Monday’s Frugal Five (North Cascades Camping Edition)

We spent the past week dispersed camping in the Ponderosa pine forests of the North Cascades outside of Winthrop, so instead of publishing Friday’s Frugal Five, it’s out on Monday this time. It was our first real trip to the Methow Valley, and we fell in love. We returned home Saturday afternoon sweaty, dirty, and utterly happy.

The week’s vacation was our first since we returned from Iceland back at the beginning of January, which feels like a lifetime ago at this point. We very much needed some time away, and heading to an area with very little cell service was in order. Surprisingly, we had some – but it was regularly just enough for text messages and not enough to check the news.

The first part of the week, we didn’t see a single other person up on the mountain, as we were miles down dusty forest service roads, and even when we did see someone, they were just passing by in a vehicle or on a bicycle on their own backwoods adventure. The very best part of the trip though was that I actually found myself forgetting about COVID from time to time, a first since Kirkland became the first United States epicenter of the outbreak.

View toward our campsite

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The Frugal Five

1. Our neighbors had their grandchildren return home after a months-long visit and had extra kid snacks from their trip, so we got a box of individual mac and cheese cups and some juices from them for the kiddo. They were perfect camping foods, so we packed them up in for our trip.

We also took some older Mountain House meals with us that are part of our preparedness supplies at home, rotating out what gets kept at our house. It was the first time the kiddo had eaten those backpacking meals, and he thought they were pretty great (and really, they are very tasty, if high salt).

Otherwise, I still mostly stuck to vegetarian/vegan meals even while camping, which is easier to do when we have the truck with us versus a backpacking trip, but still a mindset shift for me compared to past trips.

Mountain House excitement

2. Our roommate decided to stay home and enjoy having the house all to himself while we camped, so he watched the animals and watered the garden while we were gone for the week. We clearly enjoy having him come with us on vacations (he came with us to Iceland this past winter), but having him stay home means we don’t have to worry about the house or the pets – and we don’t have to pay for it either.

Part of his very low rent that hasn’t changed much since he moved in almost eight years ago is that he’s a bigger part of our household than “just” a renter, so he sees the animals and the house as partially his responsibility as well. We have certainly been lucky to have him live with us all these years.

3. We bought a new annual Northwest Forest Pass for $30 at the beginning of our trip. In order to camp up forest roads in public forest lands in this area, a pass is required. Compared to the cost of a campground, the pass costs less for an entire year than most campsites for a single night.

Backwoods camping generally means no toilets, showers, or running water of any kind, but it also means you can spread out and find a spot completely removed from everyone else – an extra big perk in the time of COVID. Those areas tend to have the very best views as well, as long as your vehicle can make it up the often rough forest roads. And it doesn’t hurt that the cost is almost nothing.

Of course, dispersed camping means the idea of “leave no trace” is extra important, as there are no trash cans up on the mountain in which to leave your trash. We make sure to leave campsites cleaner than we arrived, and the husband took the kiddo on a walk around the area as we packed up to help instill that stewardship in him as well.

Cleaning up camp

4. The kiddo lost his very first tooth on the trip! We weren’t sure what the going rate for baby teeth was at this point, so we looked it up. Apparently, the average is now about $4, significant inflation since we were children and losing our own teeth. We decided on $5, but with a caveat: $2 is for him to spend as he pleases, $2 goes directly to his online savings account, and $1 is for giving. He decided he wanted to send his money to plant trees in our local parks, and I found a program that will plant them for $87 each, so I told the kiddo I’d chip in the rest so we could send enough for a whole tree.

We then “planted” the lost tooth under one of the towering Ponderosa pines in camp to create a “tooth tree,” a new tradition that sprung up out of this camping trip. Just like the kiddo knows that Santa isn’t real, he isn’t under any delusions about the tooth fairy (after hearing a story of how my father – his Papa – was my tooth fairy many years ago, he decided Daddy would be his – and that he needed to dress up the same, ball cap with pipe cleaners and all).

Lost tooth!

5. This camping trip saw another new tradition spring up as well: read alouds while sitting around in camp during the hottest part of the day. I’ve been re-reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and I’m loving it at least as much as the last time I read it, and reading it aloud made it that much better. Camping means we have time to slow down and savor our days, and reading stories together seems like a natural.

We’ve also introduced the kiddo to the beginnings of the Redwall series, and we got a good ways through Mossflower on the trip as well, on a tattered old copy from the husband’s childhood. We might read quite a few e-books and library books these days, but there is something special about re-reading the same copies we had when we were young.

Exercise Update

We went on daily hikes on the mountain while camping, and I hit approximately 20,000 steps or more each day. The best part of that was that my heel didn’t hurt through the whole trip. Hiking may not be the same impact as running, but putting in the miles without pain felt really, really good.

Have you been on a vacation since COVID began? 



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