You don’t know granola

Camping isn’t what it used to be. And that’s okay.

Backwoods Montana in the ’70s and ’80s.



M any of the friends that I made in my two decades living away from Montana thought I was extremely outdoorsy. I was even called a “granola” once while on a trip in Seattle, which I thought was a huge compliment. I also thought, “Oh, you don’t know ‘granola.’” My wee adventures and pre-packaged trail snacks didn’t compare to the real-deal adventurers I knew—and knew of—while growing up in the valley.

My family worked, played and lived in the woods. My parents didn’t intentionally get us outside. They had moved to Montana in 1969, had kids, and the rest was just runoff. When we camped as a family, we’d hop in the truck in search of the ultimate spot, somewhere down the logging roads my dad knew from being on the job.

He’d describe them as “good roads” with “a really great trail a few miles up.” My dad was never nervous, even with the knowledge that at any moment a logging truck could come barreling down at us. (I was always scared out of my wits on those roads. I still am. That part of Montana bravery skipped me somehow.) He would whistle and sing the entire time.

“A few miles up” would arrive an hour and a half later. The trailhead would turn out to be a tiny parting of the bushes on the side of the road and the “really great trail” was a total bushwhacking experience. We’d don our giant ’70s packs filled with canned goods, pancake mix, fishing poles, a cast iron pan, and bacon (basically the opposite of bear spray), and set out in song, the Olney von Trapps. And we had fun every time. The ultimate camp spot always delivered. When I jumped in the lake, my cuts and scrapes burned from the bushwhacking. I felt strong and capable. We didn’t have a state-of-the-art kid carrier or child-size backpacks. No kid-specific hiking shoes. And my mom most definitely never pushed a chariot!

“Yes, in my day we used to all jump in the back of the truck and head into the woods with a thermos, a loaf of bread and a 1-pound block of cheese. Now we have seatbelts and Thule chariots and kid-sized Clif bars.


On our one and only vacation to somewhere other than the woods or visiting extended family in Oregon, we drove to Disneyland. Naturally, we camped on the way, including a memorable night in an RV campground (me sleeping in our massive orange canvas tent my dad had rigged onto the side of our camper) situated in the middle of the freeway in Irvine, California.

I loved the exciting chaos of the city. My parents had different feelings about it. At the end of our trip, when we took a wrong turn on a one-way street, someone shouted, “Go back to Montana!”
To which my dad replied, “I’m trying!”

Now I’m most often on the other end of the camping spectrum. The first time my husband and I camped with our daughter was in a legitimate campground—with toilets and electric outlets and a paved road displaying signage—with her Pack ’n Play inside of our three-person tent. In the morning, we made our second cup of coffee with our travel pour-over. Our first cup came from our friend in an adjacent site who had a Keurig in her pop-up camper. I pushed aside the inner critic judging me for not camping in the middle of the forest, or making cowboy coffee, or fishing for our own food, or feeding my daughter a meal that had been roasted on a stick over a hard-earned fire. She was having exactly the same amount of kid fun in the outdoors as I had, and I got to keep the bear candy—our breakfast bacon—safely inside the cooler in the car, easing my skittish mind.

Even though my old-school pride smarts a bit sometimes as we follow the (paved) road of less resistance on our way to our next outing, I feel good that we are still up for the unknown and the adventure of it all. Yes, in my day we used to all jump in the back of the truck and head into the woods with a thermos, a loaf of bread and a 1-pound block of cheese. Now we have seatbelts and Thule chariots and kid-sized Clif bars. I know that I’m both of those people, and the contrast makes me laugh. I can handle the pour-over and the occasional brand-spanking-new gear as long as my daughter is raised with the love of the outdoors and knowing that the trail, however populated, is meant for singing songs and whistling. I love that there are so many ways to get kids outside, hopefully growing them into the next generation of adults who will do the same for themselves.



Photo by: Annette’s sister? Or maybe her mom.


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