This past weekend I took my kids camping at Port Aransas, on the beach. My friend Shelly asked how we staked our tent on the beach, and I just have to share the story about Hunter and how we never would have survived this trip without him. This has little to do with weight-loss, although I could definitely tell you about how greatful I was to be 80 lbs lighter at the beach! (and consequently tell you about the 10 lbs jump in my scale this morning, but from the edema in my feet, I can tell you that would be from sodium ingestion and sunburn) While writing about Hunter, I wanted to share with you what he taught me and what I learned on my own about camping on the beach.
Now keep in mind--I'm a MASTER camper. On the banks of the lakes of Nebraska I can survive in a multiple of weather conditions from being so cold you're in thermals and thermal sleeping bag (never camped in the snow though, I hate snow and nothing would make me purposefully spend all day and night in it!). I can start a fire with nothing but matches and what I find around me and then cook a meal on that fire that would knock your socks off, I can put up a tent without assistance, I can potty in the woods. And I can sleep on the hard dirt ground for an entire weekend and wake up feeling refreshed. I can camp. Thanks to my mother, Gayle Roberts and the girlscouts, I can survive in the wilderness for a weekend, but I myself have NEVER camped on the beach, and I was bringing with me my 3 kids, Mini Me (6), Baby Girl (4) and Little Man (3) and my 16 year old sister, who also had never camped on the beach before. The 5 of us were one family of a two family beach trip. The other family was staying in a camper in Aransas Pass. Going into this I did a lot of research online and got a general idea of what to expect from camping on the beach... ya, right.
OK, let me back up to Thursday afternoon. My plan was to leave as soon as I got my paycheck--so be on the road at 1ish depending on how long it took to deposit my check. Check came at 12:45 so I was more or less on schedule. It wasn't until after I got the van loaded and I was heading to pick up the kids from daycare I realize I can not find my debit card. I had switched purses around so I figured it was in my other purse, or fell out on my bed so I turn around and head back to the house. nothing. Checked at daycare because I knew I had it out there... nothing. Checked pockets of pants I had on (which were now packed in a bag at the bottom of the trunk)... nothing. Checked my seat in van, etc. So I got kids and went to bank. We're sitting at the bank for over 30 minutes waiting for a banker so I could cancel my card, get cash and get a temporary ATM card (after already looking for almost an hour for my card). While I'm sitting there, Little man all of a sudden gets excited, jumps up, grabs something from his pocket and hands it to me exclaiming, "Look mommy, I found your card at the daycare and picked it up for you!" I had dropped it that morning and since Wells Fargo lets you put your photo on your debit card, it is something Bajung would recognize and know immediately was mine. My hero! These master search and find skills came in handy later when he found my sister's phone buried on the beach. There was some speculation on whether or not Little man himself had been the one who buried Falon's phone, but I would like to argue on his behalf that there was another kid at the beach that day who is especially known for playing with phones and was caught red handed with several phones on the beach... just sayin'... he did find the phone and bring it back and I believe someone owes him $5. Ahem.
Alright, so the reason why this story was important was because it put us at the beach around dusk, we were losing light and losing it fast. Because of this, I picked the first spot that was A) by a shower, B) by a lifeguard stand, C) within vision of a portapotty and D) near a trash can. I wasn't being too picky, but I knew what to look for. We pulled the tent out and were looking through the box for the stakes when all of a sudden Brandon says, "Oh crap, I took them out at Christmas!" We had no stakes. Now, keep in mind--regular stakes just staked in the ground weren't going to work on the beach--I already was WELL aware of this. My intention was to do what is called a "Deadman's anchor". This is where you tie the stakes to the tent using rope and bury them sideways into the sand deep enough that the sand offered enough resistance to prevent them from pulling up. This brings me to lesson number 1 about camping at the beach--BRING A SHOVEL. Seriously. I know, they take up a lot of space and so if you are packing a van and thinking about the tools you need you will try to talk yourself out of this item. Don't. Seriously. You will thank me for telling you this peice of advice. I promise. Now that you've bookmarked this page as "Number one rule of camping on the beach", let's move on.
