Friday, August 5, 2016

The camping trip for 8-year-olds

After a fun but punishing day at Dirty Girls, it was pretty clear that I was in need of some quality recovery time. I vowed to take a full week off of running, and just did some swimming and walking with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa during the few days after. I utterly failed at getting any extra sleep - 5hrs per night being a touch sub-optimal for repairing a beat-up body and brain - but that should come as a surprise to absolutely noone.

I was a somewhat less than productive employee last week, too.

A few months ago, I'd booked us a campsite at Selkirk Provincial Park on the North shore of Lake Erie, just outside Port Dover. The idea was that we'd ride our motorcycles down, camp for the Civic Holiday long weekend, and do some riding while we were there. We got all packed up Friday night, taking until 1am to get everything loaded up on our bikes, and then checked the weather forecast.

Thunderstorms. Lots of them, plus assorted other rain showers at completely unpredictable times throughout the weekend. Sunday supposed to be rainy basically all day.

Now, I'm not one to cancel a trip just because of some precipitation - you can have tons of fun camping even if it rains every day. I do, however, freakin' hate riding my motorcycle in the rain. It's unpleasant at best - painful and dangerous at worst. So, after a solid brunch on Saturday morning, we unloaded the bikes and packed everything into the car, chucking in a few extra luxuries like full-size pillows and an extra tarp, then made our way down to Ontario's South coast.

Pretty sure we're here.

Friendly greeter in the office/park store

Knowing there were supposed to be thunderstorms overnight, we immediately set up one of our more elaborate campsite rigs of all time. Arriving right around 4pm (after a detour to Burlington to pick up a couple of odds and ends on our way down), we were all set for whatever the weather would throw at us by 5:30pm.

Dry tent entrance right beside fully sheltered picnic table FTW!

Selkirk is a tiny little park that we only knew anything about because Turkey Point (at which we'd camped previously on our motorcycles) had been completely booked by the time I went to reserve a site for this trip. There are only about 200 campsites total, and only the ones in our loop (campground 1 - furthest from the beach with no electrical hookups) had any tree cover. We took a walk to explore a little, discovering it was only a 5min walk down the dusty gravel campground road to the shingle beach for swimming, and you could stroll around to the West a hundred metres or so to the sandy dog beach at the entrance to Sandusk Creek.

This is really where the "for 8-year-olds" element really began on this trip, as we found perfect skipping stones on the shingle beach and couldn't resist - Tanker was much better at it than I was, but we both got a few good bounces. After a scorching hot afternoon, it felt lovely to wade through the gently cooling water of Lake Erie as we strolled along the beach, checking out some interesting geological forms on the way to the soft sand around the corner. Then we saw a neat-o water snake half-hidden in the long grass alongside the sandy doubletrack path from the dog beach up to the parking area, and went on a nature hike along the short little (~2k for both loops) Wheeler's Walk Nature Trail.

Through the forest

Over the boardwalk to the West loop

The trail only took about 25mins to stroll, seeing a garter snake and a small toad as we wandered. We got back to our campsite in time to have a quick snack and fill our water bottles, then walked down to the beaches again to watch the sun set.

Clouds starting to roll in.

After the sun went down, we went for a swing on the swingset, then walked back up to our campsite to have dinner...and toast marshmallows, making some into s'mores.


Tanker enjoying a little more adult taste, drinking beer and smoking a cigar by the fire.

We awoke at 4:15am to a riotous thunderstorm banging away outside while dumping bucketfuls of water on the tarp above our tent. Fortunately we'd pitched it on the highest ground on our site and made a dedicated runoff channel in our tarp pitch, so we were snug and dry inside.

Rolling out of bed around 9:30am, it continued to rain on and off the whole morning, so we stayed cozy and dry under the tarp-covered picnic table drinking pots of Tanker's incredible camp coffee and stuffing our faces with entirely too many pancakes - cooked one at a time over our tiny stove and either turned into breakfast sandwiches with bacon & eggs or slathered in peanut butter and maple syrup.

This is one of my favourite things in the whole wide world.

