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Camp Tamarak

Ortonville, Michigan

May 25th to May 27th, 2010

Tuesday, May 25th 83/60°, Sunny

    With a level of excitement not normally found this early on a Tuesday morning, Tyler and I woke up around 7:00am to get ready to head off to school together. Today marked the start of our three day stay at Camp Tamarak in Ortonville, and I volunteered to be one of the parents who would haul the kids’ luggage from the school to the camp, which meant that we needed to be there before the normal school day started. Samantha got up early to join us for the ride to school as well.

    Once we arrived at the school we went about the business of loading the sleeping bags, clothes, and pillows of Tyler’s classmates into the truck. Once it was time for the school bell to ring, Tyler and Sam headed into their classrooms for the start of the day. I joined Tyler in his class until it was time for the 5th grade students to get on the busses that would be taking them to camp. I headed off to my truck to start the drive to the camp.

    Somehow I managed to be the first person from Patterson to make it to the camp that morning, and I found a parking spot and waited patiently for the rest to arrive. Once the busses made it, we were directed to our village, Applebaum, where we were to spend the next two evenings. Those of us who drove luggage over were allowed to drive our vehicles closer to the village so that the kids could unload their stuff and put it into their respective cabins.

    In addition to Tyler, I was responsible for his friend Alex and one of their classmates Brad during the day time and two more of their classmates at night, Christian and Alfredo. Christian, Brad, Tyler, and I settled into a smaller room in the cabin, one that had two sets of bunks in it, while everyone else found a bed in the main room of the cabin. There really isn’t much to describe about the cabins appearance wise. They consisted of metal framed bunk beds with thin cot-like mattresses on them that had a rubber covering on them. The walls were covered in plywood, as was the shelving for our personal belongings. It reminded me of the upstairs of the old Gough cottage in many ways.

    After we settled in to our cabins and I had pulled the truck back out to the parking lot the entire school gathered together for some basic camp directions and to get the instructions for the first activity of the day, a survival game called, appropriately enough, Instincts for Survival, which took place on the Ad Field directly across from our village. The kids were placed into the three groups – herbivores (the largest group), omnivores, and carnivores. The idea was to “eat” certain food sources by collecting beads, and also getting the water they need (which was also a bead) all without being caught by the other groups (except the carnivores, they had no enemies in this game). If they lost all of their beads they were out of the game. They were able to come back to the starting point and get a new set of beads if they got out too often or too early. This game last close to an hour, and then it was off to lunch.

    To get to the Mahler Dining Hall we had to take a five minute or so walk from our village. Since I’m a little bit of a picky eater I was a little concerned about what to expect when eating, but when I asked the question about the food at the chaperone meeting I was assured it was stuff that kids like, such as chicken nuggets. OK, that isn’t my favorite, but I can eat it if I have to. When I saw that we were getting tacos today I was a little relieved. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for the meal quickly waned when I realized that there was no cheese available anywhere – not on the table, where there was a plate with tomatoes and lettuce on it, nor on the salad bar, where there was salad, but no cheese available. When I sat down to actually eat, I lost the remainder of my enthusiasm, despite my intense hunger. The taco shell was ice cold, and the meat was of some very strange consistency and was scooped with an ice cream scooper (a nice touch). I added my tomatoes, and found a packet of hot sauce in a cup on our table to add as well. Tyler took one bite of the taco and decided that he wasn’t eating it. Thankfully they had supplies to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches if you so desired, and Tyler chose that option instead of the “food” on his plate. Overall, I’d rate what I ate of this meal “disgusting.” I didn’t touch the rice or the brownie that we got for desert. Tyler actually ate some of the brownie, but said that it was disgusting and that it tasted like “chocolate bread.”

    Since we had a little time after lunch before our afternoon activity the three boys and I walked to the street hockey rink that was located about halfway back to our village. Tyler, Alex, and Brad played around with the hockey equipment, seeing who could do the best “Happy Gilmore” impression.

    We moved on to Living Science, our afternoon activity, which started at 2:00pm. Living Science took place in a small classroom style cabin, and involved the kids being allowed to touch or hold several small animals. They got to check out a mouse, a pigeon, a ball python, two salamanders, two box turtles, a tarantula, and a Burmese python. The kids weren’t allowed to actually hold the mouse, pigeon, or Burmese python. Tyler also opted not to hold the tarantula, but he did brave the ball python, the salamanders, and the box turtles.

