The last weeknight camping excursion to Beaver Flat Campground in Kananaskis was so successful, we decided for a repeat. However, because the kids had a swimming class every morning but Friday, I opted for a Thursday night, instead of a Wednesday. I figured it might be marginally busier. I was wrong.
The Monday coming up is a holiday, and apparently, the whole world saves up their camping for long weekend splurges. The only way to get a spot is stake out a spot earlier in the week. Some people come out in the middle of the week and book a campsite right through to Holiday Monday. So as we drove highway 66 into Kananaskis, I passed several signs for campgrounds that said "Campground Full". This worried me. I then realized that I had forgotten to pack any pillows. That also worried me. When we got to our destination at Beaver Flat, it also had a "Campground Full" sign. I pulled in just to be sure that it wasn't like one of those parking garages that say full, but there are still a few spots if you are willing to poke around. Where previously a whitetail deer had been the only other occupant, there were now RVs casually grazing. Down the path to the "walk-in" sites, there was a little "occupied" registration card affixed to every post, and a tent standing as sentinel. In several cases, the tent was about the size of my thumb, and there were no other signs of life.
I had once read a review of a campsite where a person complained about people going out in advance of the weekend and registering a site for several days, with a little tent to mark their claim. This must be what was happening. I was half-tempted to claim squatters rights and camp at one of those sites for free, but then I recalled that the Gooseberry campground that I had passed earlier had said "Campground Full", but right underneath that it had also said "only walk-in sites available". I remembered reading about Gooseberry on the AlbertaWow.com website, but I couldn't remember if what I read was good or bad. Rather than press deeper into the mountains in the hope of outdistancing the masses, I decided to race back to Gooseberry and try my luck at a walk-in site.
We pulled in and found the campground attendant (actually, she found me, because I was driving the wrong way around the loop) and learned there were only 1-2 walk-in sites available. The only one without the "occupied" tag was #49, which was a patch of grass just below the highway with hardly a stick of shade. The kids excitedly strapped on their backpacks and loped off to claim the spot. (Katie had actually worn her backpack around the house for the better part of an hour the evening before, with her yellow foam sleeping pad poking out from each side, which caught on walls and furniture, sending her careening in all directions, leaving a trail of giggles in her wake.) While I stood at the picnic table, considering our fortunes, I realized that I had forgotten my big Rubbermaid bin with most of my camping stuff in it. I had brought the tent, the sleeping bags and the food, but I didn't have any cups, cutlery, cooking gear, bug repellent, sunscreen, first aid kits, etc. Things were not going well. Then a pack of motorcycles whined past, followed by a large truck, each sending up a bang when it crossed the cattle grate right above our site. Fantastic.
Through a stand of trees, towards the river, there was another campsite (#52) that was vacant except for a despicable little occupied tag. I decided that we would squat on that site, and we could keep our registration at #49 as a back-up, in case the real owners showed up. This was a difficult concept to explain to Scott, who was still reeling from the loss of Beaver Flat. When I checked to see how many days were registered on the card, I found it was actually an old card that just hadn't been removed. We could have this site without worrying about eviction. Finally, we had popped the pop-up tent and lit the fire and things were looking up. Did I mention that the attendant came by to warn me to watch out for a black bear snooping through the area?
Fortunately for us, the meal menu was pretty simple and I was able to improvise quite a bit. I happened to have bought a lighter at the gas station in Bragg Creek while getting some chips and another tablecloth (because I couldn't find the one I had bought in Bragg Creek on the previous trip), so I could light the fire. I was able to cut the bag of firewood open because my brother Cam gave me a knife when we visited him in March and I keep it in my truck for emergencies. The hot dogs were okay, because the roasting sticks were too long to be in the bin, so we had those.
We didn't have aluminum foil to wrap our quesadillas to grill over the fire, but there was this wonderfully flat rock nearby that I put on the iron grill which turned out to be a really nice cooking surface. The kids washed down their dinner with juice, which they drank from re-purposed water bottles, since we had no cups. We had only one empty bottle at first, so I guzzled a bottle of water in one shot and provided a second. I think the kids were a bit impressed with that.
We even managed to make eclairs. Yes eclairs. I whittled the bark off of the end of a stick, which we coated with some cooking spray, wrapped with crescent roll dough, and roasted on the fire. Once they had been removed and cooled a bit, I squeezed butterscotch pudding inside (no spoons), then I used my trusty knife to slather on some Nutella, topped with a line of whipped cream. They were amazing. Things were turning out okay. In fact, Katie proclaimed, "this is the best day ever", and then Scott led a short discussion about whether or not a person could truly claim to have more than one "best day ever." The conclusion was that you could, but only of every "best day" was better than all previous "best days", or at least a tie.
After dinner we explored the river, which had changed course during the flood of 2013 and was quite far away. The kids enjoyed adding rocks to a "bridge" that had been put across one little channel, and then adding to a wall that created a pool in the main channel of the river. Eventually, they waded into the pool, which was shockingly cold. After gingerly walking around with his shorts hiked up, Scott stumbled and fell headlong into the middle of the pool, soaking himself completely. We retired to our camp to change clothes and warm by the fire.
As we laid down to bed, I heard another pack of motorcycles stomp across the cattle grate, the whine of their engines lingering in the river valley for over a minute as they made their retreat back to Calgary. I asked Scott if he thought he wanted to stay here and sleep or just go back and sleep in his own bed, with his own pillow (he was using an extra sleeping bag as a pillow, and Katie was using a fleece sleeping bag liner -- I had a hoodie propped under the end of my sleeping pad). He said he would give it a try, and if he had trouble sleeping we could go home. Man, I should have just pulled the chute then.
Sometime before 5 am I awoke to the first of the morning's traffic, roaring across the Texas gate, only a short walk from the ditch where we lay. Scott said he was cold. A very heavy dew had set in overnight, soaking the sides of the tent, where he had nestled for the night. I gave him my hoodie to wear, but he couldn't really get back to sleep. I decided it was time to go. I scooped up Scott in his sleeping bag, and hauled him to the truck, leaving the heater running while I collected the rest the of the gear. The last things I packed were Katie and the tent. Katie hardly opened an eyelid in the transfer. Moments like this make me grateful that I have such an easy tent to take down. That tent is supposed to take 1 minute. I think I did it in 10 seconds.
The sun was barely rising as we rolled into town at 6 am. I carted Katie up to her room and dumped her out of her bag and into the covers. I wonder how surprised she was to find herself in her room when she woke. Scott had slept some of the drive home, and he walked himself to the bathroom and to bed. I figured I reeked so badly of campfire smoke I shouldn't try to get in our bed, so I just drove down to the river and jogged the rest of the way to work to take a shower and start the day.
Next time, maybe we will go out camping on a Wednesday rather than a long-weekend Thursday. And maybe we will just skip the tenting bit. We can just get a campsite and hang out until dark, then let the kids sleep in the truck on the way home to bed. That beats sleeping in a ditch any day of the week.