So we're on the beach, we're losing sun, have no stakes and really just want to be at the point where we are sitting back with our Coronas and fantasizing that we are never going to leave this place (this fantasy is natural on day one... by day 4, you're fantasizing about showers.). Brandon and I are heading to the van so we can drive back into Port Aransas and find out where I can buy some beach stakes when a well weathered gentleman, Hunter, walks by, holds his beer up and greets us. I say hi back and chuckle that we have to go buy some stakes. He immediately offers to help and tells us to meet him at his camp site. We get there and he had a frame from a canopy that someone discarded. He grabbed it out of the trash and put it aside to fix with other items he finds discarded on the beach. It turns out that Hunter and his lady, Cathy, live on the beach after being evicted. While he was pulling peices off of this canopy that was to him like finding gold, Hunter had made a remark to his wife about how he knew she hated when he helped other people out because they always just get bit in the end. I assured him that I was the right kind of person to help and I seemed to be the queen of good karma because I always end up getting a helping hand right at the time I needed it, and always paid it forward when I could. He told me he just does God's work. After Brandon, Hunter and I twisted and pulled the metal rods off of this canopy, he asked us, "You bring a hammer?" Lesson number 2 about camping at the beach, BRING A HAMMER. Ok, you *may* luck out and find a Hunter on your beach, but I promise you, this was a one in a million situation. And if you ever do find yourself camping on the beach--the tents without cars in front of them are probably local homeless people (AKA Beach Bums)--they are helpful and greatful for a beer and someone to chat with. Hunter handed Brandon a giant rock and said, "Here, your hands are going to blister, but this will work." By the way, my hand is still sore and I am pretty sure Brandon is going to end up with flesh eating bacteria from his blisters and cuts, so bring a hammer. Then hunter said, "Here, take this PVC pipe, you're going to need it, you got rope right?" This I had done right, but here's rule number 3 of camping on the beach (or really camping anywhere) BRING LOTS OF ROPE. Okay, now that you have your rope packed, add twice as much. I did this and still at one point found myself thinking, "I could have probably used one more thing of rope. I kind of like rope.
So we headed back to the camp site with Hunter and he helped us use giant peices of metal to stake down the tent. This is important, when camping on the beach--your stake needed to go down far enough that you literally CAN NOT pull them up by hand. I think the metal pieces we used were between 18-24 inches each and our tent wasn't going anywhere. Then he showed us the secret to successful camping on the beach. And this is rule number 4 of camping on the beach-ALWAYS USE A FRONT ANCHOR. This is where the PVC pipe and rope come in handy. During the day, the beach gets a nice cool breeze most of the time (unless is happens to be Sunday and we're trying to remove a tent) but at night that breeze turns into some hardy winds. (Which brings us to rule number 5-ALWAYS BRING LIP BALM WITH SUNSCREEN. Between the sunburn and the windburn my lips are on fire today.) So the front anchor is to pull the tent BACK towards the wind/shore. Otherwise at night your tent will blow over and since you have it staked in so well, you will break your frame. Basically take rope from the frames of the tent and anchor them both to one PVC pipe in a triangle shape. This will keep that seaward wall from collapsing. And in case anyone was wondering--you face the door AWAY from the ocean, otherwise the sand will blow into your tent. Thank you God for sending us Hunter! (ps--make sure you flag your anchors, or people could trip on them and that would suck!)
While we were putting up the tent, I asked Hunter what the sign meant when it said "Contained Fires only". He explained to us that you have to dig at least 2 foot down and build a wall against the wind coming from the beach. After getting the tent up, it was well past dark, which brings me to rule number six BRING A PROPANE LANTERN. The beach is dark at night; you'll want a lantern. We were already covered in sand, it was dark, and there was no way we were going to dig a fire pit yet that evening. I was kind of feeling like a camping failure. But later, when I sat there feeling the breeze,watching the waves and digging my feet into the sand, I already wanted to stay there forever.
