New River Gorge with Kids

climbing in new river gorge bubba city

C climbing to her dad

New River Gorge Climbing Trip

We finally made our way back to the New River Gorge in West Virginia for a weekend of climbing.  It has been years (pre kids) since we had been to this area as it seemed to be a bit less kid friendly than other areas that we had been to.  Our app was showing predictions of snow on Friday night – and it wasn’t far off.  The drive took us eons, especially in the Appalachians with the travel trailer.  We finally arrived at the campsite ( at 1:30 in the morning.

We parked the travel trailer and worked on getting the heater working.  My son crawled into the full size bed under my down comforter, snuggling with my husband. . . Now, I’m not bitter or anything but it was a cold night sleeping under kid-sized blankets and snuggling with my daughter who doesn’t like to be under said blankets.

Bubba City, Sandstonia

For our first day at the New, we decided to try out Sandstonia in Bubba City.  The hike in was relatively moderate with a rocky trail on the descent for the kids.  It took us about a half hour to navigate the trail with both kids hiking in on their own steam.  The hike would have been significantly more of a challenge with a three year old, as the rocky nature of the descent made me wish they had their helmets on a few times and my four and a half year old had to go down a few of the more prominent boulders “bum first”.  The landing area and “play area” at the base of the routes was big enough for the kids to have room to play without being in the way.  There were a good number of moderate routes to warm up on and then we climbed a 10c called Kinestica that was a great fun route with a roof that required a high foot pressed out to send.


R climbing part of a 5.7 at Sandstonia

The kids wanted a turn to climb so we set up a top rope on a 5.7 slightly farther along the wall.  Both gave it a go before the weather started to turn cold for the day.  Given the hike out was uphill, (and it was the week before daylight savings) it was set to get dark around 5, so we opted to start our hike back out.

Bubba City, Beer Wall

On day two we opted to give Beer Wall a try. We had wanted to come back to the New with kids, but remembered this approach and counted it out until the kids were big enough to navigate the ladder and rope descents.  This approach is slightly shorter and less robust than Sandstonia except for the area near the final approach. . . There are two rope ladder sections and one real ladder area.  With one younger child and and two or more adults, it would be manageable but with two kids, my opinion is that they need to be able to navigate a ladder without difficulty.  It wasn’t nerve racking, but we gave each child a spot to make sure that they didn’t miss a step, dismount too far, and/or slide down the rope too quickly.

Once down to the climbing, the area was great for kids. . . with two major caveats.  Beer Wall gets pretty crowded on most weekends. This happened to be a slow weekend (probably the last of the season) and there weren’t many people out.  There is also a chimney area that has a great cave and play area  for older kid playing.  This is a hazard for younger kids as they can fit into cracks and crevices that adults can’t get into to “rescue” them. It also goes way back, which is a problem if your child doesn’t pay attention to any limits you set.  The cave is great fun, with that BIG warning. Also, there’s a bolted chimney above and if someone is climbing, that cave is definitely off limits to kids as it’s clearly in the landing zone below the climber.  The landing area for the rest of Beer Wall wasn’t terribly kid friendly or large, particularly given that it is usually more crowded. We enjoyed the climb, but were limited on time and once done with St. Pauli Girl (a 10c with a thin start and what they call a roof crux, but it seemed more like a crack crux than a roof, in my opinion) we hiked out.

Next trip to the New River Gorge

On our next trip to the new, we are thinking of trying out the Summersville Lake area.  We’ve been cautious of it thus far because of the obvious water hazard with kids.  Still, it seems like we are almost there with regard to being able to navigate the more challenging areas with the kids, and it may be worth a try.  We would love to try out the new AAC campground, but with the trailer, it’s not in the cards (no rv’s/trailers allowed).  We are also looking forward to taking the kids somewhere on the water, if we can find a more moderate area for kayaking.  All in all, warmer weather and/or spring time can’t come soon enough as there are lots of routes and areas for us to revisit now that the kids are able to navigate more difficult terrain.

warm and reading in the travel trailer

R reading in the travel trailer

The travel trailer was a huge win again, as the temperatures were such that it was not kid friendly (not in my opinion).  It was definitely below freezing out side, and warming up, even inside, was a challenge.  Dinner and dessert in the trailer was relaxing and cost effective, as we made fish tacos and ate ice cream. The filthy kids were a cleaning disaster and a warm shower was a wonderful feature.  Even morning was fun, with a heater in the trailer that allowed me to make coffee without freezing!  We would definitely not have been able to travel so late in the season without the travel trailer.  Alas, we’ve now winterized and it will be resting until spring.

