An Illustrative Family Reunion Camping Trip, by MacHam

Editor’s Introductory Note: The following article illustrates the difficulties of what I often label “group dynamics.” Anyone who plans to operate a post-Schumer retreat with more than just two families should pay close attention! – JWR

I have just returned from a four-day family reunion and here are my observations. To set the stage I arranged for a four-day family reunion with several families of men, women and children. The time was end of July and into August 2022. The place was a much coveted remote Forest Service Group Site that could hold up to 200 people. The site was at about the 5,000 foot elevation and right next to a lovely salmon-bearing stream. The campground still had patches of snow that had yet to melt. It was about 250 feet wide and 500 feet long, and was level with over a dozen picnic tables and fire pits with three large vault toilets. The ability to book this site was over 15 months in the making because of the competition and was booked and paid for by myself for only $220 for all four days. To me, that is an incredible bargain.

I was excited to nail down this site with the days that I had wanted and to gather the families in a post-Covid world to see how everyone was. I had never been camping with most of my extended family so I had no idea of the skill level or lack thereof. We hear the constant drumbeat in the survival community of building community is more important than the air we breathe, so build community with family. Right? Well, here is my story.

I invited several families to join us in the mountains on this date. I sent via Facebook and Email the particulars of this site with the dates and times and travel directions. I had said that the Forest Service does allow pets but please leave your pets at home so there would not be any conflicts. I had warned in the messaging that this is a remote site with no cell service, no water, and no flush toilets and the temperatures could range from 90 degrees midday to 40 degrees at night. I explained, as camp host. I would provide three breakfast meals, on three mornings and the remaining meals were up to them. Also, hot water would be available for tea or ramen-type meals the entire day.

Because of the fire danger they only allowed one main campfire and no other firepits could be used so plan on bringing some firewood to add to the main campfire. I will confess to being an over-planner and a clean freak so I mentioned that only the four people preparing meals would be allowed into the two 10′-0 x10′-0 pop-up tents with the fresh water and the food and the pair two-burner Camp Chef stoves. This was for sanitation and food safety. I ran twine around these two pop-up tents and the kitchen had but one entrance to keep the non-cooks out.

My spouse and I arrived at 11:AM on the first day and did some minor cleanup of the entire camp so we knew what the site looked like before others arrived. We even went into the vault toilets and added toilet paper and pump hand sanitizers. The heat was exhausting and we were the first to arrive. We got the kitchen area set up and by 1:00 PM  the other campers soon arrived. I had bought 96 gallons of fresh water from home in 6-gallon jerry jugs and I had asked my relation to fill his reserve fresh water tank in his RV and that would provide nearly 200 gallons to cook and clean with. There is a gate to get in and the Forest Service provided us with the punch code which I provided to the other family members. By 8:00 PM the last of the campers had arrived and we were at about 50 people. They ranged in age from 81 (with dementia) to a 4-month-old infant.

This is the Honeymoon period of any campout, when spirits are high and all their needs are met.

Who Let The Dogs Out?

This came as a shock, even though I had asked for people to leave their beloved pets at home. Suddenly there were seven different dogs of different breeds roaming around. One was a pit bull and two were dachshunds and the others were mixed breeds. I myself have an elderly German Shepard that I left in the care of a kindly neighbor so as not to impose my pet on others. I asked the pet owners to leash their dogs in their camp area and not to let them roam free and cause conflict. That advice was promptly ignored and the site became a huge off-leash dog park.

I had an inkling that this was going to be a 96-hour ordeal and I was not wrong. By the next morning, the Honeymoon period had passed and people began to wake up in the wild. My spouse and I plus two other cooks had been up since 5 AM starting to get the breakfast ready, for a 7:30 AM feed. On the menu this morning was scrambled eggs, cowboy potatoes (fried potato slices covered with diced bacon and shredded cheese.)  knew some would have done some serious drinking the night before. My only request was not to drink in front of the children and do it in your own camp area. I did have on hand a 20-cup percolator camp coffee pot. I made the coffee extra strong because people will bring their addictions.

At our first breakfast together a teenage family member announced that she was vegan and what we were serving was barbaric. I thought she was joking, then she said her breakfast order would be a single slice of gluten-free wheat bread toasted with organic honey and she would eat an egg only if it was sunny side up with pepper. I said that is not going to happen. She left in a huff with only a cup of black coffee. The mornings in the mountains are quite cold in the low 40s. I had a relation in her 60s complaining that she was cold and was constantly trying to get the campfire going to warm herself. I told her we had a limited amount of firewood. Seeing that only myself and two other families had brought any wood for the evening fire. We now had the first 24 hours of this family reunion done and the rest of the day was uneventful as folks rested and got caught up with each other lives.

The following morning at 6 AM we noticed more campers milling around the main campfire waiting for breakfast. I asked for volunteers to peel potatoes for more cowboy potatoes to spur breakfast along ( No one volunteered.) This was following by a stack of buttermilk pancakes and scrambled eggs per usual. The breakfast and coffee went well, but I was angered when young relation in his late twenty’s reached his unwashed hand into the scrambled eggs ready to be served — to feed his beloved Dachshunds. I chided him on how unsanitary that was and that food will now have to be reheated before its fit to serve. I simply could not throw out nearly 6 dozen eggs. He complained to me that his dogs were out of dog food and were hungry.

We were now 72 hours into this ordeal and when we awoke at 5 AM nearly all the campers were milling around in the pre-dawn dark awaiting breakfast. It had dawned on me that they had brought chips and snacks and those were long gone. As for water, I noticed that the water was nearly gone. A pair of 9-year-olds had brushed their teeth in the kitchen area and left the main tank spigot on. We were down to seven gallons of fresh water. I did not want to spend hours boiling the water from the creek.

Part of leadership is keeping your temper. This was a struggle for me. We did serve a very hearty breakfast and made additional pancakes to supplement the meals they were missing.

That evening fire was very small, thanks to the relation that was cold in the mornings the wood was all gone so they resorted to burning twigs and sticks where they could find them.

The final day of departure was here and for me it could not come soon enough. Our lovely camp became a version of The Lord Of the Flies. And speaking of flies those seven dogs had pooped everywhere including in the kitchen area. Sanitation was gone. Because we had to make the other two breakfast so large and so much food was pilfered to feed the dogs our final breakfast together was sparse. I did bring two # 10 cans of chili that supplemented the breakfast to make it last.

Personal grooming of the campers was gone, and manners wore thin. The campers were eager to leave right after breakfast. I asked to inspect their camp area to make sure it was as clean as they got it. The first group left at 8 AM and left a clean camp. The second and third also left a clean camp. The fourth group with the dachshunds was a mess and as they tried to leave I stood in front of the car and said: “Clean this up before you go.” He bitterly complained that it was this way when he found it and I called him a liar. He did pick up a full bag of garbage and handed it to me and I promptly threw it in his backseat. He sped away.

Well, the moral of this story is people will be people and you must deal with that. Leadership is a skill that is difficult to learn. Next time someone berates you for not putting “COMMUNITY” above all else be very careful who joins your community. In my case, within 100 hours we were a failed community. Experience is a brutal teacher. This experience is on my list of things that I will never do again. This one is tops!