We were all snugly sleeping in our tent. The hubs and myself comfortably (mostly) on our bourgeois air mattress, and the kids in their sleeping bags surrounded by 82 glow sticks. Then I heard through my mom half-sleep, a pleading whine, along with the rustle, rustle of dog feet. There at the end of the tent was my ridiculous little dog, who I wouldn’t describe as outdoorsy, staring at me with bug-eyed dog panic. He clearly had to go outside, but maybe couldn’t figure out if the tent was technically already outside. Oh, to be so walnut-brained. After he left the tent and did his business — which I won’t elaborate on, except to say that I think he ate some bad mushrooms while securing the campsite perimeter — and was once again snoring an inch from my face, I laid there imagining how I might save us all if someone with an ax decided to stop by. Finally, I slept. This is camping, family-edition.
We do a camping weekend every year, sometimes twice, and despite the midnight shenanigans; it’s actually one of the purest, loveliest family trips we take. The simplicity — no TV, no work, not many people — and diligence — setting up camp, making fire and food, clean up — strip everything down to bare tacks, leaving us all chatting, playing cards, working together, going in and out of the tent a thousand times, really happy and sometimes bored. Adam and I love being bored (we call it peaceful), because we actually get to talk to one another. The kids don’t love it, but soon enough they are slug-farming, or getting filthy or tossing the Frisbee or eating sugar. It’s everything they love, plus no showers or excusing yourself from the table.
This year we went to Harmony Ridge in Branchville. We’ve stayed at more rustic places before — this place had a pool! — but we always stay somewhere that we can drive in. I can’t imagine a time when we can hike in to camp, since our car practically wheezes under the weight of our camping gear. The groceries alone! We like to cook nice meals on the fire, although it does make for more arduous clean up. We’ve made pizzas before, and this year we did marinated flank steak tacos one night and turkey burgers the next. The kids eat marshmallows and hot dogs. Food just tastes better cooked on a fire, even if it’s a little burned and a little raw.
Harmony Ridge is only 90 minutes from Hoboken. It has nice campsites, and a well-stocked store, which we clearly need since we forgot a bottle opener, wine key and s’mores fixings (zoiks!). Also, most campgrounds require that you buy your campfire wood from them, which we did. Harmony Ridge has nice, clean, bug-free bathrooms and showers, which I enjoy. These things are not requirements for the rest of my family. Ahem.
I’m not so keen on the pool, and game room with TV. It’s just not what I want when I go camping. I get enough humanity living in the Northeast. Of course, the kids liked the pool, but they didn’t even ask about the games or TV. I think they preferred when we camped next to a river where they could freely play from sun-up to sundown. If you choose Harmony Ridge, ask that you not be placed next to the baseball field. We were and spent much of Saturday listening to the game and watching kids scramble down into our camp for errant balls.
In the end though, when the sun is low, and the day has been spent, and the creatures are calling and the trees are rustling and it’s only your voices and the smack of another dead mosquito that fill the air, it’s always good. It’s like a sappy song montage of everything you want from your life. These people; these sounds of everything and nothing. Even this ridiculous dog. It doesn’t much matter where you camp. Just go and you’ll see. It’s worth packing the car for. And unpacking.
For more info on camping in New Jersey check out these sites. If you think you aren’t ready for the whole tent experience, many campgrounds, including Harmony Ridge, have cabin camping. Also, if you are new to camping, do a little research on what gear you need and how to proceed. Finally, before you begin any adventures, remember to always set up your tent and tarp, figure out what dinner is and if you aren’t going far from the campsite, get your fire going, because all of these things are nearly impossible and very irritating in the dark.
Photo: Adam Saynuk