Hiking in a Creek

water hikeHave you ever started out on a day hike with children only to have it turn into something completely different that what you planned?  Ha. Of course you have.

Many of our adventures start out as one thing (“I want to climb X route” or “sleep at X campground”. . . “I want to relax in a tube on the water”, or “I want to sleep in the sand”) and end up as something completely different (“The route had a group staked out on it for the day” or “I couldn’t find the campground in the dark”, “the tube had a hole”, or “it rained”).

With kids, the ability to adapt your planned adventure is a required skill.  Adaptability and flexibility are a key component to successful outdooring (yes, I’m using that as a word).

This past weekend,  I wanted to go for a hike at Tucquan Glen with the kids (a place we’ve hiked before).  While I planned for a hike, there was a part of me that remembered the kid’s excitement at the water.  The trail follows the water on either side of a creek that feeds into the Susquehanna River.  It’s a mile out and back, and the trail is both rocky and shaded.  The kids greatly enjoy the obstacles and the terrain.  I enjoy that we can turn around at any point, cross the creek when we want, and/or sit down for lunch with the beautiful (small) waterfalls as our scenery.

Day Hike Packing for Creek Wading

On this day, I brought water shoes for the kids (actually, C wore her Keen sandals, the water shoes were for R who outgrew his Keen’s).  We also packed lunch, snacks, lots of water, and water guns for playing in the creek.  Their attire included a bathing suit, though I brought dry alternatives.   While my plan was to hike to the river, I was prepared for some water fun.  We even brought the dog.

Day Pack Packing list

  • Water shoes
  • Bathing suit
  • Dry Clothes
  • Towels (pack towels recommended)
  • Picnic blanket (my one luxury)
  • Lunch Food
  • Water
  • Snack Food
  • Water Guns
  • Water bag for electronics
  • Life vest (not packed, but might be needed for future creek hikes)

tucquan glen water Hike Turns into Wade

As you might expect, things didn’t go as planned.  The kids took one look at the creek and switched into “water mode”.  Water shoes went on, shorts came off, and in they went.  The hike turned into a wade, with me dodging water gun shots and making sure kids didn’t lose their footing when they stumbled upon slick rock.

Since I was hiking around, I realized there were a few things I hadn’t considered.

Dangers of Creek Wading: Central PA Version

1.  Know depth of creek bed and strength of current

Obviously, wading in a creek with a strong current is dangerous.  This creek had a mild current, but keeping C in arm’s length was important, as she didn’t have on a life vest and any slip on wet rocks could be problematic.   The water was shallow, though did go up to my knees occasionally (and that’s her belly button height).  Knowing to look for the occasional deep spot was a requirement.

2. Have a plan for exiting the creek bed.

Another thing that I hadn’t considered (because I know the trail) but that I would certainly pay attention to for an unknown trail would be keeping an exit open and/or knowing how far up the sides of the creek bed the trail is.  Sometimes you can scramble up a bank, but knowing there the openings are and how to get back to a trail is a factor to consider if you are unfamiliar with the area. Tucquan has paths on both sides of the creek, and you can get up out of the creek bed at any time.

3.  Keep an eye out for Beaver Dams

Beavers can be dangerous, and they prefer creeks for building their habitat.  Beavers can be violent when threatened and are actually quite vicious in a fight.  Avoid confrontation, and walk away from both the Dam and the Beaver.  Beaver Dams are, in the long run (from what I read) beneficial to water quality but in the intermediate vicinity (drinking from a creek near a beaver dam) it can cause a few less than pleasant side effects including tularemia and giardia.  Since beavers defecate in the water, avoid drinking water near beaver dams.   More information from the experts here.

4.  Don’t drink the water

In addition to beaver dams, there are natural and human contaminants in the water that may or may not cause illness.  It’s safest to teach your kids not to drink the water, and instead pack it in for your day hike.  If you want to drink the water, make sure you are testing and/or purifying before making your decision.  Kids should be taught to follow this rule without fail, as creek waters are in danger of pollutants from farm run off, beaver dams, and other potential sources that could cause sickness.

5.  Animal Hazards

There are a few venomous snakes that can be found in PA Creeks, the copperhead being the most common in Central PA.  Check out which snakes are venomous in your area.  The PA Herps site is a great resource for PA, and you can search for those spotted by county.  Outside of Pennsylvania, you have your own set of creek dangers. . . Feel free to add them in the comments at the bottom of the page, and I’ll provide more information here.

tucquan glen kidsOur hike turned into a wade, with the kids walking, splashing, and laughing.  It was a great modification to our planned hike.  We only went a quarter of our planned distance (wading takes longer than hiking), and we loved every second!



