Just you and me: a first backyard campout

It doesn’t take much to have an everyday adventure. As much as Sage and I have travelled overseas en famille, the two of us have never actually camped out, just father and son. Before the close of 2018, we set out to right this wrong by cycling a few miles into the surrounding desert and spending a night under tarp…

Family camping and bike touring

NANCY’S family hail from El Paso, Texas, the US border city that lies just a stone’s lob from Mexico (a high and imposing wall divides it from its Hispanic neighbour, Ciudad Juarez, though you can still peek in from various vantage points). Lost Dog trailhead, a local mountain biker’s hangout, is five-mile ride from her mum’s house. And a few miles beyond marks the boundary for the Franklin Mountains State Park. It’s the country’s largest state park in an urban setting, so space is bountiful. And what a park it is: a huge swathe of volcanic and sedimentary rock rising out of the arid and mostly barren earth, marking the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. Given El Paso’s concrete sprawl, it’s an especially welcome sanctuary from the busy arterial roads that course through the city in every which direction, and a much-needed escape when we visit over the holidays.

Everyday adventures don’t have to be especially grand in scope. For the most part, it’s more a matter of making sure they actually happen; pint-sized outings often get swept under the proverbial carpet in the hope of something bigger and grander somewhere around the corner. And then, what do you know… life gets in the way and the opportunity is lost.

Where you live will play its part as to how exactly you go about this. In our case, it was as simple as heading out to the trailhead in the late afternoon, riding up into the hills, picking a spot to pitch the tent (actually, Sage picked the spot, and it was an excellent one it was too), cooking up a meal, and enjoying the views over the sparkly lights of El Paso and a not-so-distant Mexico.

Family camping El Paso

Here marks the spot where we shall camp!

Yes, a few enticements were involved in the making of this local overnighter. Sage got to choose the dinner menu (chickpea pasta with Mac and Cheese sauce) and the entertainment (Planet Earth on the tablet).

Sage also rode on the tag-along bike behind me (the awesome Tout Terrain Streamliner), so we could better tackle the rocky trails what scratch their way through the avenues of baby barrel cacti, gangly ocotillos, and general abundance of spiky things that mine the Chihuahuan Desert.

We spent some time poking around amongst the Chihuahua Desert’s prickly inhabitants.

At the tender age of six, Sage is becoming quite the botanophile, so we lingered along the way, poking around amongst the desert’s prickly inhabitants. We pedalled for an hour or so and camped in our two-person tent on a hilltop to make the most of the sunset. Behind us, we could see the snow capped peaks of the Organ Mountains, in New Mexico.

That night, wind buffeted our tent and in the morning a storm rolled in, unexpectedly pelting us with hail and snow, so we hunkered down for breakfast-in-sleeping-bags, then rallied ourselves for the dash home (past Freddy the Fridge, riddled with bullet holes).

We arrived home drenched and cold-fingered… but definitely very glad to have got out for the night.

Only the ride back home through the city was just a little bit miserable. Although we followed a bike route much of the way, traffic is heavy in El Paso. We’d also omitted to bring our waterproofs, having been promised clear weather by the forecast. So we hopped onto sidewalks to dodge pond-sized puddles, holding our own at traffic lights beside burbling, dark-tinted pickup trucks. We arrived home drenched and cold-fingered… but definitely very glad to have got out for the night. We both deemed it a success and further overnights are already being discussed.

Quick gear list for our edge of the city overnighter

  • 2 down sleeping bags ours are rated to 0°c
  • 2 Thermarest mattresses beware desert spiky things
  • Tarptent Double Rainbowlightweight and bug-free two person tent
  • Tyvek groundsheet to protect the tent from the rocky desert floor
  • Foam sit pad to protect bottoms from thorns
  • Sage’s Patagonia thermals + fleece onesie a warm sleep is a good sleep
  • Toiletries tooth brush, toothpaste, basic first aid
  • Toilet paper + hand sanitiser stored in a ziplock bag
  • Trowel for digging catholes #leavenotrace
  • Samsung tablet loaded with a few nature documentaries BBC’s Planet Earth is a favourite
  • 1 toysmall and light!
  • Bedtime reading book The Hobbit
  • Petzl headtorch for book reading
  • Primus stove + gas bottle bowl + lighweight MSR pot quick and convenient for simple dinners
  • Sea to Summit eating bowl + 2 sporks collapsible with a screw top lid for leftovers
  • Food for dinner, breakfast, and some snacks as chosen by Sage
  • 4 litre of water enough for a winter campout
  • Daytime lights and reflective vest for the ride home

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