Posted: October 25, 2020 by Kate Lucey
50th Year of a Family Camping Trip Tradition Reimagined during the Pandemic
It’s 2 in the morning and my body is buzzing with electricity. My husband is peacefully sleeping next to me, but I am squirmier in bed than a kid waiting for Santa. It’s nice to feel this feeling – that sweet combination of hope, excitement, and joy that makes you feel like Alice drinking the growing potion, overwhelmed and clumsy and incapable of being contained.
When was the last time you felt that? I doubt many of us have had it this year. As the memes and headlines keep reminding us, 2020 hasn’t exactly been a year of celebration. But for the first time in a long time, I’m not thinking about all that. I’m thinking about fresh air and no mask to filter it. I’m thinking about plunging into a fathoms-deep lake and hearing the muted roar of distant motors in the water. I’m thinking about hugging my parents and kissing my niece and nephew. I’m thinking about Lake George.
2020 marks the 50th year that my extended family has spent our summer vacation camping on the islands of Lake George. The particularities of life mean that not everyone makes it every year, but between my immediate family and the families of my dad’s four siblings, we always get a critical mass.
In many ways, Lake George has become the centerpoint of our family. It starts in September, when we have to coordinate who will reserve which sites, for which dates, and under which email address/credit card. There is always a Lake George-related present at the Christmas Eve swap, whether it is a hydraulic camp rocking chair, a new game, or even a blow-up Zodiac to be shared by the grandchildren (that was an amazing one). By springtime, we are starting to talk logistics – which dates and sites need to be canceled? Are the boats ready? Who is going to pick Kate up at the Albany airport and drive her the last hour of the ride? Some of us mark time by the calendar, others mark it by which children have graduated to their own tent and which adults have upgraded to a cot from an air mattress.
Family Camping Trip Tradition Reimagined
So this year, when COVID-19 stopped time in March, our family was already thinking about August and the special 50th-year celebration we were planning. Of course, there were (and still are) so many more important and impactful things going on and that many people were sacrificing or being stripped of so much more than a family vacation. We knew rationally that missing one year of camping was not going to be the end of the world, or even the end of our tradition. But that didn’t mean that we weren’t hoping that in the midst of all of the chaos and uncertainty and pain this year has wrought that maybe, just maybe, this one thing could be left alone.
Looking back, I don’t think we would have made it at all if it hadn’t been for the fact that this was the 50th year. Normally we are at Lake George for the week of the Fourth of July, taking advantage of some built-in vacation days. But this year we opted to shift everything a full 6 weeks into mid-August, which for a multiplicity of reasons would be a more likely time to get the entire crew there. Going later meant that New York State had started to re-open state parks (which Lake George’s campsites are), and that the virus hot spots in Boston and New York City had abated somewhat. People had started to adapt to the “new normal,” and while nothing was really as it was before, it felt like we were getting our bearings as a society, at least when it came to day-to-day virus prevention and awareness. From a purely regulatory perspective, our trip was possible and the lake was ready and waiting.
One of the greatest challenges coronavirus has put upon us as a society is the way it brings our internal decision making mechanisms, our values, our risk tolerance, and our priorities out into the open, where they can stand in stark contrast to those of our friends and family. While our governments try to give us guidance, the rules are not black and white and much is left to interpretation and to circumstance. It also forces us to speak aloud things that the politeness and etiquette ingrained within us finds unacceptable. We ask our friends to put on a mask or inform them that we aren’t ready to venture into outdoor dining. We don’t hold elevator doors or let someone else rotate onto equipment at the gym. For our family, it meant the first time in decades that we would ask ourselves the question: “Should we go to Lake George?”
Spoiler alert: We went.
It was not a decision taken lightly. The most important thing was the fact that this vacation is spent entirely outdoors. Literally. The only doors are the ones with the moon cutouts on the outhouses. Given all of the reports and research on the coronavirus that say that it is most transmittable when large groups of people spend long periods of time close together while inside, the risk was low.
