I grew up car camping and we've done a fair amount of camping in Ontario with our two boys, 6 and 11. Having chosen to give up our car this past spring and embark on all kinds of adventures in "getting around" with our children, bike camping wasn't the first thing on our list, but it's no surprise that it came to the fore for us either.
Both boys are game for adventure; both are quite stoic about trying new things and going the distance when it comes to cycling (this is not always so true in all kinds of other areas of life!). While we already had a traditional car-camping trip planned for this summer (more on our very occasional car use in another post), we were keen to find out how we could fit in more nature adventures on our bikes. Enter the Ottawa Municipal Campground.
This self-described "hidden gem within city limits of our Nation's Capital" is perched atop a bluff adjacent to the Queensway (the major highway running through Ottawa) on the Corkstown Road. It's about an hour's ride from where we live in West Ottawa. The campground seems to attract a lot of RV-driving guests, as well as car campers and a few bike campers like us. Heck, you can even catch a bus to the campground!
While it doesn't offer the really appealing amenities of a larger provincial campground (even nearby Fitzroy Provincial Park has some nice walking trails and a pretty great beach), it does boast all of the basics (electric/water hook-ups for those who want them, well serviced washrooms/showers and laundry facilities, a store full of the usual junk food and basics like eggs and milk, a splash pad and a children's playground. Right next door is an equestrian farm, which makes for some fun animal-watching, and of course quick access to Ottawa's extensive bike paths.
What to pack? That was the question. We knew our inflatable mattress was out of the question (I'm sorry, but at 39 I'm tiring of feeling like I've been kicked in the chest by a horse when I wake up in the morning - the air mattress comes along when we go car camping). We knew full size pillows were out, and we knew we had to "go light" wherever we could. Some of it came down to what we didn't bring (the air mattress, the pillows, extra clothes for "just in case", a frying pan), and some it of came down to a few new purchases (small stuff-sack type pillows, extremely light cutlery and a new set of panniers for my bike, which was sorely in need of them). Fortunately we already had 4 Thermarests from our pre-air mattress days, so we weren't going to have to sleep right on the ground.
And what to carry it all in? Panniers, sure, but they really don't cut it for hefting a tent and a cooler. We had hung onto an old Axiom chariot that our youngest rode in when he was small (a great garage sale find) and a few simple mods made it ready to carry the biggest items: tent, 4 thermarests, 4 sleeping bags, 4 stuff-sack pillows, cooler and a few odds and sods. The top was tied down with a raincover and some bungee cords. Who knew we'd still be needing bungee cords?
We then had our 4 panniers and used one each for personal items: one extra set of clothes, rain jacket, toothbrush/paste, water bottle, book, flashlight and, well, that's it.
Finally, we used a daypack that has a capacity of about 40 litres to stow our snacks for the journey out, a cooking pot and other cooking related items. The enamelware cooking pot made the pack a bit heavier than I would have liked, but there you go, we wanted to have our tea and hot chocolate.
All that for one night. We had planned two, but the day we were due to leave was so unrelentingly rainy that we chickened out. No other word for it - we weren't thrilled at the prospect of riding out wet, setting up wet and very likely staying wet (even though we'd likely have had fun - some of our best times have been in the rain). We left a day later, under wind and threat of rain, but the day held and the rain never came; it was a pretty beautiful weekend.
(Also excluded from the packing list? Our camera! That's why I'm sharing this campfire shot of our youngest when he was three and glorying in getting dirty. When asked about his favourite part of this most recent camping trip he said "s'mores, marshmallows, chipmunks and the darkness".)
The best part of the whole thing? Finding out that we could do it. A trip that took my husband and me solo about 45 minutes to complete on a beautiful, calm and sunny day a few weeks earlier took considerably less than 2 hours with our heavy load and two kids, including a 15-minute stop at Britannia Beach on the Ottawa River where we used the washrooms and had a quick snack. This includes the death-defying hill at the end of the ride UP the Corkstown Road. I don't know what the actual grade is, but it's a killer hill even when you aren't pulling a six-year old on a tandem attachment or a 40- pound load on a trailer. Oh, and the person pulling that 40-pound load on the run up to the campground was our 11-year old. He's kind of awesome. Determined and awesome. He walked some of it (as my husband had fully expected to do), but rode as well and was sure as heck going to arrive at the campground in the saddle. He also pulled the trailer around the campground to shuttle firewood, and all the way home the next day (and timed our progress on his stopwatch - much faster, coming in at 58mins I believe).
In the end, we had some classic camping moments, as hoped - craziness trying to light a fire on damp ground and with damp wood, stuffing ourselves silly with s'mores, marvelling at the quiet and the dark when we were snuggled in our sleeping bags, and a great game of tag in the playground with a bunch of other kids who were up for it.
We are well and truly looking forward to the next time and to planning bike camping destinations that are further afield.