Best camping trip ever

It made National Lampoon’s Vacation look tame in comparison

By Ken Partridge

It’s hard to think of a single thing that went right on the last big camping trip my eldest son and I took together.

He was about to go away for his first year of university and we decided to do a father-son camping trip to mark this milestone. We settled on a campground near Five Islands, Nova Scotia, packed up my car, put the dog in the back seat, and headed out.

I should have known things weren’t going to go well when we reached the toll booth in the Cobequid Pass. I smiled at the attendant, passed over $5, and asked how much farther it was to the exit to Five Islands. I can still see how his head kind of sagged down on his chest as he explained in a tired voice that I had missed the exit several kilometres back, and the resignation in his tone as he called his counterpart in one of the other booths to explain he was sending over a lost driver to turn around and head back in the opposite direction.

When we finally did get to the campground, the mishaps were continuous. The dog jumped from the car as we tried to register at the camp office, initiating a frenzied chase around the parking lot. An off-leash dog attacked us in the parking lot of a hiking trail we went to explore. The waterfall at the end of said trail had collapsed during a storm, making the hike anticlimactic at best. The propane tank for our camp stove was defective and the whole thing caught fire. 

There was a massive storm on the second night. I spent most of the night laying on my back, arms and legs in the air, trying to keep the tent from falling flat atop us. In the morning, we discovered much of our camping supplies had blown into the woods and the high winds and rain wrecked other parts of our site. We surrendered and packed up, going to visit my mom in Alton so we could get a shower, clean clothes, and rest.

But amidst the drama there were quiet times spent walking through the woods or just sitting around the campsite, talking about everything that was to come for my son. What he was excited about, what he feared a little about being away from home, his future, and what he would miss.

It was probably my most memorable camping trip ever, and not just because of all the trouble. Ultimately it was just us and that was the point in the first place.

We’re blessed with a wealth of spectacular camping experiences in this province. My mom took us camping as kids, and I’ve done it with my own. There’s everything from sites within moments of the city, to the breathtaking Highlands of Cape Breton. We’ve stayed in all the national parks in the Maritimes and hope to get to Newfoundland soon. 

Our cover story brought all this back to me as I read it. I wouldn’t trade those camping experiences for anything. I believe they were beneficial to our sons’ education too. Experiential learning can be just as important to a child’s growth as book learning and makes an excellent complement to the school year.

I hope everyone gets the chance to venture into the great outdoors during their summer break, and we’ll see you all again in September.