    Up next after Living Science was Canoeing. Although this sounded like a lot of fun, I think that most of the kids wound up being slightly disappointed in doing it. Since our group arrived early, the kids took advantage of the downtime to wade into the water in front of the dock. They were repeatedly told not to go in past their knees, and for the most part they listened. When their opportunity to get out on the water in a canoe arrived, they partnered up and headed out. They were given approximately 5-10 minutes to paddle around an area of the lake and then were gathered together in a group. They lined up their canoes side by side to form a sort of raft, and then they spent what seemed like forever having kids walk across the canoes, rearranging their seating as they did so. Yippee! When they finished this the kids canoed back to shore in their new boats.

    Canoeing was our last event of the afternoon, so after it concluded we headed back to the dining hall for dinner. Tonight’s meal was barbecued chicken and white rice. Tyler thought the chicken was really good, and he wound up eating two pieces. I, on the other hand, thought it was only slightly better than the tacos from lunch. I wouldn’t even call it barbeque, as the sauce appeared to be slathered on well after the meat was cooked (likely boiled). The piece of chicken consisted of the leg and the thigh, neither of which rank very high on my chicken preference list (which is mighty thin to begin with!), and they were still on the bone. I picked at it a little, but didn’t end up eating very much of it. I did eat the one roll that was allotted me, but that was it. Desert was an oatmeal raisin cookie, another item which I avoid like the plague.

    We had one more activity for the night, and that was Smoklerville. Smoklerville is set up like an 1860’s village, and the kids were placed into “families.” The chaperones were given roles to play throughout the village, such as that of fur trader or town sheriff. The kids had to go to the chaperones to complete various tasks, with the ultimate goal of earning their land deed. Among the tasks that were needed to be completed were the making of a candle and a rope. The kids were allowed to keep both of these items, which was nice. I think that the kids were slightly bored at this event, but certain aspects of it were fun to them. For some reason the kids liked getting arrested, although that hurt their families attempt to complete their tasks. At the end of the event the kids were gathered into the schoolhouse to figure out their score based on the tasks that they successfully completed. Tyler’s family, of which he was the “father,” ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack.

    Before we could call it a night, I placed a desperate call to Tara for food. She worked on getting us some food and snacks while the rest of the 5th grade class had a campfire in our village. Sometime around 9:30pm Tara arrived at camp, but the gate to the driveway which led to our parking lot was closed. Tyler and I snuck away to meet them at the road and carry our food back to our truck. We sat their eating our pizza and then having a Hostess cupcake before walking back to our cabin.

    When the campfire began to die down, everyone began to make their way back to their cabins for the night. This was about the time that all of the boys in our cabin decided that it would be a good time to take a shower. The boys all took turns using the two showers and for the most part it went smoothly tonight. I was the only person in the entire cabin who opted to wait until morning to shower. Since it was so hot out, I figured I sweat at night anyway, plus the water would have time to get hot again by morning.

    Getting the boys to fall asleep did not go quite as smooth as the showering process, unfortunately. After what seemed like hours of talking and teasing, things would get quiet for 5-10 minutes at a time, but then somebody would fart or talk or move (the beds made a LOT of noise whenever somebody rolled over or moved too much). This was always followed by another 5-10 minutes of kids screaming “shut up – no you shut up” back and forth at each other. Fun! The four of us in our room actually was fairly quiet throughout the whole process, so I left the parenting to the two adults in the other room. I’m not sure when it finally happened, but sometime between 12 and 1:00am things finally died down enough for Tyler and I to fall asleep.

Wednesday, May 28th 88/60°, Sunny

    I had set my alarm for 7:00am to give myself time to shower and get dressed in the morning before our breakfast at 8:15am. Unfortunately I was up much earlier than that, thanks to some gentlemen standing outside of their cabins yukking it up at 6:30am or slightly earlier. Thanks, guys! Since no one else in our cabin seemed to be disturbed by the talking, I headed off into the shower to get myself refreshed for the day. By the time I had finished others seemed to be stirring in our cabin as well.

