Coming soon: Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza 2010

Our next camping trip, July 30-Aug. 1, is our annual Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza.

For the last several years we've been taking a three-day weekend for camping and canoeing with my brother-in-law, Craig, and nephew, Andrew. Sometimes Andrew brings a friend, as he will again this year. My daughter will also be bringing a friend with us.

But the real reason for excitement is Craig's wife, Melissa, is coming! This is exciting news because Melissa doesn't do camping. She and her sister, Sharon, and her husband, Mike, came once five or six years ago in a borrowed pop-up that had not been used for many, many years. It smelled funky, the power didn't work and that made for not-so-happy campers in Melissa and Sharon. Melissa hasn't been camping since.

This year, though, she's ready to give it another go. We're kicking the kids into the tent and Craig and Melissa will be staying with us inside the camper. We trust she'll have a much better experience this time. In fact, since she's already talked about coming out with us for the Cheeseburger in Caseville trip two weeks later, we're thinking maybe she is prime to be bit by the RV Camping Bug!

As a side note, the last time we went tent camping was the second year of our Extravaganza. Right after we set up camp, my cellphone rang with bad news. My grandmother passed away earlier that afternoon. We stayed the night, but packed up and went home the next day.

A couple of years later we bought the camper, and I'm sure Craig and Andrew have told Melissa all about how comfortable and fun camping in an RV can be.

For the Extravaganza, we try to never stay in the same campground twice and always canoe either a new river or at least a new portion of the same river. We've camped two or three times at White's Canoe Livery and Campground on the Rifle River (heavily used by rowdy partiers; be sure to specifially request the family section) in Sterling, Michigan. We've also camped at Hartwick Pines State Park and canoed the Au Sable River in Gaylord, Michigan (one of our top three favorite parks; be sure to ask for the older campsites with mature trees), and Coolwater Campground and the Pine River in Wellston, Michigan (same description as White's).

Actually, we're going back to Wellston, Michigan for this year's Extravaganza -- but at a different campground and on a different river. This year, we're going to stay at Twin Oaks Campground & Camping in Wellston, Michigan. Wellston is about 30 minutes east of Manistee and Lake Michigan. We made the reservations several months ago, and Jackie at the campground said sites $45 and #46 were her favorites. We hope they're our favorites, too!

We're renting our kayaks from Wilderness Canoe Trips in Wesick, Michigan, about 27 miles north of our campground. The trip that we're doing is the Harvey Bridge Trip on the Big Manistee River, in which we're deposited with our kayaks 10 miles upstream at Harvey Bridge. From there, it's about a two-hour moderate paddle back to the livery. There's no time limit, and the river is deeper, faster and more scenic. Sounds perfect!

For the first time, we're all renting kayaks. The first few years, when the kids were much younger, we opted for the big, wide, un-tippable rafts. The last few years we went with canoes. We're all looking forward to trying out the kayaks.

The menu is a work in progress, although we've divided up responsibilities with Craig and Melissa. They're taking care of breakfasts Saturday and Sunday, we're taking care of dinners late Friday night and Saturday. We're all on our own for the picnic lunch during the Saturday canoe trip. Friday night's dinner will be pies over the campfire, especially since Craig, Melissa, Andrew and his buddy won't be arriving until 9 p.m. or so. After a long day on the river, Saturday night's dinner will be a hearty affair. I'm thinking steaks cooked over the campfire, plus a variety of sides (corn on the cob?).

Man, I'm getting anxious, and hungry, just thinking about it!