It’s been a busy few days for us here in Bon Accord.
My grandchildren came for three days — a much-anticipated visit. We were set to go camping for the weekend. Were to leave on the Friday, July 15th to spend a few fun days out at Long Lake Provincial Park. Where we had gone camping with our son a few times when he was much younger.
I was excited — the weather was supposed to be good — at least no rain, and the thought of spending a couple of days at the beach in the sunshine seemed like heaven. However. . .
. . . we woke to grey skies on Friday and a temp of only 18 for a high. Still, undaunted, we set out. We arrived at the campground around 3:30 (can’t check in before 4 p.m. — camping is certainly not what it once was, more on that to come) and found our spot. I wish to God I had taken a picture of our ‘campsite’ because it was nothing but a joke. Tim and I were appalled. It was barely big enough to pitch our tent! The description said it was a pull-through, but in reality all it was was a patch of gravel with a fire pit in the middle and a picnic table to one side.
We think that this ‘site’ once was a place for visitors to park as there were three concrete parking barricades in front of it. But, we decided that since we were there, and it was the last spot in the campground we had best make do.
This is where I rant a little about how camping has changed.
I had reserved our spot two weeks in advance; at that time I was told that there was just one spot left in the campground. When I checked out the picture on-line the site actually looked pretty decent. It seemed large and well treed, with plenty of space for the kids to run around in. When I asked could we not just show up and pick a spot I was told no, that the campground was now a 100% reserve-only camping facility.
Years ago, before the government handed over the operation of its parks to private contractors, this was not allowed. Anyone could drive out to a park and pretty much be guaranteed they would find a camp site. That is always how we camped — none of this reserve first nonsense.
Now, you can’t get into some parks unless you have a pre-paid permit. If you arrive before 4 p.m. the day of your reservation you are charged an additional $5 for early check-in. If you stay beyond the 2 p.m. check-out time you are charged an additional $5. Firewood is $6.00 a bundle, and a bundle is barely adequate to get your fire started. We spent $30.00 on wood. Our campsite cost $23/night plus an additional $12 administration fee. Suffice it to say I will likely not be returning to Long Lake.
My husband said it years ago, and though I don’t like to paint him in the guise of a prophet, I’d have to say he was right when he said that camping was going to become an activity only for those who could afford it. Once upon a time at Long Lake a camp site cost only $7/night and the firewood was free. I realize that times change, and that governments cannot run things like parks at a loss, but really, to turn to gouging people for the right to spend a few days and nights in the fresh, open air is criminal.
Anyway, back to my story.
We made the best of the situation that we could, got the tent up, took the kids to the playground, cooked some hamburgers over an open fire and generally had a pretty good time. There was some difficulty in getting in touch with my son and his wife to let them know we had arrived safe and sound as there is no cell phone reception at the lake, and I did not have enough quarters for the payphone ($2.25 for 3 minutes), I could not place a collect call to my son’s cell phone (not allowed) and, apparently the texts my husband was sending were not getting through. The park rangers came to our campsite to tell us our son wanted us to call. How? I asked. Oh, you have to drive out of the park, up to the store at the corner of the highway, they said.
I took my 22 month old grandson with me and went to place the call. After assuring my son that his children were safe I made my way back to the campground where I wound up stuck behind some a –hole who was filling up the water tanks in his trailer. He could have pulled over to let me pass before he started but no, Ethan and I had to sit there for 20 minutes waiting, waiting, waiting.
By the time we got to our camp it was nearly 10:30. He was tired and so was I. I heated up his bottle then nestled him inside his father’s sleeping bag and covered him up with extra blankets. I’m sure he wondered what the hell was going on. Having never been in a tent before he laid there with his little eyes wide open, his head turning at each strange sound beyond the wall of the tent. Eventually, I left him and went out to join Tim and my other two grandchildren.
It was now feeling quite cool outside. We roasted marshmallows in the dark and told the kids some stories about camping with their dad. At about 11:30 we decided it was time to tuck them in. I was feeling pretty miserable by this point — the total inadequacy of our arrangement was glaring. And, to make matters worse, when Tim inflated our air mattress the valve burst, so, all of us, except Ethan, were going to spend the night sleeping on top of gravel.
Tim and I packed it in shortly after midnight. The kids were sound asleep, in fact, when I had tucked them in they were thrilled to get in their sleeping bags. This, thankfully, was a huge, exciting adventure for them.
And all would have been fine if I had managed to get some sleep and it hadn’t been raining when I woke up the next morning. As we were situated above a beaver pond I heard the beavers felling trees and slapping the water in alarm all night. Then, there were the party-ers a few camp sites away who were up til about 3 a.m. Add to the that the couple of dummies who decided to get in to a fight around 4 a.m. I was terrified that the kids would become uncovered and catch cold so, every time they moved I was up adjusting blankets over, under and around them. All in all, a very rough night.
At about 6:30 I got up, staggered down the road to the toilet then came back to put on some coffee. The rain had tapered down to a fine drizzle, but as I poured hot water on my instant coffee it suddenly picked up momentum. That’s when I decided that enough was enough. I woke Tim and said, let’s go home. We can’t have the kids out in this all day with no proper shelter, the beach would be terrible in the rain and there would be nothing for them to do.
We packed up as quickly as we could, bundled the kids into the car and headed home. But not before letting the person at the gate know just what a horrible experience we’d had. Not surprisingly, they didn’t care. And, they said that had we let them know before 2 p.m. the day before that we weren’t going to be staying our second night we could have been given a refund. The absurdity of that left me speechless.
I am over that now, however, and will be lodging a complaint with Alberta Parks.
The rest of our weekend with the kids was great. We went swimming, had a picnic, played at the park, went for ice-cream several times and just generally had fun. There’s always next year to try camping again and there are many other parks for us to try.
We’re in the market, though, for a small trailer or tent trailer. If the weather isn’t great at least we’ll have proper shelter. And, besides that, Gramma and Grandpa simply cannot sleep on the ground anymore.
Our next adventure is a week at my sister Lori’s cottage with Landon, Jenn and the kids. That, I’m sure, will be wonderful.