    Since the boys in my group were ready early, we headed off towards the dining hall so that they could stop at the hockey rink once again. This was quickly becoming their favorite place to spend any of their down time, and this time we were joined by a few other boys.

    Once the time came, we finished the trek to the dining hall to find out what delicacy would be awaiting us for breakfast. This morning that was French toast sticks- a grand total of three of them. Thankfully I really didn’t need any more, because mine were cold and hard. I managed to eat all of them, however, largely because I had no idea if I could stomach lunch or dinner today. Tyler said his were warm and at least a little softer than the ones I ate, so at least he caught a little break! They also had cereal on the salad bars, but I am not much of a cereal eater in my old age. I guess I should start for when it is my turn to take Drew, though!

    Our morning adventure turned out to be the highlight of the trip, in my mind. Today was our turn on the High Ropes. The High Ropes are pretty much what the name implies – a bunch of ropes high in the air that the kids were going to climb on. They were given a safety belt and ropes to tie themselves off with, in case they slipped or fell, and they were given time to practice the proper procedures on a small “classroom” setup about two feet off the ground. In addition to their training, they were required to have a “shadow” on the ground (one of their classmates) to help make sure that they didn’t make any wrong moves while on the ropes. One additional safety feature was that they were required to ask permission from one of the camp counselors before making any move on the ropes, such as transferring their rope from one cable to another.

    When the time came for Tyler to make the climb up the ladder and onto the High Ropes course, I was a little concerned that he wasn’t going to want to do it. He tends to have a little fear of heights, just like is father. Rather, his father has a fear of falling from heights, not actually a fear of being high in the air. Tyler made the climb up the ladder without any incidents, and then he was off and moving. The course was kind of set up like a figure 8, with what I would call a slightly easier, shorter course one direction and a longer, more challenging course in the other direction. Tyler chose the more challenging course for some reason, which was ok with me. The first section he headed out on was a wooden “bridge” that consisted of three planks suspended between trees. He completed this section easily, even using his arms to balance as opposed to holding on to the tie-off rope like most of the kids did.

    Tyler’s next move was across a section of cable that had one long rope hanging from the end, and he was supposed to keep this rope tight in his hands for balance as he moved across the cable. The only other boy who had attempted this section freaked out a little while he was on it, and then didn’t complete anything else the rest of the time he was on the course. Tyler managed to get about 5-10 feet from the platform and then he froze. He began to cry, and I feared that this would be the end of his time on the course as well. Somehow I managed to convince him to walk back to the platform where he had started, just to give him a place to stand and calm down a bit.

    Fully expecting him to come down out of the trees at that point, I was a little shocked when he asked permission from the counselor to move his rope to another section of the course (the tree he was on was sort of a “T” intersection, with three sections of the course converging at the one platform). The next section of the course that he was attempting was similar to the last, except that instead of one long rope there were multiple short ropes suspended from above for him to hold on to as he made his way across. Somehow he managed to make it the whole way without too much trouble. His next move was to a Tarzan-like rope swing between platforms. Tyler had just watched his friend Alex complete this section. He had done so by jumping out to the swing rope and getting a nasty rope burn on his leg. Tyler chose to ignore the swing rope in the middle all together and simply hold on to his tie-off ropes and walk across the rope on the bottom. This seemed to work out much easier for him, with no nasty burns in the process!

    The next section consisted on two platforms and no rope in between them to walk on – you simply had to jump from platform to platform. I say simply, but keep in mind that the kids are about sixty feet in the air at this point of the course. Easier said than done, right? Once again I was worried about Tyler getting across this section of the course (remember the fear of heights thing?), but he grabbed hold of his ropes with one hand, used the other for balance, and then… he jumped! A successful landing completed another section of the course.

    The next section Tyler had to cross consisted of three ropes – two started at above Tyler’s head and one started below. Halfway across the ropes switched – the two ended at Tyler’s feet and the single rope was above his head (like an “X” when viewed from the side). Tyler was following Alex around the course, and Alex made it to the midway point but couldn’t get his hands and feet on the opposite ropes, so he opted to use his tie-off ropes to pull himself across to the next platform. Somehow Tyler didn’t have that problem and was able to get his feet from the single rope to the double set and the same for his hands (double to single in this case).

