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