Stand Up Paddleboarding


First attempt at paddleboarding in the inlet

The best rock climbing areas tend to be located in or near wilderness, national parks, mountains, and forests.  There are exceptions, of course!  Still, when we took a family trip to the jersey shore this summer, there was no rock to be found.  As usual, my husband and I sought out something both “active” and “family friendly” to try with the kids.

Surfing, Kite Surfing, Kayaking

Ryan has wanted to try surfing for years, but that’s a solo endeavor, as the kids aren’t quite “surf” ready (they still like their boogie boards), and I’m not a huge fan of swimming.

Years ago, we tried kite surfing as a non climbing beach option.  Again, too much of a solo excursion, and a bit of a high level of entry to figure out the kite-surfing-wind scenario.

Kayaking has always been a good back up, but we never really  loved it (we’ve done a bit of rowing, as well).  The kids can join but there isn’t much excitement to go with it unless you have rapids and/or want to go in the surf.

So this year, we found the one that clicked (for me, anyway):  Stand Up Paddleboarding.

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP)

Stand up paddleboards can be rented at most kayak and surfboard rental locations. They are extremely popular for yoga, and seem to be a Hawaiian trend that has (as most things do) headed to the East Coast.  Paddleboarding is great for lakes, bays, and other less dynamic bodies of water.  It is also something that you can stay relatively dry doing, should you stay in the calmer waters.  Hot weather is not a mandatory component, though life jackets probably should be (especially if you aren’t staying close to shore).

Here are some tips from the experts (see which ones I’m breaking above, as I’m sure there were a lot!).

Here’s a video with some how to tips (wish I had read this before we went out!)

And another video (don’t watch the whole thing, it’s quite long!) about Yoga on a SUP. . . Who knew!?  I’m quite excited at the prospect of having something like this to do as I look for low impact physical things to do when climbing is not an option.

I love that paddle boarding isn’t just for adults.  The kids can go on the board with me for now. As they get older and/or show interest, they can get their own board and ride or race it, as well.  For more from moms that paddleboard with their families, check out the great posts below:



The Mount Rushmore Dilemma

Mount Rushmore Junior Rangers

Mt. Rushmore Junior Rangers

Visiting Mount Rushmore with Kids

Our summer trip to Wyoming and South Dakota was amazing.  We combined climbing with family time, history, geography, science and more.  When we planned the trip, climbing was the main focus, but hitting some of the National Parks and National Monuments were also a must.  Mount Rushmore is one of those locations that combines both.  There are amazing climbing opportunities in the shadow of the National Monument.  There are also a number of tourist destinations to explore with the kids including the Mt. Rushmore Alpine Slide, gold mines, zip lines, and more.  We opted for the following itinerary:

Day 1. Climb at Rushmore

Day 2. Climb at Rushmore

Day 3. Visit Mt. Rushmore and Alpine Slide

Day 4. Alpine Slide, climb, explore the Needles

Day 5. Day trip to Spearfish for Climbing

On our off days from climbing, we visited Mt. Rushmore. The kids enjoyed the family time and their experience with the Junior Ranger program.  It’s an amazing program that is offered at many National Parks and National Monuments.  I love that the kids can learn about why the monument was built and how it came about, the fact that some people were (are) against the monument etc.  Still, it’s a bit like teaching them the edited version of the Civil War, Thanksgiving, the discovery of America by Columbus. . . there’s a room full of bias and an major bit of fact “clean up” so that kids get some of the details without the ugly pieces that are difficult to explain and comprehend at a young age.

Moonstone Mount Rushmore

Small figure summiting the top of Moonstone in Mount Rushmore.

The Problem with Mount Rushmore

So here we come to the rub about Mt. Rushmore.  I believe that Mt. Rushmore is an amazing feat of artistry/skill to accomplish.  That being said, I also think that it is extremely sad that they ruined a bunch of perfectly good rocks (that I would have loved to have climbed) in order to do so.  And that doesn’t even begin to hit on the issues with the Black Hills, Native Americans, and the ownership of the land, not to mention broken treaties and/or the state of poverty on reservations that are only 70 miles from Mt. Rushmore.

I want to teach my kids that just because some people find nothing wrong with the monument, not everyone agrees.  I want to share with them that the important thing is the land, nature, the trees and the rocks. . . the preservation of a beautiful area that we’ll want to share with their kids some day.  Instead, we took pictures in front of the monument, found out who the artist was, identified the great men whose likeness is on the face, and then took off to ride the alpine slide.

