In June, my family set out for our first camping experiment as a family of four. We went to PJ Hoffmaster, or HR Pufnstuf as I liked to call it, a campground on the Lake Michigan shoreline of southwestern Michigan. The campground looked significantly thinned out since our last visit just two years ago, due to the removal of trees that had been affected with oak wilt, emerald ash borer, Asian longhorn beetle, and beech bark disease.* Though even with the removals, PJ Hoffmaster had retained its overall beauty and family friendly atmosphere.
It’s kind of an ideal campground. Beauty, smiling faces, roomy sites, a beach within walking distance, and (let’s get down to brass tacks) clean hot showers and fully functioning flush toilets. It was a great place to try out our massive virgin REI six person tent.
The campsites are a short walk to the Lake Michigan shoreline on a path through a forest of beech, maple, and pine trees stretching skyward. The removal of those threatened trees on our site resulted in it being a bit more exposed than we would have liked. That is, if you like shade on 90 degree days. Here is a picture of the lone shade tree on our site. (Just ignore the other tree you see in the background…that is the forest a ways off- and the shade did not reach our site.)
At least once a day, we made our way to the beach by walking the ¼ mile path through the woods. Pushing my kids in the double stroller is a cinch on most surfaces, but on sand things can get tricky. Even with our moderately deluxe (the best that money can buy at Target) off-road stroller, when the gravel path started becoming less like gravel and more like beach, the wheels stopped moving. Now pushing the stroller became more like pushing a 90 pound rock through sand. I had to lean comically hard into it- my body at a 45 degree angle in order to get it to budge. I used my brute strength. My husband encouraged me. “Put your legs into it.” Because the alternative was carrying at least one child, the beach shelter, and the three bags of beach paraphernalia up a hill, down the dunes and to the beach.
What we really needed was a sled with all our stuff on it and some dogs to pull it. My once a week tennis game was not enough training to carry me through the physical challenge of getting our children and our stuff to the beach. We abandoned the stroller (after taking the children out, don’t worry) along with the other strollers and bikes on the side of the path.
Our three year old could walk the remaining 1/8 mile. Though it would take an hour to walk it because once the forest gave way completely to sky-high sand dunes, he would want to run up and down them twenty times. Especially the one with the big dead log with all the pointy deadly sticks jutting out of it. He also took off his shoes at the very top of the 50 foot dune and left them there (“You can get them, Mommy.”)
Our eight month old would have to be carried, though. He is a big boy- 25 lbs at his six month check up. While being carried, he doesn’t hold on or offer any assistance with his legs or arms. They just dangle no matter how many times you try and encourage him to wrap them around you. Justin says that carrying him is like carrying 25 pounds of water in a loose bag. It’s just not a tight operation and makes carrying anything else, in addition to him, more than cumbersome.
Lake Michigan was gorgeous – just clean and sort of a bluish-green that day. Looking across the water, we got to see one of my favorite sights: the absence of land on the horizon. This was the camping beach, so it wasn’t too crowded. Just mostly families scattered around near the shoreline and around a little inlet or pond of water that had formed just in front of the lake.
Our kids are easily identified on any beach because they are the ones wearing the most clothing. My three year old has no fear of water and is therefore required to wear a life jacket at all times. My eight month has a hat with a brim the size of a basketball hoop.
Swimming was totally refreshing and quite perfect, actually. When it was time to go back to the campsite, the sun was starting to set. It took us what seemed like hours to get back to our stroller but once we made it there, we could strap both kids in and walk leisurely back to our site, have a little grub, and get ready for bed.
I’m not gonna lie, some chaos ensued in trying to get the kids dressed and ready for bed. But, honestly, that’s not unusual even when we’re not camping. We stayed two nights at PJ Hoffmaster. First-time family of four camping……Success!!
*Recently, the emerald ash borer was found in Mirror Lake State Park which basically means it will be coming to Madison too. We will be saying goodbye to all of our ash trees just like every other area that has been infected with these critters.