June is National Camping Month!
Summer is almost here. The days are getting warm, the nights are still comfortably cool, and it’s the perfect time to sleep outside…for some.
In my circle of friends, camping falls into two camps: those emphatically for and those emphatically against. Until my late 20s I was firmly in the latter camp, never having pitched a tent before meeting my husband, who contrary to his opinion, was not an expert camper. But he was more experienced than I, and to me, he was Davy Crockett. From him, I learned not to pitch a tent when you’re exhausted because, in that moment, you’ll do anything to lie down, whether or not it’s comfortable. And at midnight, you’ll end up feeling every root and rock digging into your back. I also learned not to wait until you’re famished to build a fire for cooking, and that a pouch of salmon candy or beef jerky is just the ticket to keep tempers from flaring while the flames are (slowly) growing.
We had a beat up, but entirely reliable Toyota pickup truck with more than 250K miles on it and we loaded it up every chance we got to head up to the mountains for a weekend of camping. On the drive up, we’d hit a grocery store for essentials, then park and hike to our campsite. It was a much-needed escape from city life.
We loved it so much that we spent half of our honeymoon driving up the Pacific coast and camping along the way. We spent the other half at hotels with plush mattresses and hot showers. One day, we hiked five or so miles to what looked like an idyllic place along a river and set up camp. Before heading out for a little walk, I put our perishables — which included an unopened half-pint carton of milk — into a mesh bag, set the bag in the cold river, and weighed it down with a heavy rock. On my way back, we noticed a lot of bird activity in the sky, swooping and diving and caw-cawing. And about 200 yards from camp, seeing some cloudy water float by, I realized the birds had made a feast of our perishables. It was pretty funny until we were hungry. Dinner that night was instant ramen and Slim Jims. Lesson learned!
My tent-camping days may be over, but I still love cooking over an open fire. It took years to learn how to avoid some of the more common open-fire pitfalls, primarily how to keep your food from falling into the open fire. Here are some of my best takeaways:
- Skewers and sticks are not nearly foolproof enough, so use a pair of parallel skewers to keep the food from spinning off and into the fire. It’s a game changer!
- Grill grates are terrific, as long as they’re level. I’ve lost more hotdogs than I care to admit, rolling against gravity into the ashes. Another hint: place some big rocks on the grates at the low point to catch any stray dogs.
- My favorite campfire cookout discovery is grilling everything in a foil pouch. Veggies, protein (in this case salmon), and seasonings are wrapped and roasted over hot coals.
- And last but not least, make sure your paper plate is sturdy. There’s nothing worse than losing those hard-earned delicious morsels to a flimsy plate.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Share your favorite camping stories and lessons learned with me at AskGrace@sitkasalmonshares.com.