I look at that moment as a missed opportunity, where I only briefly touched on the sadness I feel that the rock was damaged to make the sculpture.

My kids are 4 and 6.  I am committed that the next time we come west to explore, we will stop at a reservation or visit a Native American supported historic site.  I want them to learn about both sides of our history.  In the end, it is important for me to share our whole history so that they can understand the importance of valuing nature, and the land – not just the pretty version.

Let me be clear, I greatly support the national park system, national forests, and national monuments as a whole. I even understand that this may have been a wonderful economic boon to an area that otherwise would be void of much tourist industry. The complexities are endless and beyond my comprehension, let alone that of a 4 or 6 year old.

I thought that they were too young to understand the Massacre at Wounded Knee (or Battle at Wounded Knee as it is sometimes called), so we didn’t visit there.  Perhaps in another few years we can go to that haunting land and discuss the history of the US with the ugly parts front and center. . .

For now, I guess I’ll let my kids admire the faces of our leaders carved into rock without the tainted history that goes along with it.


Wild Iris Wyoming Climbing, Trip Report

Wild Iris As you know from previous posts, we purchased an RV for our summer travels.  In mid June, we took that show on the road for a two week trip across country, from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. The trip took around 48 hours, with one overnight rest, and a brief stint in Cheyenne with a flat tire.  Our original goal was to stop at the Sierra Trading Post store, but by the time our flat tire issues were resolved, the store was unfortunately closed.

Wild Iris vs. Tensleep or Sinks Canyon

In our trip planning process, we spoke with friends who have climbed in Wyoming extensively.  Their advice for a kid friendly sport climbing area was to start at Wild Iris.  Other (somewhat close) crags include Sinks Canyon and Tensleep – both of which have exceptional climbing options, but both have a harder approach.  In addition, Sinks Canyon is known to be less of a summertime destination, with hotter temps and a higher likelihood of rattlesnakes so we started with Wild Iris and decided that we would try Sinks if we had time.  Turned out that Wild Iris kept us quite busy!

We camped at Twin Pines Campground, a nice family run campground a few miles south of Lander, Wyoming.  Twin Pines wasn’t a climber’s hang out (though they did have tent and rv options), but they had great bathroom facilities (with lots of hot water) and it was the closest campground (that we knew of) to the Wild Iris climbing.  Wild Iris itself had rustic camping options (and an outdoor/open pit toilet) with no running water. The campsites at Wild Iris were extremely nice for those interested in the more rustic and cliff side camping option.  Wild Iris has a few options for climbing walls/areas.  For the most recent list of climbs, access, and area information, we used the Lander Wyoming climbing guide, Lander Rock Climbs.  If you are looking for the Lander climber hang out, look no further than the Lander Bar/Gannett Grill – a local bar/grill with relaxing outdoor seating and some great home brews from the Lander Brewing Company.

OK Corral at Wild Iris

We started with the most accessible part of the Wild Iris crags – the OK Corral area.  The OK Corral is a short walk from the truck and offered a large number of moderate climbs in a dense area.  The approach was a short hike and the base of the climbs were mostly child friendly (though toddlers would likely need some off belay supervision given the uneven rock and the potential for a short roll down the somewhat uneven terrain).  Our kids were excited to find makeshift shelters for playing, and after a quick stability check and snake check they were free to hang out inside the makeshift shelters that were found within every cluster of routes.  

Our day one adventures introduced us to the vertical limestone walls of Wild Iris at the Blooming Rose Wall. We warmed up on a “eh” 5.9 called “Iron Horse with a twisted heart” and then went up a nice 10b called “Stacked Deck”.  The climbs had some great lines and nice solid holds, though it took some getting used to the limestone as it was a bit less textured and a bit more polished than we were used to.  We set up a toprope for the kids inside of a crack, (“Phat Phinger Phrenzy”) but the odd stemming left our four year old struggling to reach, so she didn’t make it too far up.

After a packed lunch, and a small detour while we helped search for a missing 11 year old (she was located after a few hours, so all’s well) – we hopped on Red Rider – a super classic 5.10a.   Big holds whenever you wanted made the climb a fun one, up an arete and with pretty vertical climbing.

On day two, we hit OK Corral again, this time for a run up “Claim Jumper” (10c three star)after the 5.9 warm up on the arete to the right (“Annie Get your drill”.  Claim Jumper had a lieback flake that Ryan made quick work of, but I couldn’t get the hang of pushing off the wall to the right, and leaning left. By this time the kids had had enough of the climbing, forts, and playing outdoor imaginary games – and the windy weather was a bit much for us all so we headed back to home base.

