It took longer than I thought it would for us to go camping with Margot. She’s fourteen months old, and before this last weekend, she’d never slept in a tent. Shameful, I know.
We likely would have stayed in a hotel while in Anchorage this past weekend for a Newborn Photo Session, but most were booked, and the Memorial Day Weekend prices were astronomical. On principle alone, it was much more preferable to camp outdoors for the weekend. The six-hour drive south from Fairbanks seems to go by quicker in the spring months, maybe because of the long daylight hours, or new budding greenery. Spotting Denali while driving through Denali National Park is the highlight of the commute, so long as the mountain isn’t masked by cloud cover.
It’s not uncommon to see caribou, ibek, moose and other Alaskan critters from the highway all along the scenic drive. This time we spotted a black bear and her three adorable cubs just a mile from our campsite at Otter Lake on Fort Richardson. If photographing the bears were a gun sling, I surely would have been shot dead on the spot… I can never seem to be quick on the draw when obscure wildlife presents itself. One day I’ll get a better shot than the grainy brown bear-butt image I captured in the Yukon last fall. And it’ll always be from the safety of my minivan!
Black bears are small and skittish, though. If we had spotted brown bears, we most certainly would have turned back towards Palmer to find lodging indoors. Sharing a grizzly attack story on an episode of I Survived should be left to more adventurous souls.
We brought Sally along for the trip. My dearly departed Yango, and our new dog Sally have a lot in common — they’re both exclusively city dogs. Being tied to a tree, excluded from hot dog dinners, and swarmed by mosquitoes didn’t equate a good time for Sally, which is weird, because she’s a dog.
It’s a little embarrassing when your dog whimpers at the tent door for you to let her in because she’s cold and the mosquitoes won’t leave her alone, while your camping neighbors have real dogs who chase balls, bark at wildlife, and enjoy dog food. She’s just a spoiled indoor dog who needs her beauty rest.
I love our Sally, though. She’s so docile, lazy and tolerant — all the qualities I want in a dog while my increasingly wild toddler runs amok all around her. The novelty of the outdoors was lost on the dog, for sure. The jury is still out on Margot.
She’s a new walker, and she is used to level flooring where she can walk quickly, carry things, and otherwise live out her busy toddler life with ease. In the wooded campground, however, tree roots, rocks, and debris all compromised her gait, leaving her on the ground every few steps, with sticks, dirt and leaves sticking to her clammy toddler palms. She was a good sport about the new method of exploration, but when it came to nap time or bedtime, she was non-compliant. The cry-it-out method we implement at home during nap and bed time was totally futile outdoors, especially without Margot’s precious sound machine and blackout curtains. Fellow campers were assumably unappreciative of her protest cries, and Isaac and I certainly weren’t enjoying it at ground zero, either. To maintain our sanity, we ended up caving to a later bed time (10pm instead of her usual 8) since rowdy young campers were still taking advantage of the extended daylight that runs long into the midnight hours.
We made it through the nights, though. All three of us (and a dog on the second night) in a two-man Mountain Hardware tent.
Isaac was the camp chef for the weekend. He was lucky though, we were close enough to town that we were able to eat out a chain restaurant for lunch one day. I had to go into town for the Newborn Session Saturday, so I obviously wasn’t going to pass up on Starbucks that morning! We were probably the only people disappearing from our campsite during the day to go into town to visit Starbucks and Target. We cheated, okay? Truly we were just trying to get away from the mosquito blood bath we had been enduring at the site.
I came home with over 50 bites and Isaac wasn’t far behind me. We look like we have chicken pox, but the itchiness should subside in another day or so. Margot was the camping miracle who endured not a single bite. She had a few layers on that the mosquitos couldn’t get through, I assume.
Citronella candles and herbal bug repellant were useless against the sheets of swarming mosquitos that are legendary in Alaska. Next time I’ll just layer up much better.
I have no problem car camping near town with a dog and toddler while pregnant, as long as I layer up against mosquitos better the next time, and understand that outdoor sleep schedules nearing the summer solstice in Alaska are for naught. Starbucks helps, too.