Eventually the rain tapered off to just a few sunshowers, so we jumped in the car and took the scenic route into Port Dover. We strolled Main Street, hitting On the Fringe and a couple of other motorcycle-related shops, plus an incredible bakery I'd heard about to sample some of their delectable treats. Then, it was back to our childish ways, throwing down on the nautical-themed ArborTown MiniGolf course for the 18 holes we'd intended to play (at a different course) on my birthday.

"'s a Cinderella story.."

There are also buoys, an anchor, and even a treasure chest on the various holes!

There's a beautiful little waterfall right in the middle of the course.

After Tanker beat me soundly while rain continued to fall in fits and starts, we took a walk down the pier to have a look at the lighthouse.

I have no idea why my neck looks that wide.

And then I went for a quick wade on the stunning main beach

I'll spare you an actual photograph of me in my bikini.

Returning to Selkirk around 6:30pm, I got changed and went for my first run since Dirty Girls. Of course, as is traditional for me I wore the shirt from the race for my debut post-event outing, only to discover later that its length almost completely covered the shorts I was wearing.

No wonder the other campers were giving me weird looks.

It only took me half an hour to cover the entirety of the nature trail and each of the 5 campground loop roads, which was perfect as I wasn't interested in running for any longer - things were still a little sore from the deep muscle damage done just 8 days beforehand, I fatigue pretty easily after long events, and it was still incredibly hot and humid. It also meant I had plenty of time to grab a snack (ermagherd the brownie & other treats we picked up at the bakery were amazeballs!), get changed, and walk with Tanker back down to the beaches to skip more stones and watch another lovely sunset over Sandusk Creek.

Calmer waters in the gentle breeze.

We swung on the swings again, then walked back up to our campsite to light a fire. Despite predicting rain showers all evening and into the night, it stayed dry from the time we got back from Dover (enough that clouds of dust would rise after cars passed on the campground roads again), so after dinner we were able to peacefully sit by the campfire while toasting more marshmallows for s'mores!

Who needs graham crackers?

There was no evidence that it rained overnight (probably much to the delight of the 3 young raccoons - likely siblings from how close they stuck together - who came wandering into our site looking in vain for unsecured food or scraps), but showers were predicted to start around 2pm on Monday, so after a breakfast of bacon & eggs on bagels with more of Tanker's camp coffee we wasted no time getting the site all torn down and packed into the car. Once we had made sure our site was a little tidier than we'd found it and put out a couple of fires that other campers had left blazing - in the middle of a horrible drought, mind you, when a single spark could torch the whole bloody park - we drove down to the beach so I could go for another wade in the hot, dusty sunshine.

It started to rain again a bit (half an hour early, dangit!) as we sat on a picnic table on the shingle beach so I could dry off in the sun, so we hopped in the car and drove back into Dover to hit up the bakery again.

Yeah, they're that good.

We ended up parked up by Powell Park, then walked down to the beach so I could go for another wade, because the warm water of Lake Erie and the soft sand of the main beach were just too tempting in the blistering sunshine that had taken hold once more.

Ok, I lied about sparing you.

And then, walking back to the car with a bag full of sweet & savoury treats from Trish's (seriously - go there. They have 6 different kinds of butter tart squares plus innumerable other delicious sweets, and their sausage rolls and meat pies are enough to reduce any Briton to tears of joy!), we spotted the last element of our camping trip for gradschoolers.


While not what we'd planned, this was one of the most fun and relaxing weekends I've had in ages. I enjoyed every single minute of it, and was lucky to have such wonderful company with whom to share it all.

Just a couple of big kids after all.

If you're looking for a park that is easily accessible for beginner campers, I can't recommend Selkirk Provincial Park heartily enough. It's about a 90min drive from either KW or Toronto, and is even a participant in the Learn to Camp program through Ontario Parks. We were delighted to see large numbers of brand new campers (judging by people unpacking tents out of their cardboard boxes and removing packing material) of all different cultures enjoying a weekend outdoors, and while the park may be small it just means that all of its amenities are close at hand. There's a full playground as well as the swingset, a sandy volleyball court, a full comfort station with free shower facilities and of course the mild waters of Lake Erie to enjoy while you're there. While our camping trips typically take us to rather more adventurous places, it was a lovely place to spend a leisurely weekend close to home.

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