NOTE: the Wild Iris area tends to be a good 5-10 degrees cooler than Lander.  Bring extra clothes because the temperature varies greatly based on the wind.

Wild Iris for kids

There wasn’t much in the under 5.8 range for kids to climb on, and given that ours are 4 and 6, that limited their options for getting on the wall at Ok Corral.  The forts, though, made the area an exciting adventure.  The short approaches made it accessible, and the shade gave them relief on the sunnier days.  While rattlesnakes are reported to be seen in the area, we didn’t see any, though we did see a deer or caribou on our hike one day.

All in all, OK Corral would work for kids of all ages, though some landing areas would require more supervision than others.  I’d say that 3 plus would have no problems, as long as you do a snake check first and they aren’t prone to wandering off.





Sad News, 12 year old Tito Traversa

Supertopo blogIn tragic news, 12 year old climbing prodigy Tito Traversa has died while climbing.

There will be many reports and Monday morning quarterbacks discussing the tragedy, and placing blame.

This is not one of those posts.   You can read more about the accident and the cause here.  I’m glad to see that the climbing community is coming together to recognize and mourn this young boy rather than place blame and/or point fingers.  (Read the comments).  It says something that we value his life and don’t want to add more burden to his family with “I told you so’s” and “should haves.”

Instead, I just want to take a moment to say that we all have those times that we didn’t check gear/place gear/check knots etc.  Most of us don’t fall to our deaths and have another chance to remind ourselves that people count on us, love us, want us to be safe.   We all need to be more careful, more aware, and more cognizant of what we are doing, and what we are asking or allowing our children to do.

If I have had moments of inattention (at 36), then I can darn well be certain that had I been climbing at age 12, I too might have climbed that gear without checking.  We can all be more diligent about checking one another, each and every time we go out.

I just purchased climbing helmets for my two little crag monkeys for our recent climbing trip to Wyoming.  Should they be wearing them at all times?  Probably.  Did they?  No.  It was hot. We forgot.  And so forth.

Hindsight is all knowing.

What will you do on your next climbing trip to make yourself, your partner, and your family safer?  I’m going out to buy another rope.  Our current rope would probably last for another climbing trip, but we also know a new rope will not show the signs of wear that appear on our current rope.   I might have chanced it.  And you all could have Monday morning quarterbacked my fall.

Instead, I will think of Tito and his family as I use this tragedy as a reminder to be more aware.


Measuring Success as a Parent

winning is not successBeing a success

How do we measure success? Well first, “what role you are measuring?”

  •  Your role as a parent?
  • As a climber?  
  • Success in career?
  • Success in relationships?  

All of those should have different measurements for success, right?

Standard measures of success

Some would argue that as a climber, you measure success by  how hard you climb.  Or what routes you’ve sent.  As a runner, what races have you won, or what is your personal best?  In your career, the measurement is more commonly salary or title.  With romantic relationships and children, our measurements get a bit more complex.  Is your kid the smartest? Best behaved? Well liked?  Is your spouse faithful, hardworking, a good parent?

If these are the things by which success is measured and judged in our society, why is it that we strive so hard to be successful when what we really want is to be happy? Why not measure success by happiness? In your role as a parent, are your kids happy? Are you happy? In your role as a spouse, is your partner happy? Are you?  In your job or career. . .Are you, your coworkers, and your customers happy? Do you feel good about what you do or do you enjoy the work?  And finally, in your role as a climber, does that route you just climbed make you happy?

We put so much stress on being the best (and I am a huge culprit of that with my strident competitiveness and Ivy League education) but we do not  consider the toll that being the best takes on our happiness.  Some say that if you do what you love, what makes you happy, you will find financial success – that you are good at those things that you enjoy, therefore financial rewards and public accolades follow.  

A new measurement of success

As a parent, doing what you love with your kids must be better than all of the scheduled games, practices, classes and events.  Unless you and your child love those things, and are happy with their scheduled evenings/weekends.  What makes one child happy is completely different than another. So why do we insist on conforming to the group and miserably trying to make our child like everyone else’s?

happy kid

There have been a number of recent articles dissecting the perfect mom,  the stressed parent, criticizing the mom on the phone. . . talking about the end of school blues and the struggles to get through the year.  The articles (or rants, as they are sometimes called) and the “counter- rants” that inevitably crop up, still don’t address why we are so judgmental as parents. . . and why we always feel so judged by others.  It’s because we are being groomed to think that there is only one right way.  Conform or fail.

