Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ultra Budget Camping - part 1

I've read lots of blogs and watched lots of videos on Youtube on ultra light camping.  It's a pretty hot topic, and yes there's lots of people out there posting ideas on how to make your own gear out of items that are incredibly affordable alternatives to expensive options you'd find in an outfitter.  Making a twig stove out of an IKEA cutlery stand for $4.99 rather than spending $70-100 for a Vital Stove or BioStove for example.  Sure you have to put a little effort into it, and it won't charge your cell phone, but still, for $4.99...

Anyway, the point of this post wasn't to talk about making cheap gear.  On a recent trip to my parents, I was flipping through a book called Wildly Affordable Organic. In the introduction the author talks about how she decided to do what is called a Food Stamp Challenge.  This is where you try to feed yourself for a week on the amount of money a person in the US, in a low income situation would get in food stamps - on average $3 a day per person.

The point of the challenge (and the documentary called Food Stamped) is apparently that it's impossible to eat a healthy diet and not starve on what you can buy for that amount of money.  The authors of the book disagreed and set about to prove you can eat a healthy, satisfying diet on such a little amount.  I thought, "huh, lets see if I can plan a menu for the four of us, for a week, using that as my budget."  Turns out it wasn't that hard, but I have a good supply of things like rice, beans and lentils on hand.  Still, using the flyers and picking sale items to help decide our menu, I managed to put together a weeks worth of healthy food.

Then I got to thinking about how to incorporate a tight budget into our camping trips.  Chris's biggest complaint is that I spend too much on food for each trip, and he's not wrong.  Even when I have 95% of the things we need already on hand, that last shopping trip always ends up being stupidly expensive.  We walk through the aisles, filling a buggy with chips and cookies, 4 types of granola bars (because we can't ever agree on one kind we all like), a case of water (even though we brought a big jug...because little bottles are easier to take on hikes...and yes we packed our reusable ones, but sometimes the water is kinda dirty looking and we'll probably use the big jug for cooking...yeah, I know.  We can talk ourselves into anything.) By the time we've left, we've gotten enough stuff for a few extra days worth of camping...and none of it ever gets used.  The packaging gets all mangled...sometimes wet, and usually anything inside gets crushed a bit.

I've never been too good at sticking to a menu...

With the economy the way it is, it's getting harder and harder to take a family vacation, and even when we can afford a week of fun, it's probably not going to happen more than once a year.  Some things we can't really control - gas prices for example.  Towing the Boler to Pog Lake in Algonquin last year cost us $160 in gas, round trip. But in other areas, you can totally pinch pennies and make your trips fun without draining the bank account or running up your credit card.

Maybe I'm greedy, but I want to get as much fun packed into our summers as possible.  See, if I can make sure our camping trips are inexpensive, I can convince Chris that we can take more of them each year.

So this is going to be a series of posts exploring how to have a week long camping trip for as little money as possible.  We'll see how just how cheap we can manage to make a 7 day/6 night camping trip for a family of four. I'd love to hear your ideas, advice or stories about how you budget a camping trip.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Weekend Moose Spotting trip to Algonquin

Spring has finally decided to make an appearance!  It's slow going though, at least in Algonquin.  Our trip for the first weekend of May will probably be cancelled.  The park has had to postpone the opening of Rock Lake campground until the second weekend of May because of a slow melt and iced up lakes. Sad, but it's one of those risks you take when you camp in the spring.

Easter weekend was beautiful, weather wise, at least for the most part.  We had hoped to go and camp at Mew Lake for the weekend, but Dad didn't want to dig their trailer out of the snow bank (that was his excuse...he just doesn't like camping in the cold)  So we just did a drive through, stopped at the visitor's centre, and had a picnic.

Usually we stop at the Tea Lake Dam picnic area but it wasn't open, so we drove a few hundred meters down the Opeongo Road and stopped at the Costello Lake Picnic Area.  There was a few good sized snow banks, and lots of mushy spots, but the weather was nice.  Mum had precooked some mini burgers at home, and we just heated them up using her BioStove with the grill attachment.  That, along with some celery with peanut butter, chips and goodies from Henrietta's Bakery in Dwight made a perfect lunch.

Hooded Merganser seen in southern inlet of Opeongo
We saw 4 moose during the drive.  For the most part they were far enough back into the bush to make it hard to photograph them.  While at the visitor's centre, the kids had a lot of fun trying to photograph the birds at the bird feeders.  They saw Downy woodpeckers, common grackles, evening grossbeaks, blue jays and possibly a pine siskin.  Unfortunately, a couple of people were either let through the lower exit or found their way around the building and got super close to the feeders with their huge lenses, managing to scare away all the birds.  You'd think they could have gotten good shots with those big lenses without having to get to within 4 feet of the birds themselves...

On Monday, Chris was off work, so we did another drive through with him.  It was rainy so we didn't really get to do the picnic thing, but we went through the visitor centre displays, something we hadn't done in a few years, then continued our moose spotting.  It had started out with a bang.  Upon entering the park, we spotted a cow moose with a yearling calf at KM 2 and thought we were going to see tons.  We didn't see anymore until we passed the Sanitation Station.  Just past the road in a little pond, we spotted a big bull moose but he was too far back to get a good shot.  On the drive back west, we spotted a moose at KM 29 but Chris didn't stop to let us take any pictures.  It was drizzling and the moose was kind of tucked behind a few trees, so not the best for photographs.

We spotted lots of turkeys on the second trip, and only one Blue Heron, where as we saw at least 4 Herons on the Saturday.

All in all, not a bad weekend of moose spotting.  Despite the slow spring thaw, there wasn't a lot of snow in Algonquin, (that we could see anyway) and we left feeling cautiously optimistic that they might change their mind about opening Rock Lake for the weekend of May 2nd - 4th.