There are not a lot of — what some may consider — manly things I can do in this world.
For instance, don’t ask me anything about my car. Ask my wife.
However, what I can do is start a fire, no matter the conditions.
No gasoline or lighter fluid is required. Just give me a match or two, some birch bark for kindling and dry pine twigs as tinder, and away we go.
It’s a very useful skill for someone like myself, as is my ability to always find dry fuel after torrential downpours, as well as Roxie is able to sniff out any food the toddler leaves within reach of the old dog’s snout.
When camping, I love to cook over the campfire. No offense to my trusty gas grill and all the brats it has seared over the years, but food just tastes better when cooked over a flame or bed of hot coals that you created.
That’s why over the Fourth of July weekend out at Vermillion Ridge, I decided to build a small fire to cook some hot dogs and sausages for lunch, rather than break out the portable gas grill. If I wanted to cook over gas, I’d stay home.
Later in the evening, I built a larger fire to cook up a package of redskin potatoes in tinfoil and roast some sweet corn. Chicken and vegetable skewers were the main course, also over the fire. Later that evening after a storm rolled through — and a drive around the park to get the toddler asleep — the wife and I got another fire going for s’mores.
I made sure to get my money’s worth that weekend out of the $6-per-day campfire permit, which gives you access to unlimited firewood from their shed. I’ll take that deal every day and save the propane.
Of all my camping traditions over the years, cooking over an open fire is one of the few that has survived the test of time — and a growing family — as these trips have drifted closer and closer toward what I would consider “glamping.”
Just four summers ago, car camping for the dog and I consisted of throwing our small dome tent, a sleeping bag and pad, our cooking supplies and a lawn chair into the trunk of my Corolla. Then we’d drive out to a national forest campground.
Now we’re towing — with an SUV, not the Corolla — a pop-up camper that’s equipped with a sink, power lift, mini-fridge, furnace and heated mattresses to campgrounds with Wi-Fi. And in addition to the Coleman stove, we pack along an electric griddle to speed up breakfasts and even a toaster, because the toddler insists the bread of his PB&J be toasted.
Last weekend we left the electric griddle at home on a short trip to Leech Lake …. and brought the Belgian waffle maker instead. I’m embarrassed to have typed that.
Like my father — who when dating my mother didn’t allow her to take a pillow camping — I’ve had to warp what I consider to be camping the last few years, with even my aging pup admitting to me last summer with sad eyes one night, “we’re getting too old to be sleeping on the ground.”
Chances are I’ll be caving again down the road and trade in the pop-up for one of those luxury hotel rooms on wheels someday, but I don’t anticipate using the travel trailer’s oven should it come with one.
You’ll find me outside next to the campfire, grilling a chicken with a beer can up its butt.
Matt Wellens is the college hockey reporter for the News Tribune, who greatly relishes his time away from the rink in the offseason. He grew up in Wisconsin vacationing in the summers with his family at state parks in tents. His once pillow-banning father has since upgraded to an RV, so he’s still roughing it more than him. Follow his camping adventures on Instagram (@mattwellens).