What I did with my summer vacation: Camping

Last month I did some end-of-summer camping with my grown son at Heckscher State Park on Long Island. Their home is small, and it’s better for me to stay elsewhere, but the last few trips soured me on the local hotels: over $200/night and the quality had nosedived to take-it-or-leave-it levels during the pandemic. Even an Air BnB room rental on Long Island would, unless in an unsafe neighborhood, cost enough to cut my trip short. Wait–I knew what to do! We had a tent and sleeping bags. We’d go camping!

My son Chris and me in our dome tent.

I used to camp all the time when I was younger so this would be fun. My husband, who was staying home this time, good-naturedly dragged his tent down from the attic and showed me how to assemble it. My son enthusiastically endorsed the idea and asked if he could come along.

Heckscher Park is the loop in the center of the map.

Heckscher State Park is on the South Shore of Long Island, across the Great South Bay (our inland waterway) from Fire Island. It has miles of bay beaches, hiking trails, bike paths, boat ramps, picnic areas, playgrounds, waterfront cabins and a nice campground. We had a campsite close enough to the communal rest rooms and showers that we could use their lights to make trips there in the dark, a grill we could use, and a water spigot. Very basic, but such a nice change of pace. And we were surrounded, with lots of space in between, by people who had their young families with them or were camping instead of using a hotel for the US Open.

Our campsite.

We set up our tent, and I sprayed it with Scotchguard because it might rain and I knew from experience that a dry tent is a happy tent. As you can see from the below photo, the leaves were just starting to turn. And it did rain one night! But we were nice and dry.

Our ritual was to make a nice breakfast at the campsite, and then since the park had almost no cell service and no wifi, we’d go out to a Starbucks to use out phones, check our email, and such.

And we’d toast each other: “To Camping!”

Our first night there we had dinner with some friends of mine at Key Largo Islip, on the bay. Live music, and we’re all writers so the conversation was great. Chris loved meeting them, the food was marvelous, and sunset over the bay was awesome.

Key Largo Islip with my buddies Frank and Mike–the Sci Fi Guys.

But experimentation told me that our first night sleeping on the ground would be hard for me at my age, so on the way back we bought a cheap dorm mattress topper at Target, and that did the trick.

The second day we went for a walk on the beach and I picked up shells while my son and I caught up on things. We had a lot of memories about this park where we’d go for cookouts, to launch an inflatable raft, or even to just drive through in the very early morning since it was right next to their elementary school. We’d see deer and foxes and great blue herons and raccoons. We had some trouble with trash pandas getting into our food–they tore open some cereal–and trying to get into our tent at 4 in the morning, but at least it was not bears. That’s one of the things I love about Long Island: no poisonous snakes, no bears. Just dumpster-diving raccoons.

Trash panda!

The raccoon that was trying to get into our tent woke us by feeling all along the edges of our tent and groping our heads, shoulders, and various body parts. It shrugged off my rather forceful elbowing and made a couple of circuits of the edges of the tent, and of us, through the fabric. Very weird feeling. No, we have no more frosted mini wheats. Go away.

My son and I also went out to see a movie–Thor: Love and Thunder–which was fun. Those of you that know me well know that I RARELY watch movies, even at home, so this was an event for me. My son really needed a vacation so I think he had an even better time than I did.

We also went hiking and saw a lot of “tick taxis”–I mean deer–because there is a huge herd there that they publicly feed in the winter as a tourist attraction. When we were hiking we saw deer treatment areas to try and control Lyme disease. We checked ourselves and neither of us had any tick bites. Hooray for Deet!

Those white signs to the right of the trail in this photo were for a deer treatment area: Keep out!

We also made a day-long foray into NYC together, but that will be the subject of another post.