at how your foot strikes the ground and how much your ankles move while you run.

FitID. This is new, cutting edge technology. You stand on what looks like a scale. Sensors literally take the topography of your foot. You can tell how high your arches are and which way your foot tends to pronate.(that's the inward or outward roll of your foot when you run or walk. This dictates the type of shoe you need).

4. Choosing your shoe.

There are two things to consider: your shoe type, and shoe style.

Type. There are three types of shoes based on the support you need. Neutral. Stability. Motion Control. This is the whole point of the assessment. Neutral shoes are for people who don't pronate. Stability shoes are for people who do. Motion controlled shoes are for people whose feet are all over the place and need stability.

Style. There should be a vast variety of the lastest shoes. Choose from brands like Nike, ASICS, Saucony, Brooks, Mizuno, Adidas, On, and more. Back in 2007, running seemed like a sport that only middle-aged men in those crazy shorts (you know the ones) participated in. Now younger people have taken up the sport, so running shoe brands have really stepped up their shoe game. Instead of crazy neon orange and greens, you can find knit shoes in the sexy colors like grey, black, navy blue, and pinks. So take your pick. I use a nuetral shoe with good cushioning. Currently, I'm giving the Brooks Ghost a try.

5. Size.

What is your shoe size? If you are a 7 1/2, you would answer 7 1/2, right? Wrong. Your running shoe size needs to be an entire size larger than your regular shoe size. So, if you wear a 7 1/2, then your running shoe size is an 8 1/2. While you run, your foot repeatedly jabs the toe box of the shoe. This extra space reduces unnecessary injuries like your toenails turning black and falling off.

6. Price.

A good running shoe should cost between $120 and $150. If you are squeamish about the price, I assure you, it is totally worth it. Just ask Fred Faour. He bets on his Brooks every single time because his injuries decreased and his times improved once he started wearing them. It's that serious.

7. Final Test.

Try them on and run around. This will let you know if the shoe is right for you. If not, choose another. This is where the salesperson exercises patience.

8. Accessories.

Good accessories will make your running experience go from good to exceptional. Good socks ( about $13) that are dry-wicking, padded, have a high thread count and stay in place are a must. Lock Laces ($8) that never come undone are well worth it.

9. Walkers.

Where are my walkers? Don't feel left out. Running shoes are walking shoes! So, this article applies to you too.

So, what's the whole point to this article?

Don't go to Wal-Mart. Don't go cheap. Do go to a place like Fleet Feet or another specialty store and get treated like a professional runner. Or don't cross the finish line.

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