Summer at the McKagan Tent

Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
By Duff McKagan

Summer is fast approaching, and parents everywhere are faced with the perennial dilemma: What are we going to do with the kids? My wife and I are certainly no different when it comes to planning summertime family activity.

This past spring break sucked for my kids (and in turn, it sucked for Susan and I). First, our kids had two weeks off when all their friends had one. Secondly, our 11-year old daughter was hit with a week-long stomach flu and bronchitis. Lastly, it rained the whole fucking two weeks! What were we supposed to do? A guy can only take his daughters to the Hannah goddamn Montana movie so many times! My wife could only take them for a "mani/pedi" so many times!

Our girls are three years apart and at that prime sibling-rivalry stage. Don't take this wrong; my girls are very kind and caring people, but stuck together without much time apart? It is a perfect storm of fighting, drama, stomping around, and door-slamming ("She's had the computer longer than me!" "That's MY spot on the couch!"). This summer will be different, though, as my wife has figured out a genius and head-spinning schedule of every type of summer day-camp you could imagine. The girls are at the age when they MUST experience other influences BESIDES school, me, and their mother. HOWEVER!

Last year we McKagans took our first family overnight camping trip. I have tried a little bit of fishing on Lake Washington with the girls, but this car-camping trip was our first real outdoors-all-of-the-time-sleep-under-the-stars foray. The initial trick was to convince the girls that camping is fun! Try to explain to two female "tweeners" what the "utility" of being outdoors is. Or at least imagine what my conversation would have been like: "But Daddy, what do we DO when we get there? Is there Internet? No BATHROOM! WHAT!!!!" You get the drift.

In this day and age, with the Web, IMing, iChatting, and TiVo at everyone's fingertips, competing for rapt attention and having old-fashioned family fun can be a challenge for sure. My girls finally let me convince them to take them to a Mariners game last year. The best part of that experience was when they asked me to take them to another one (I guess the bribe of continuous ice cream and peanuts worked)! Yes, but convincing them about an overnight camping trip was going to be a real chore. You don't want to put your children in a car kicking and screaming against what you are about to do... everything, in a way, has kind of got to be their idea.

So the girls like shopping, right? One day last summer my wife and I decided to take them down to REI to try get them excited about things like raingear, tents, water filtration units, maps, and mosquito repellent. In the midst of this, my wife reminded me that these were things that I liked, and that perhaps the girls may need to look at camping clothes or breakfast foods. Oh, all right then...

We have a great western Cascades campsite book that gave us the lowdown on about 100 different places for us to try. My only criteria was that we would be far enough away from the urban crawl so that our campground wasn't a hub for teenage weekend drinking, and/or wasn't close to one of our Oprah-made-famous western Washington meth labs. I remembered a place that some friends and I escaped to from an eastern Washington camping trip when Mt. St. Helens blew back in 1980. I should explain that first, I suppose.

When I was 15 or so, a bunch of us punkers decided to go camping (read, DRINKING) over at Sun Lakes State Park near Grand Coulee. On our second day there, the mountain erupted, sending millions of acres of ash in a northeasterly direction... directly at us! We headed back west and found a cool and ash-free camping area back near Index.

This is where family McKagan would go, with me dispensing my wisdom and stories of glory and triumph during the whole car trip up. Susan and the girls think I am cool enough, I suppose, but my storytelling and their imbued messages at times miss the mark. Often I will find myself painted into a corner, as it were, realizing that in too many stories my punchlines involve some illegal activity that I can't tell my kids about. I usually end up fumbling some sort of half-baked half-truth just to finish the line of thought so that the girls don't get suspicious. This trip was no different...

Setting up our camp was probably a fairly goofy-looking affair, if someone was watching from afar. Look, man, I have been touring and whatnot for most of my adult life, and the outdoorsman in me vacated way back when it was still safe to get out. My daughters asked me what the strange sound coming from beyond the trees was. I suddenly was aware that that still and calming sound was the very river I had camped on 23 years earlier. In all the rush and bluster to get where we were going, I had forgotten that this trip was planned for the sublime and tranquil reason of simple family fun in nature. I guess it's not just my girls who were, and are, caught up in their lives. I too had forgotten how relaxing and serene a fast-running river can be. My jaw muscles relaxed, and I walked my family down to the river's edge, water cups in hand.

After dinner the dark began to set in, and as we all sat around the campfire with our marshmallows slowly burning at their edges, the ghost stories from my childhood came rushing back. Perhaps it was the tightest I have ever had both my girls next to me, ever. My wife read to us all that night in the tent, and I am told I was the first to fall asleep.

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