We judge the home schooler or the over scheduled kid (look, I did it above), or the tiger mom, or the slacker.  But what if that is what works for them and their kid?  Similarly, we judge the sexually free woman or we judge the virginal one. . . why does it matter? Let it be what it is – if it makes them happy.

(ASIDE) Notice, I have done my best above to go with the generic “parent” instead of “mom”.  Each article so far contextualizes the parenting role as solely the stress and strain on the mother. . . while mommy guilt abounds, I would argue that each of the articles linked above continues the preconceived stereotype that moms are responsible for, well, everything.  The truth is that we have the power, as moms and as individuals (men, too!) to stop the cycle of self inflicted mommy guilt and just focus on not buying into the societal pressures of being successful as defined by others.

As a parent, stop judging success by the standards that others have given you and set your own.  I’m not saying to get rid of all ambitions, just pointing out that all goals and measurements are not created equal.   I’m not advocating complacency or mediocrity, just a perspective shift that says if your goals aren’t making you happy, SET NEW GOALS.

And, please please please, stop judging others that don’t have the same goals.

Measure Success Differently.

Be Happy.




Renting vs Buying an RV or Travel Trailer

travel trailerWe threw around a few ideas for the summer – one of which was a trip to Europe for an extended summer vacation.  In the end, we decided to hold off on that until the kids are older and investigate more of the US before branching out with our 6 and 4 year olds.

We had previously traveled with the kids (when they were 3 and 18 months) in California, with a travel RV.  The RV was a fabulous experience for the whole family.  California trip report here. Since that was such a success, we evaluated the cost of doing it again and calculated what would make the most sense.

Renting an RV

Renting an RV with kids is great option.  Eating out when traveling is always a bit of a struggle.  I’ve previously written about the choice between camping vs. a hotel with kids.  The RV option (travel trailer, RV, pop up etc) provides a mix of both worlds.

  • A cushy mattress
  • Heat
  • Air conditioning
  • Plumbing, running water, heated shower, toilets.
  • Food/kitchen/cooking (no restaurants needed)
  • Portable, close to the crag
  • Toilets.
  • Did I say toilets?

With the cost of a rental which ends up being around $750 to $1000 or more a week (depending on location, size, reservation company, length of trip), we determined that purchasing a used travel trailer was a better economic option.

Purchasing an RV or travel trailer

First things first when purchasing an RV or travel trailer.  There are a few vital pieces of information that you should start with.

  1. What is your budget
  2. How many people do you want to sleep?
  3. What can you tow, if anything?

These things will help you determine if an RV (a motorized recreational vehicle) is required and/or even an option.  For us, we own a F250 diesel pick up with massive towing capabilities.  So our options were limitless with a travel trailer.  We also didn’t want to pay insurance and maintenance on a separate vehicle (include those costs in your analysis, as a motorized RV will require registration, insurance, maintenance etc.)  While the convenience of an RV can’t be beat, the costs and ongoing commitment of funds and time were a bit prohibitive for us.

Towing Capacity

Towing capacity is your next “deal breaker” limitation.  If you own a minivan or an SUV, you have some options that include lightweight travel trailers and pop up trailers.  These can be towed by a smaller vehicle but you’ll want to pay close attention to weight.  The new lightweight travel trailers are full size hybrids (a little low in the ceiling space) that offer everything a full sized trailer does.  Since they are lighter, they are also a newer line and will limit your options a bit with regard to “used” vs “new” and pricing.  (Expect to pay more for those features).  If your budget doesn’t allow for much, you’ll want to consider a pop up trailer instead (if you can’t tow anything big).  These pop ups have burners/cook tops, toilets, showers (some), and beds, but you sacrifice privacy (there are no doors for those using the potty). You can find these in luxury or budget price points, so these will give you the broadest selection, but within a low tow capacity.

For those that have a larger towing capacity (read, you already own a pickup), a full sized trailer can be found in pretty much any price point and size.

