Camping has been a part of my life since I was a child. We tent camped when I was young, my sister and I sleeping in the back of our mustard yellow van, and when I was a bit older my parents purchased an RV and we traveled out West, to Canada, to Michigan, and to the “north shore” of Minnesota. I have so many good memories from our camping trips and I am so thankful that my parents took me. I always hoped that my children would love the outdoors as much as I do and that we would camp as a family.
But all your best laid plans seem to change when your child is diagnosed with Autism. As I watched the Roc struggle to communicate as a 3 year old, seeing him through eyes filled with the diagnosis, I worried about so many things, life had suddenly seemed to veer off course. I also wondered if we would do the things I had dreamed of doing, and one of them was camping.
I knew early on that the Roc was an outdoor kid. He cemented it when I started to take him out to Arizona during the winter to visit my parents and he would hike. What 3 year old will hike a few miles willingly? We took the Roc to Colorado around his 5th birthday and the boy hiked 5 miles in the mountains, all for the promise of a waterfall, and he didn’t complain. I’ve reveled in the fact that I got my outdoor kid. With our move to Minnesota, I started to think more about camping.
Could we? Would he like it? What if it rained? (The Roc is like a cat when it comes to rain, don’t rain on him) Would he sleep in the tent? What about all of our daily routines that would most definitely be out the window while camping? Would he eat camp food? and on and on.
There are so many variables with camping, so many things that would roll off another kids back, but would greatly bother the sensory sensitive Roc.
We decided to give it a try. Because you never know until you try.
I told the Roc on Thursday morning that I had a surprise for him when he got home from school. He immediately wanted to know what it was, but I told him to wait, I would tell him when he got home.
“What’s the surprise?” the Roc asked me as soon as the van door opened.
“How would you like to go to Duluth tonight, stay in a hotel with a pool, and then tomorrow we’ll see waterfalls and go camping?” I asked him excidedly, sure that he would burst with joy. Hotel! Pool! Waterfalls! Lake Superior! Camping!
“I thought we were going to Coon Rapids Dam!” the Roc screeched at me.
Oh boy. After talking him down and explaining how we could drive to the dam any old day, but that hotel/pool/waterfall/camping is something special he got excited. We left when GC got home from work, and the evening went well. We arrived at our hotel, stashed the dog and our stuff, went to 5 Guys for dinner, and then came back with enough time for the Roc and I to take a dip in the hotel pool and whirlpool.
We woke up early on Friday, not sure what time the park office opened, but without a reservation we were banking on getting a non-reservable site, and were hoping for a “cart-in” site to maximize the distance between us and other campers, therefore reducing the chances of us greatly disturbing anyone should a meltdown occur. It was still dark when we left our hotel.
We watched the sun rise out of Lake Superior.
The park office wasn’t open when we got there, so we checked out all the empty non-reservable sites and got our first choice when the office opened. We were lucky and got a great cart-in site at the end of the campground, set back in the woods. We quickly went to work setting up our site. Well GC did,
the Roc, Guinness and I went down to check out the lake.
After set up and a quick lunch, we packed a bag and headed off to see some waterfalls and hike to the top of Carlton Peak, the trail sign stating a 3-hour round trip hike. At the top of a series of waterfalls we asked a guy with a big camera to take our picture,
and enjoyed the view before setting off to the peak.
It was a long hike and a strenous climb to the top, but the views were worth it.
We rested and had a snack before heading back down. We knew it would take awhile to get to the bottom, and even longer to get back to our campsite down by the lake. The last bit is a scramble to the top, which took awhile, and took even more time to get back down.
We made it back to our campsite and started dinner. GC had some trouble with his little portable cook stove, that he had just purchased from a guy at work and had never used, and we ended up eating dinner and washing up in the dark. The Roc was good throughout it all, he sat by the fire, he ate his dinner, he repeatedly asked when we were going to make s’mores, and around 8:30 he announced he was tired and he wanted to go to bed. He went to sleep in the tent with the dog and a lantern. GC and I looked at each other in amazement.
The next morning GC got his little stove working and he made us some eggs and bacon.
After breakfast we drove up to Cascade River State Park and hiked around the waterfalls there.
We picnicked down by the lake
and then drove up to Grand Marais to walk around and check out the Coast Guard area.
We went back to our campsite earlier and cooked some pasta over the fire, (in the daylight!)
When it got dark we went down to the lake with a lantern and watched the water shimmer in the moonlight, heading back when it got really dark and when we realized that the Roc wasn’t going to sit quietly! Of course we made more s’mores that night and again, when the Roc got tired, he told us so, and then went to sleep in the tent with the dog and a lantern.
We woke up to gray skies and a screechy Roc on Sunday, he was upset that we couldn’t watch the sunrise and it took a little coaxing to bring him back down, so we ate breakfast and packed up our stuff to head home. On our way south we stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, but it had started to lightly rain, so we went down to the lake to check out the view of the lighthouse, and the Roc threw rocks.
We drove home happy, dirty and tired.
You never know until you try. I was apprehensive about camping with the Roc, but I’m so glad we gave it a shot. He was so happy, he kept telling us he was having fun, and really, is there anything better?
When your kid is having fun, and he tells you about it?
I know enough to deeply cherish those moments.