Speaking of digging your feet into the sand here's rule number seven of camping on the beach, SAND. Yeah, I know that's not a rule in and of itself, but these are my rules and if I want to make "Sand" it's own rule I will. When camping on the beach you will be in a never ending battle against sand. It will be on your skin, in your food and COVERING your kids. Avoid it from getting into your tent AT ALL COSTS. This means you will need a foot bucket. I intentionally packed the beach toys in a rubbermaid bucket and just dumped them out for the kids to play with, that way the bucket could be used for feet. Unfortunatelly, I did not think to bring a second bucket for hands... and with my age group of kids, it became the swimming bucket as well.
Which brings us to rule number eight of camping on the beach, WATER. Water probably should have been rule number 3 because it's right up there with the shovel and the hammer. I know you'd think that water would be before the tools since it's part of the 2 basics that our bodies need for survival, but trust me on the tools. Water is important because you A) are in some pretty brutal elements and will need to remain constantly hydrated and B) because you will be eating a lot of sand without it. Cooking on the beach was a lot of fun, but it was also stressful because one misstep and you had a meal you couldn't eat. When I prepared food I would do everything I could to keep the sand off everything. The minute you can feel grit on your fingers, you have to rinse them again and dry them with a new hand towel. This brings me to rule number 9 of camping on the beach. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY TOWELS. Remember that once a towel gets sand in it, it will feel disgusting to rub on your skin and will be worthless for drying your hands to cook. When I cooked I had one towel for wiping things off with and another for wiping my hands with. The hand wiping one was kept away from blowing wind. This is important. If your hand is gritty at all--you're getting sand in your food and this sucks, bad. When I cooked I tried to have a seperate hand bucket close to where I was at so I could continue to dip my hands to remove sand. It would never fail that I would be just about to pick up food and Little Man would come up and brush against my hand. So not only do you need to remember that you will need at least a gallon per person of water to drink a day, you'll need lots of water for keeping yourself clean.
The best part of camping on the beach is the morning. There's a time between sun rise and 11 am where it feels as if this is your own little peice of paradise. The only people out are other campers, occasional runners and the cleaning crew. Friday morning I woke up to Mini Me unzipping all of the windows of the tent because she couldn't wait to see the ocean. To be honest with you, neither could I. So we ran out and started enjoying the beach. The kids swam twice before breakfast was even ready. Two thoughts came into my mind while I was making breakfast. One-Shade and two-fire pit. Both of these needed to be taken care of before the sun got too brutal to bare. The fire pit was a priority, because we needed to build it while it was still cool so we didn't melt digging in the heat.
Rule number 11 of camping on the beach, MAKE SURE YOU MAKE SHADE. During the worst part of the day is when the sun is directly above you. That means you have no shade from your vehicle or your tent. If you're going to be on the beach, you will need shade. I had thought of this ahead of time and simply bought a 10 x 20 tarp and brought lots of rope (see rule number three). Before the trip I had an idea of using the side of the van and the tent frame to make shade. While it worked wonderfully, there were a few things I could have done to make it work better and I am going to price out my idea versus buying a premade canopy. Keep in mind that while the daytime wind isn't too bad for a premade canopy but, the night time wind would be awful so you should either make sure it's really well anchored or bring it up in the morning and down at night. My idea would be to create a canapy using PVC pipes and a tarp, doing pretty much what I did this time covering the tent and providing a "porch" to sit under. This would be slightly harder to construct at a campsite than a premade canapy, but I believe it would be incredibly sturdy so you wouldn't be messing with it all weekend long. The tarp I had was 10X20 and covered the tent and gave a nice sized sitting area. I used these really cool bungee ties I found at walmart that allowed me to anchor it to my van and remove it easily to take up and bring down. It worked really well, but made me really need a good reason to take off in the van. Plus, it ended up making my van doors stay open way too much which means my interior will probably never be sand free again and my battery kept dying from kids turning lights on that ended up being on all day. That tarp was a lifesource for me during the day when the sun was beating down. I even put it back up after taking it down Sunday when we ended up staying longer than we expected. The biggest downside of hooking it up the way I did was that on the last day, when my back was sunburned, it sucked to have my back rub on the tarp when I was coming in and out of it, so it definitely needs to be higher off the ground next time.