The other important factor was the fact that while we were a group of nearly 30, we would be isolated together. The campground at Lake George is spread across the islands that dot a part of the lake called The Narrows. We would be on 6 of the 9 campsites on Mohican island, meaning there would be a maximum of maybe 15 strangers sharing it with us. Those strangers would, of course, be spending their vacation on their own sites, much more than 6 or even 60 feet from our own. In other words, it was an environment that we could control, or at least control a lot more than, say, a resort or even a beach town.
While the lack of being indoors was the most significant factor, we also paid very close attention to things like virus rates in the areas where we were traveling from (for everyone but me and my husband that was Boston), as well as where we were going. We followed all travel guidelines and restrictions, and none of us, even us coming from DC, was on a high-risk list for travel. The park itself had its own information and guidelines, and we paid close attention to any information they had regarding Lake George park-related incidents. With all of this information in mind, we decided that there was a way for us to have our little slice of paradise.
But we didn’t stop there – we also made some changes. The most important one was that everyone in the family had a test within a week of leaving for the lake. We asked everyone to stop doing anything but the bare essentials once they had been tested, basically going back to the most stringent days of lockdown from the spring, to give those tests more validity. No one would leave for the lake without having their negative result.
Getting there safely and staying safe while there
In terms of travel, we drove ourselves, wearing masks and washing hands any time we were forced to stop, which was something we did everything in our power to limit.
We over-packed. A normal week at Lake George involves nearly countless trips to the local grocery store, Tops, for the forgotten items and the essentials that get used up in the first few days. With ice and cooler space at a premium, there is logic in utilizing the resources nearby to avoid waste. Not this year! This year we overplanned and overpacked, and yes there was some waste. It was just impossible for the 8 adults and two children on our campsite to eat a pound of bacon each, which is the amount that we brought. (Alright, so there wasn’t complete overplanning, because that would have involved communicating about who was bringing bacon for breakfast). While in past years the tendency was when in doubt, don’t pack it and we’ll just get it at Tops, 2020 was all about making sure there was nothing that we would need.
Finally, we all talked a lot about what it was we wanted out of this time, what was important to us, and what sacrifices we were willing to make. We missed a few of our cousins who are essential workers because they didn’t feel that they could ethically make the trip given their interactions with the public. And we missed them so much, but we respected their choice and most importantly appreciated their willingness to make such a sacrifice, to choose our health and protection over their desire for a vacation.
Being together in that place that has stayed so constant for us for 50 years was a balm for all the wounds given to us by a year in which nothing has been as it ought to be.
It was an amazing week. And it was remarkably the same, except for perhaps we talked a lot more. After months of not seeing my family, we played a lot of games and I don’t think anyone finished one of the books they brought. Being together in that place that has stayed so constant for us for 50 years was a balm for all the wounds given to us by a year in which nothing has been as it ought to be. It wasn’t what we expected, but year 50 was one for the books.
Although Discover Our Parks does not currently have the Lake George, New York area or the state campgrounds near there on this site, we are currently working on adding them. Visit our State Parks page for more information.
Until then, here’s some great information about Camping at Lake George, New York.
Have you been camping since the start of the pandemic? Have you been to Lake George, New York for a camping trip before? Let us know and share your experiences with others below!
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One thought on “50th Year of a Family Camping Trip Tradition Reimagined”
Loved reading your article, Kate…you are an excellent story teller. I almost felt like I was there! We lived so close to Lake George, and yet we never went camping there…We always went further into the Adirondacks, or up to the St. Lawrence. I guess that is what happens when the lake is essentially in your backyard. You don’t appreciate things as much. Now, after reading your thoughts-it makes me think we missed out on some great adventures in Upstate NY. So glad you and your beautiful family had their much needed 50th anniversary vacation. The Smoky Mountains are basically in our backyard now and we try to get there as often as we can. I guess we learned from our mistakes…