What factors to consider in purchasing a travel trailer

A few things that will change what you are paying:

  • Age – the older the vehicle (in general) the less you pay
  • Size – the bigger the vehicle, the more you pay, but you can certainly find large trailers in the lower price points, you’ll sacrifice things like age and condition, though.
  • Layout & Features – some layouts include more privacy, more sleep capacity, better “flow”. Features can include upgrades like solid surface countertops, oven (or microwave), audio features (tv, radio, satellite speakers,) and more.
  • Condition – this is the most significant factor and the one that you’ll sacrifice when you have a specific price in mind and the other factors are not “variable”.  i.e. if you want a specific layout, sleep capacity, or year.  Deal breaker and/or budget makers are things like a “soft floor” where water has leaked and made the floor rotten/soft – that will need to be replaced in most cases.  Another deal breaker/budget maker is a leaky roof.  Those are “fixable” but usually cause damage in the interim.  Also, remember to check the awning if there is one, (expensive to replace) and the plumbing/gas lines as well.  Make sure that someone has “tested the lines” (in a private deal, you’ll want to have a professional look it over, in a dealer sale, that is something they typically include). Check the frame to determine if it is bent and/or has seen damage, as well.

photo(8)One other factor is brand. You will note (as you begin shopping) that anything in the Airstream line is more expensive.  I’m sure that there are other brands that similarly impact price, but it isn’t quite as obvious as Airstream.  That puts you in a $10,000 range (generally) just because of the brand.

Travel trailers, like cars, have a standard value book.

You can do your research here.

photo(10)Ultimately, we ended up purchasing a 2003 22 foot Thor Chateau travel trailer.  The interior height was a bonus as my husband can stand tall inside, but we did sacrifice a bit in layout in order to get something in “like new” condition.  The kids would have liked bunk beds and we would have loved a bit more space around the “master” bedroom but all in all, the price point, size, and condition were our sticking points and we weren’t willing to wait in hopes of finding a similar trailer with exactly the sleep layout we wanted.

The kids are in love with our purchase and I’ve had them cleaning it out already.  Seems like they think it is “their home” instead of ours, and they are taking a lot of ownership for keeping it clean and organized.  I look forward to their efforts as we start to plan our upcoming weekend and summer trips!





Camping With Kids at Assateague

Horses on Assateague IslandThis past weekend was a first for our family.

So. . . we took a non climbing camping trip!  It was a weekend camping trip only a few hours from home and I am happy to say that the trip was a huge success.

Assateague Island State Park Camping

We drove 4 hours to the Maryland State Park on Assateague Island.  Assateague is known for both a state park and national park (Assateague National Park) hosting hundreds of wild horses, beachfront camping, and unparalleled undeveloped East Coast Seashore wilderness.

Camping is available at both the Maryland State Park and the National Park. Reservations are recommended (and hard to come by for peak season which is from May until September).  The State park campgrounds have a bit more on the amenities including hot water showers, clean bathrooms, and running water toilets.  The NPS facilities are more rustic and sufficient for those that aren’t picky about running water and indoor warm water showers.

Beachfront Camping on the East Coast

Beachfront camping on the East Coast is hard to come by.  When camping at Assateague, our site happened to be right up against the dunes, and only a quick walk over the dune path to get to the beach.  The National park also boasts ocean front campsites but you will want to look at the campsite map to find the appropriate site.  Bayside campsites are, as you would image “Bayside” rather than ocean front.

We lucked out with the weather – 70’s during the day and sunny. Evenings were a bit cooler with heavy jackets and a warm fire being needed for comfort.  Temps were probably in the 40’s at night.

At this time of the year, the camping was lovely with limited bugs and no humidity – my understanding is that the heat can get oppressive and the Assateague mosquitos and flies are quite aggressive and non responsive to bug spray.  As things heat up, the bugs become an issue.  With regard to sea gulls and other wild animals, we had limited interaction.  We did see some deer in addition to the wild horses.  Bird watchers will likely see a large variety of sea and East Coast birds.

A quick warning: Where we stayed, the water had a particularly rough shore break as the ground changes depth quickly and the waves break hard and shallow in the water.  While I’m sure that the summers account for this and folks are aware for swimming purposes, if you have difficulty swimming or young children, you will want to take particular care with the shore break.

Beach Front CampingNational Park Camping, Assateague Permits and More

Assateague State Park and National Park border one another and you can walk from State to National without much effort.  Not sure how they patrol the state to national beaches, but I’m sure they must during the summer at there is a National Park Pass required to go onto National Park land.  The pass is valid for both Assateague and Chincoteague Island – Chincoteague is the Virgina side of the island and is host to only commercial campgrounds, though there are more summer housing rentals on that side of the island.  For $15, you can have a day pass, or $30 gets you the annual.

You can stop at the visitor center before you get over the Verrazzano Bridge.  We didn’t stop there but we did hear that there was a nature center with a number of hands on displays for the kids.  Pets are allowed in certain campsites and locations in both the state and national park but, as with all National Parks, they must be on a leash.

Firewood can not be brought from out of state, but is available within the county and can be purchased on your drive in – there are a number of stores that have it for sale and we recommend purchasing outside of the park as what we bought within the park was a bit greener than what we used from outside of the park (within the county).