Rule number 12 of camping on the beach, SUNSCREEN. This should go without saying, but sunscreen is necessary on the beach. You will burn. But you can control how much you burn. I went through THREE things of sunscreen in 3 days. Bring extra. The best thing to do before applying sunscreen is to go hop in the shower first. Rubbing sunscreen into sand and salt sucks. Once you're already sunburned, it sucks more. Be sure to spend a little time in the early morning in the sun without sunscreen on, there are studies that Vitamin D is absorbed better without the sunscreen, so do it when the sun is still softer and not so harsh and but don't under estimate what being in the sun 18 hours a day will do to your body. Once you get a burn, the sun actually hurts so make sure you keep that sunscreen handy and use it frequently! I actually brought the rub in stuff and the spray stuff. I found that the rub in kind was great for getting a good layer all over right after taking a shower so I was relatively sand free. I think the rub in kind works better then the spray kind, but once the kids are covered in sand and you're trying to reapply, the spray kind is awfully handy. I also brought a hat and umbrella (which died in the wind but still covered my face and shoulders when watching the kids play). I also went through a bottle of Miracle Mist Plus. Once I started to burn, I started to spray myself frequently with the spray to relieve the pain and replenish my skin. I am greatful today that I was so deligent. I just spent three full days in the sun and managed to sleep through the night without the pain of the covers rubbing my skin keeping me awake.
Rule number 13 of camping on the beach, STAY OUT OF THE TENT. The tent is for sleeping and dressing only. As soon as a child was awake, they were stripped down and put into their swimsuit. We each had a sundress and Little man had a tshirt in the car that we could thrown on if needed. This way there was no reason to go into the tent during the day. Entrance into the tent was only done after sand free. Remember when I said I found a place close to the showers? This is rule number 13a. At the end of the day, everyone was showered. If you have a place near pay showers you can do a complete shower, if not, don't worry about getting agressive with your sand removal, everyone does it. After showers, we walked to the tent. I had the footbucket right next to the tent. If anyone stepped into the tent, they had to step into the bucket first and then onto a towel I left immediately on the inside of the tent. (Next time I am going to bring my welcome mat to put on the outside as well.) I brought three swimsuits and just changed into the dry one in the tent after my end of the day shower and slept in it. I changed kids in the car, then carried them to the foot bucket, dipped them in and handed them to my sister who dried their feet and put them to bed. This worked relatively well, until my sister decided to hang out with her new friends too late and crawled into the tent covered in sand! She swept it all out the next day, so I guess she made up for it, but waking up with sandy feet in my sunburned back was not pleasant.
Camping on the beach was amazing, yet at the same time, it made me appreciate showers and soft sand free beds even more! The highlight of my trip was when I folded up our tarp, the rope, the cool bungey ties, two large piles of firewood that I had bought and all of the stakes and supplies Hunter lent us (except for the rock he lent us, I found it when we got back home and was dissapointed that I robbed him of one of his most important tools) and tucked them under the bench at his and Cathy's home on the beach with a note thanking him for doing "God's work" as he humbly told us was all he did that night be stumbled upon us. As we headed to the pay showers I saw him read the thank you note I left him, and as we left town, we saw him piecing together the canopy frame he found and let us pull apart and using the 10X20 tarp I gave him was going to provide his lady and himself some well needed shade. Thank you Lord for Hunter.