    Time ran out at this time, and Tyler needed to get out of the trees. Unfortunately for him he needed to cross the section of the course that he freaked out on, only going the opposite direction (there was a rope on this side as well). Thankfully the counselor came out to give Tyler a hand getting across, but this really only amounted to switching his ropes for him. Tyler had to manage to walk across the cable on his own. This time he chose to use his tie-off ropes for balance instead of the long rope. This worked much better, and he made it across much quicker.

    The final steps to land were to cross the plank bridge once again before descending the ladder. Once again Tyler did both without incident. When all was said and done, Tyler and Alex were the only two from his group to have completed the section that they did, making it the furthest around the course.

    I cannot begin to express how proud I was of Tyler at that moment. It was all I could do to keep from crying! I realized right then that Tyler really isn’t my little boy any more. He is much more adventurous, daring, and courageous than I had ever given him credit for. If this course is any indication of the type of perseverance that Tyler will have when he is older, then I am bound to be a very proud father!

    When everybody was out of their harnesses and had them and the ropes hung back up they sat down to take a moment and talk about what they learned about themselves that day. I already knew what I learned…

    With our time on the High Ropes over, it was time to head back to the dining hall for lunch. Today we were served pizza. Cheese pizza. Weird, yellowish cheese pizza. With parsley on it. Yum. Actually, some of the cheese on the pizza looked better than others, I just happened to get one of the funky pieces that didn’t appear to be cooked. The cheese looked like it had been set out in the sun for a couple of hours in order to give it that melted look. The pizza tasted about like that is what happened, too. The crust was strangely hard, and there were no toppings allowed (no meat and dairy together). All in all, I’d rate in a bleh! Tyler didn’t eat this lunch either, opting to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once again.

    After we finished eating, I was dying to walk back to the truck to have one of the snacks that Tara had brought last night, but our next activity was clear at the opposite end of the camp, and I wasn’t about to try to make the walk there and back in the amount of time that we had remaining. We instead headed off to Berman Field for Nature Games.

    Nature Games isn’t nearly as fun as the name implies. The first game the kids played was a salmon game. The kids were the salmon, and they had to run “upriver” and avoid being killed (the chaperones were stationed in the river to tag them – this was equivalent to being eaten by a bear, for example). They then had to hop on one leg down the “salmon ladder” before starting the circle of life all over again. This game started out fun, but the kids quickly wore down in the mid-day sun that was beating down on them at near 90 degrees.

    With minimal shade for us to sit in, I didn’t even bother going to listen to the directions or find out what the other two games that they played were. All I know is that I heard the counselors tell the kids to get enthusiastic more than once, but I don’t think that was going to happen for this group in this heat. Maybe, if the games had actually been exciting, this would have been a possibility.

    Thankfully the Nature Games were only one of our two afternoon activities, and we were able to move on to Outdoor Cooking before too long. Although Outdoor Cooking wasn’t too exciting on its own, it did provide shade, cold lemonade, and a place for the kids to rest and relax for a while. The cooking itself wasn’t too exciting for Tyler, as it was making food over a campfire in pie irons, which we do almost every time that we go camping as a family. They had three options on what it was they could cook – a grilled cheese sandwich, a pizza, or an apple pie, all made with bread. Tyler chose the apple pie. They also had baked potatoes that they could eat if they wanted, and Tyler chose to do so. If I had any kind of brains, I would have done so as well, but I was holding out hope that dinner would be better so I chose not to. After the kids had all eaten their food of choice from the campfire, it was time to make s’mores. Or, more correctly, s’more period. Each of the kids were allowed to make one. Brenda, another one of the chaperones, and I helped ourselves to a couple of the spare Hershey’s bars that they had available. This turned out to be my main sustenance for the day.