Over Sand Vehicle DrivingDriving on the Beach

Assateague has miles of sand open for driving with an Over Sand Vehicle Permit.  The permits vary in price based on usage but we bought an annual pass for $90 to drive further down the beach.  Additional campsites are available in the backcountry that you can hike and/or drive to using your OSV permit.

The OSV permit has some caveats that you should be aware of.

1.  Only 145 vehicles are allowed in the NPS OSV area at one time.  That number fills up quickly during the summer and the limit was 3/4 full on our trip in April by the end of the day – I would imagine it is a difficult task to get in within the limit during the summer months.

2.  Requirements include a specific type of shovel, piece of wood or steel, tow straps, and tire pressure gauge as you must lower tire pressure to 15 and have the tools to get pulled out of sand should you get stuck.

For more info on the OSV, visit the NPS Assateague information page.

Going on a pony huntFinding the Assateague Horses

Finding the horses is a complete luck fest. . . They can be walking on the road, on the beach, in the campsite area, or in the parking lot.  . . Or you can go through the trails stumbling over pile after pile of warm horse manure with no horse in sight for hours.  It’s just hit or miss, but you are bound to see a few.  We made an adventure of following the horse trails through the woods a bit only to realize that we were probably making too much noise to surprise anyone.  It was a fun time, and the kids certainly enjoyed checking the horse scat to see how fresh it was an how “hot on the trail” we were.

So are the horses at Assateague horses, or ponies?  Well, you’ll see signs for both across the island.  We spoke with a local who said that they are ponies because of their size. . . they aren’t over a certain number of “hands” so they are considered ponies not horses.  So there you go.

The running of the horses occurs during the month of July when the horses swim from the mainland back to the island.  It’s likely not to be missed, but since we don’t do crowds, we opted to visit in a less popular month.


Things to do at Assateague Park

1. Watch the sunrise from your campsite

2. Hike along the beach and look for shells and horses.

3. Drive on the beach.  Stop for a picnic. Go on a pony hunt.

4.  Kayak or Canoe around the bay

5. Bring a paddle board (not sure if they had rentals)

6. Dig in the sand. Build Sand Castles

7. Visit the Nature Center

8. Hike on one of three nature trails; dunes, forest or marsh.

9.  Bike around the park with the kids.

bike ride on assateague islandBetween marshmallow roasting, hot dogs for dinner, digging holes in the sand, driving on the beach, going on a pony hunt, picnics, walks, and bike rides, we managed to fit a lot of activity into a short weekend – even if we didn’t go climbing even once!


Talking to your kids about the Boston Bombings

Condolences to Boston

First of all, let me convey my condolences to the victims of the Boston attacks and their families.  Marathoners specifically, and runners in general, are a hardly lot – they are strong and will surely get through this. Similarly, Bostonians are a particularly rugged bunch. . . they too will recover with a giant shrugging of their shoulders as they bear this burden and carry on.

Explaining Terror Attacks to Children

Well, we’ve gotten really good at this.  Figuring out how to convey the important information to our children so that they are aware of current events and how they may be impacted without making them fearful of school and/or going to public events.  We talked about this when Sandy Hook happened. And during the shootings in Aurora.  The techniques were used on us during Oklahoma City, and we may even have heard them during 9/11.

Here are some of the best articles, summaries, and quotes about explaining tragedy and terror to your kids.

There’s the religious approach for those that like to include God in their explanations.

The visual approach for those that prefer images and charts.

The lying approach for parents that want to believe that they can make everything safe and okay.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers.Look for the helpers

1.  I’ve found that minimizing tv time is helpful.  Depending on the age, young children barely get the difference between “real” and “make believe”, “live” and “recorded”.  Television merely creates more questions and confusion as they try to figure out whether or not the blood is real, if the people are actors, and if it happened today or ten years past.

2.  Tell the truth.  I never advocate lying to children.  You are a grown up.  .. learn to turn a phrase a bit so that you aren’t lying but aren’t giving them so much information that they can’t feel safe.  “A sick and/or troubled person made a terrible decision and hurt some people” can be just as effective as words that demonize, that terrorize, and that inflict a constant fear in your child for going to school, out on the street, or to the movies (depending on the event/location).


3. Talk about the good.  As Fred Rogers said, “look for the helpers”.  Do what you can.  Give blood.  Or supplies.  Or just a listening ear to those that need to talk.  Check on your family and friends.  Go for a run.  Be grateful. Thankful.  Live.