Camping in the time of Covid

This week we made our first foray out of Essex County in the van since before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Because our region was the last in Ontario, or Canada, to move into Phase 2 of reopening we were unable to de-winterize our van until the first week of July. De-winterizing the van essentially involves draining the tanks and pipes of RV antifreeze then flushing them with diluted bleach water followed by diluted vinegar water and then filling with fresh water. We needed a water source and a drain to be able to do this responsibly which meant we required an open campground with services.

The day before take-off we discovered that we’d left the van unlocked and vandals/mischief-makers had rifled through every cupboard and drawer. Looking for money, we think. They wreaked havoc with our batteries and inverter which in the end took us about 48 hours to get back to regular working order. They appear to have attempted to steal our Sony radio. They did take a few items which we find to be handy like our Therapik, a battery-operated device used to neutralize bee stings and bug bites. We have used it countless times over the past six years so we definitely got our money’s worth out of the device. The vandals are either savvy camping types or a wee bit dumb. We wish them many bee stings and hope they get as much use out of the Therapik as we have!

Everything, because of Covid, is just a little bit different but we’re rolling with it. And this week we literally rolled our home on wheels to Toronto. We were only there long enough for one of us to endure a procedure at St. Joe’s, the hospital in our old neighbourhood, walk through High Park, eat amazing pizza, drop off fresh Essex County produce to Julie’s brother and pick up our favourite bread at a much-missed bakery. And, of course, endure bumper to bumper to bumper traffic through and around the GTA.

That night we camped in Milton at a KOA. After nine hours in the van, we were more than ready to stop. The campground described the hum of the adjacent Hwy 401 as ‘white noise.’ We can say quite definitively that the sound of traffic NEVER becomes ‘white noise’ for us. Nevertheless, they had a pool in which we shed the stresses of the day and brought down our internal temperatures by at least ten degrees. So, no complaints. 

The following day we drove first to Guelph where we had a parking lot visit with our son Elia at his place of employment. We made lunch in the van, unfurled the awning, brought out the camp chairs and voila, our cafeteria on wheels was open for business.

Leaving Guelph we knew we needed to sleep somewhere quiet, surrounded by trees, far from the hum of highways. We headed to Lake Huron and camped at Point Farms Provincial Park, in part because we had never been there before. There are, in fact, a lot of places we have never been before in our home province. We hiked to the beach, waded in the lake, picked up rocks, Duff swam. When we returned to camp we built a fire over which we cooked some of the best chicken we’ve ever had and just picked corn from a farm in Huron County. It was so enjoyable we barely made the effort to converse. Wanting to make the most of the fire we roasted the most divine marshmallows we have ever tasted. This is not something we are in the habit of eating. We don’t know if it is because they were organic? Or if we were just so happy to be in a place we had never been before? Or because it had been so long since we had cooked over an open fire? We were as content as we have ever been. There wasn’t anything that could have improved the scenario. We sat beside the fire into the dark of night reading aloud from a book of fiction set on the Magdalen Islands, still one of our all-time favourite camping destinations.

Duff was awake the next morning at 6 am. We walked to a cliff to enjoy the ombre horizon over Lake Huron before returning to our cozy bed in the van for a couple more hours of shut-eye. After breakfast, we walked back to the beach, met a couple on the path from Guelph who happens to be friends with the owners of the ice cream parlour across the street from our apartment in Amherstburg. Travel has a way of reminding us of just how small the world is. 

We ventured into ‘Canada’s Prettiest Town,’ Goderich, which was just a short drive south of the provincial park. It is pretty but as for its moniker, who are we to argue with the Queen?! While touring the town’s wagon wheel layout we spotted Culbert’s Bakery and decided to see what was on offer. Homemade donuts and cinnamon buns, as it turned out. Fresh, yeasted sweet dough, though not too sweet, just like Julie’s Grandma Nedin used to make. Duff tried pretty hard to convince us that he should have one too. Sorry, Duff! We’re looking out for your best interests. Promise. 

From Goderich, we headed inland to Falls Reserve Conservation Area on the Maitland River. We camped among the maples looking onto a verdant forest. The falls are beautiful. Lots of people enjoyed swimming and soaking in the very warm waters of the Maitland River even though the prominent signage warned of high bacteria levels which make it unsafe for such activities. We chose to err on the side of caution and merely waded in the water at ankle level while constantly battling with Duff who desperately wanted to drink from the river. We had been looking forward to a good dunk in the falling waters so left feeling a little disappointed and wondering at the extent of just how many waterways humans have polluted to the extent that they are undrinkable, unswimmable and unliveable. After which they are designated ‘conservation areas.’ We guess that the high bacteria levels in this river are from the industrial agriculture runoff throughout Huron County. Still, we enjoyed walking in and around the river and relaxing in the shade of the maple trees. We can still appreciate nature even while worrying about her survival.

The next morning we hit the backroads of Huron County bound for home. We stopped in London to eat lunch and for a little pantry restocking at Farm Boy. We were pretty excited to find wild blueberries which are just plain unavailable in Essex County!

Overall camping during Covid is largely the same as camping pre-Covid. Aside from crossing borders – national or provincial. For us anyway. We are completely self-contained. We didn’t use public restrooms at all. We can cook and wash dishes and ourselves in this home on wheels. In Ontario restrooms are open for the use of toilets and sinks this summer, showers though are prohibited. We also noticed signage stating that outdoor showers are prohibited. But that’s what swimming is for, right?! The main differences were the ones you see everywhere these days: hand sanitizer available at gas pumps and in stores, a preference for payment by debit and credit, online bookings in advance at campgrounds, registration instructions which are clear and detailed when you arrive, and mandatory masks indoors everywhere. The biggest change for us is that it was probably the first time in which we were aware that we were camping with just Canadians or more specifically, Ontarians. We look forward to heading out again soon but we will do so with caution. We don’t want to contribute to the spread of the virus between communities or regions. We feel that because we can be self-contained and continue to wear masks while shopping, remain vigilant about handwashing and maintain healthy social distancing we can travel by campervan safely. Stay and travel safely out there friends!