As it turns out, Sleepy Creek Lake and Wildlife Management Area has become my new stomping grounds for camping, fishing, and probably hunting.
Three of the oldest children of my brood accompanied me on my second outing at the Wildlife Management Area (WMA). We took the opportunity to enjoy a night of camping, cooking, and military operations. Military Operations? What? Yeah. I’m that guy that is teaching his kids military maneuvers – just in case. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Of the entire Upper Campground, only one site was taken upon our arrival. Of course it was the site we wanted. We quickly adjusted our plans and took up residence at a vacant site on the other end of the campground. As far as I could tell, there were only two campers in the entire place. That always makes for a much more enjoyable adventure.
During the hour and four minute drive, I explained that in any given scenario, “security is the number one priority.” Every five to ten minutes I’d question the little ones “what’s number one?” At first they answered with an enthusiastic “security!” But as the trip continued, their responses became less and less excited.
As we arrived to camp, we all exited the old Ford and spread out to “clear the area.” They saw it all as a game but this wise old woodsman took it as an opportunity to instill some important life lessons. Even if they don’t “secure the area” with toy guns – or real ones when they’re older, they’ll hopefully recall that being aware of your surroundings and not walking into situations blindly are excellent lessons in situational awareness.
After we made sure that no one from “Crapistan” (I made up the name of the bad guys) were present, we busied ourselves splitting some kindling and starting a fire. I have to say, the Estwing Sportsman’s Axe is truly a joy to use. It made short work of my wood chopping activities. My oldest daughter recognized something that I didn’t expect. “Daddy, you’re really confident. All the time, but especially out here.” “Thank you baby. Out here is where I’m most comfortable.” I intentionally built the fire larger than normal. I needed coals quickly as they were an important part of my dinner plans for three “starving” children. With small wood for the fire, the amount of coals grew quickly. It didn’t take long until our “hobo dinners” found a nice warm place to rest and slowly cook to perfection.
As the dinners cooked, we returned to our maneuvers. We practiced walking in a staggered column, bounding overwatches, crossing roads and obstacles, and assaulting the old Ford. The little ones had a blast. I had a great time removing some of the rust from my tactical skills. And again, perhaps they’ll learn a few lessons – mainly that we always look out for each other and think before we act. After finishing up with our “army training” (I can’t even type that without thinking of Bill Murray), we came back to the campfire to check on the hobo dinners. Fortunately for a hungry woodsman and his brood, they were ready to fill our bellies. I used my Petzl headlamp while the three kids used their own lamps to check for doneness. The dinners looked perfect and we all had a hard time waiting for them to cool enough to eat. These turned out to be some of the best “classic hobo dinners” I’ve made. I had originally planned to do a post and video about how to make them but didn’t have time. Look for them in the near future as I’ll probably make them for my next trip in a few weeks. Here are the ingredients that I used. It’s not much, but if you’re familiar with making aluminum foil dinners, you’ll figure it out. Sirloin steak, red potatoes, sweet onions, baby carrots, butter and seasoned salt.
After dinner, we busied ourselves with sleeping bags, pajamas and brushing teeth. I gave all three little ones an option to stay up by the fire or go to bed. To my surprise, the two youngest opted for bed leaving me and my oldest daughter alone to enjoy the campfire.
When I think of the dawn of man, I can’t help but think that we started when we learned to use fire. Not because we learned to use it, but because it gave us the opportunity to sit by a fire and talk. I imagine those early peoples sitting comfortably around a fire and slowly developing the skill to make syllables and words with meaning as opposed to pointing and grunting. Since that first campfire discussion, mankind has found that there are fewer places better for talking than beside the warmth, comfort and joy of a campfire. My daughter, nor I are an exception to this philosophy. As the other two drifted away to sleep, my oldest daughter talked to me more and with more thought and intent than I’ve ever heard her talk. She told me about school, life, music, her aspirations and her fears. I can’t remember a better conversation with her.
Eventually all good things must come to an end. She grew tired so we opted to turn in for the night. I had realized earlier that I forgot to pack our air mattresses or even my sleeping pad (even on trips alone to the backcountry, I take the sleeping pad). When I was a young man, such conveniences were never considered. But as I laid awake listening to the wise old owl’s “who-whooooo, who-whoooooo,” I realized that my knees, hips, shoulders and vertebrae are no longer those of a young man. Gradually, I forgot about the aching and drifted off to sleep only to be awakened every little bit by the need to turn or adjust to relieve a new ache or pain. Damn. When did I get old?
At about 4 am, we were all awakened to a downpour. We were much more prepared this time than last. None of us were drenched and our tent remained mostly dry. I write mostly because somehow the bottom of my sleeping bag ended up wet leaving me with cold and wet feet for the last few hours of my sleep.
We broke camp the next morning much quicker than I imagined that a sore old guy and his three children would. As soon as everything was packed up, we spent some time driving around the WMA looking for potential hunting areas. With 23,000 acres of land and no knowledge of any of it, I’m finding it quite difficult to decide where I should start my “boots-on-the-ground” scouting.
All things considered, this proved to be a great outing and another reason why I’m slowly falling in love with Sleepy Creek WMA. Hopefully in the future, I’ll provide some quality posts about deer and squirrel hunting here. Even without the plans for hunting, I enjoyed this visit, all of the children had a great time, and we had a great time to do some father and child bonding. All is well.