    When the food was done cooking, we had some extra time before dinner that we needed to kill. We didn’t want to walk anywhere as we were literally right across the road from the dining hall. Luckily the counselor who was in charge of the cooking taught the kids a new game to play. The kids were divided into two teams and placed at opposite ends of an open area, with an imaginary line at each end being their “safe” zone. About 5-10 feet from one of those lines sat a ball. The team closest to the ball had to prevent the team furthest away from stealing it and getting it back to their safe zone. They did this by tagging the other team out as they approached. The only condition was that if they crossed out of their safe zone and failed to tag anybody they were out too. The team furthest away from the ball could run back and forth without worry as long as they were not tagged. This game went over quite well, and they played several games before dinner arrived. On one occasion Tyler’s friend Quincy was the only one left on the defending team against six players on the thieving team. Somehow he managed to tag all six players over the course of a few attempts to get the ball, winning the game.

    I was thoroughly disappointed when we got to the dining hall for dinner. Spaghetti! Already not one of my favorite meals, I was curious as to how bad this could actually be. Since the sauce was already on the noodles, I knew I wasn’t going to eat it and I quickly sent Tara a message on the phone begging her to bring me more food later on tonight, when she was legally allowed to come to camp for the Mock Olympics. I did taste one of the noodles, and it was a little rubbery and had absolutely no flavor at all. Tyler went straight for the PB&J tonight, skipping any attempt at spaghetti altogether.

    After dinner we had a little bit of free time, so he walked back to the hockey rink (it was also right next to the Gym, which is where we needed to be next anyway). Every time we headed back here we picked up more and more players. We are quite the trendsetters!

    The evening activity today was the Mock Olympics, which were open to family to attend. Tara brought Samantha, Drew, and Jayden with her so that they could all cheer on Tyler and his team. The events the kids participated in were fun enough to watch, but the cleanliness of the Gym where they took place was disgusting. The Gym building itself is only half enclosed, with a wall for the first 8-10 feet and then netting covering the opening from the top of the wall to the roof. This doesn’t exactly prevent animals from entering this area, and apparently several birds find their way in. The drinking fountain was covered in bird crap, and the floor had more than its share as well. This very same floor held events that required the kids to be on their hands and knees. Let’s just say that the hand sanitizer was flowing freely during these Olympics.

    Not every kid got to participate in every event, but Tyler competed in quite a few. One of his first events was a balloon popping contest, where each of the kids had a balloon tied around their ankle. Someone pops your balloon, you’re out. The last one standing with an inflated balloon wins. Needless to say Tyler didn’t win this one.

    The next event that Tyler was in was a noodle race. By noodle I mean the kind that use to swim with in the pool or at the beach. Each lap of the gym required another teammate to ride the noodle. Tyler was the third leg of this relay race, and by the time the fourth person joined they didn’t have any room on the noodle! I don’t recall exactly how they did in this race (they didn’t get any ribbons or trophies or anything, it was all just for fun), but I do know that the four kids laughed a lot as they raced!

    The next event was a basketball one, and Tyler dribbled from one end of the gym, shot the ball into the basket, and dribbled back to the other end for another basket very quickly. Once again I don’t recall how his team did, but he did well personally. Another event that Tyler participated in, and one that required the kids to be on the dirty gym floor, was a ping-pong ball blowing race. Each of the contestants had to use a straw to blow a ping-pong ball from one end of the gym to the other and back. Gross! Especially when the kids dropped their straws onto the floor, as Tyler did at least once.

    Tyler also participated in a race where the kids on each team had to hold hands while passing a hula hoop from one end of the line to the other and back without letting go of each other. This meant passing the hoop over their heads and then stepping through it, all while it is attached at the arms. Tyler’s team did this quite well – I do know that they actually won this event! Way to go, team!

    The final event for the night was another relay race, only this time each kid had to run to the opposite end of the gym in a different manner. Tyler had to go down in a crouching position. They had to pick up a puzzle piece on their way and leave it at the end of the gym. When the last puzzle piece was at the end of the gym all members of the team had to run down and put the puzzle together. Once again, I do not remember which team won this race.

    The Mock Olympics ended around 8:30pm, and we walked back to the parking lot with Tara and the kids. Before they left Tyler and I placed a beverage order (so that Tara could bring us back some cold drinks since we had no place to keep any of our own). We hung around the village and on the Ad Field (Tyler played football with some of his classmates and a couple of Dads) while waiting for Tara to return.

    When Tara came back with our drinks (Dr. Pepper for me and Gatorade for Tyler) we said our goodnights and then headed back to our cabin. Things seemed to be winding down in the village about this point anyway. Once again the boys took turn showering, although there was much more goofing around when they did so tonight. Sometime around 10:00pm lights out was called, so we climbed into bed once again. I was tired enough to doze off right then, but the kids were busy with their talking/teasing/farting routine again. Sometime around 11:30pm something clicked, and there was relative silence. I slept like a baby after that!

Thursday, May 29th 83/65°, Sunny

    Thursday was our last day of camp, which brought a big sense of relief to me. Once again I woke up before my 7:00am alarm setting, although there were no talkers outside this time. I went ahead and got into the shower and got myself dressed, then worked on waking up the boys in my room. We had to get the bags packed before we headed off to breakfast today.

    After I got dressed I walked to the parking lot to drive the truck over to our village. I loaded up our stuff first, and then helped load the other kids stuff into the back of the truck. Once the truck was full, I moved it back into the parking lot to await the drive home.

    Our first stop this morning was at the dining hall for breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that we were having scrambled eggs and hash browns. I like those! The only thing is that here that isn’t a sure thing. I sat down to eat my eggs, and was shocked at how bad they actually tasted. I couldn’t really figure out how it was possible to screw up scrambled eggs, but it was later suggested to me that they were probably powdered eggs. I learned something new this morning – powdered eggs are gross. Fortunately the hash browns were edible. Unfortunately, I only got one serving. Guess I go hungry once again. Tyler managed to have two hash browns, but that was it. After we ate we walked back to the hockey rink for another game.

    We pushed our time at the hockey rink a little too long and wound up being the last group to walk in to the Allen Amphitheatre for our Map & Compass Challenge Hike. We were all applauded as we walked in, which was a nice touch if I do say so. We were then divided into seven separate groups with which we had to work together. While Tyler and I were making our way to sit with our group to await our directions and compasses Tyler made a misstep and wound up tumbling down about three rows of bleacher seats. In his defense, the wood bleachers and steps were in very poor condition, but he also shouldn’t have been walking up the seats and avoiding using the stairs.

    When we were finally given our directions for our hike (we were the last group to get them) we headed off to our starting point. From here we had to use the compass to determine which direction to walk while also looking for clues to our whereabouts. Our walk took us all the way around Phipps Lake, which is the lake that the kids went canoeing in. Aside from one wrong turn at Silverman Village (in defense of our compass reader at the time – the signs leading to the village said it was private and to stay out). We quickly realized our mistake and finished the walk without any further trouble.

    After we returned to the amphitheatre to return our compasses we had to walk back to the front of the camp for the last time. The kids lined up to get on the busses for the return trip to the school, and I told Tyler goodbye before heading off to the truck. I made one stop on the way back to Patterson, and that was at the gas station to pick up another cold drink for Tyler and myself.

    Once I was back at the elementary school, I unloaded the bags from the truck before heading inside to Tyler’s class to meet him for lunch. The school provided us with pizza for lunch, and that sure hit the spot! Once Tyler and I finished eating, I signed him out of school for the day. We headed home, grabbed a quick snack, and then laid down for a well deserved nap.

Trip Summary

    I have mixed feeling about this whole camping trip. The food was terrible, which certainly dampened my enthusiasm for everything. I was also highly disappointed in the fact that the chaperones weren’t able to participate in any of the activities. Apparently some of the groups’ chaperones were allowed to go canoeing, but our group wasn’t. We were also told that last year parents were allowed on the High Ropes, but once again none of us were. I did nothing more over the course of the three days than walk around, watch kids, and starve. For the money I spent on this trip, that was highly disappointing.

    I did have an incredible amount of fun watching Tyler interact with his classmates. I have come to fully realize that he is not my little boy any more. He is capable of making adult decisions on his own, and is capable of getting himself out of situations that I never thought would be possible. The adventurous side of him that came out while he was on the High Ropes was totally impressive to me, and I beamed like I did the day he was born.

    I can honestly say that I am not looking forward to the next time I have to take this trip, although I will be much more prepared in the way of food and drink for my trip with Drew. Because of the walking and lack of eating over these three days, I actually lost 10 pounds! Hopefully in the six years it will be before Drew has to go the food will have been improved upon… it certainly can’t get any worse.


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