Camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park was about to get interesting...
I was so very much looking forward to our first mini-trip of the season – two days and nights camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park in Picton, Ontario. Having been to this park before, I knew we would love the gorgeous white sand beaches and the huge expanse of Lake Ontario – both so reminiscent of the ocean. The park is a lovely escape to nature and is well run. As well, the nearby charming town of Picton offers nice shops and good cafes. All in all, a good chance for a budget escape. Not quite the Atlantic coast, but it would do in a pinch.
A Bad Omen
Things got off to a bit of a rough start in the sense that we (read: I) normally start preparing for camping a week in advance, with carefully planned out lists, etc… But because we were so busy, and because we are such experienced campers, and because it was for just two days, we left things to the last-minute and kinda threw it all together. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, and it doesn’t really have any bearing on what transpired next, but it all contributed to feeling a bit out of sorts.
Trying to Salvage Plan A
A rainy weekend was predicted, but the real problem was the wind. It was nuts!! Our plan to erect a large tarp over the site, then set up our tent, was soon dashed when the high winds made our tarp act as a sail, causing it to fly and tear, rendering it useless. While R was setting up the tarp, I was toughing things out with our large, tall tent – which the wind promptly picked up, tossed several times, and eventually snapped one of the main poles with such a loud sound that I was startled. Only somewhat set up, the rain began to pour in, assisted by the driving wind. Needless to say, we were done. Friends who arrived a few hours after us were determined to stay the night and, in their lower profile tent, they were somewhat successful, if constrained. In the meantime, we needed a plan to get to high ground with our unimpressed dog and find food and shelter for the night.
Time for Plan B!
So how to salvage the disaster? We first needed to find pet-friendly accommodations, and fast. Our usual go-to sites didn’t have anything listed for the nearby small city of Belleville. It didn't seem to make sense that there would be no accommodations available in Belleville, a pleasant but not in-demand locale. I proceeded to research the city on Trip Advisor, and noticed a Comfort Inn got decent reviews. I’ve found that Trip Advisor is usually the fastest way of getting a listing of all accommodations in a city, as just about every hotel in the world merits a review of some kind. Comfort Inn’s online site listed a price of $125 plus tax for the evening. We called them directly, quoted our rewards membership, and mentioned that we had federal government ID. They were able to drop the price to $106- saving us $20 plus tax for a 2 minute call! There were only 3 rooms left, which explained why we didn't see a listing on an online sales agent, but that didn’t stop us from asking for a better price! We knew from previous travel that the Comfort Inn accepts all dogs, without a size cap or an extra cleaning fee. At that moment, with water dripping on our head, that was the only thing that mattered and we didn’t bother checking with other chains or researching alternative solutions. As quickly as we could, we bundled up our disaster and heading into town.
Pizza = Salvation!
The Comfort Inn was exactly as expected – nondescript, bland, clean, and, critically - dry.
At this point it was nearly 9pm. We got some recommendations on an independent pizza place. There was no way were going back in the (still pouring) rain to explore the town or seek out exciting food, so patronizing a local pizza joint was a nice compromise between trying out the local flavor and supporting a small business. Despite a cooler full of food, we really were stuck without a realistic way to cook it. We were able to salvage our camping food with the use of the ice bucket and mini-fridge.The next day was still windy and cool, but the sun was out. We made the most of our included free continental breakfast, despite being pushed around by a visiting church group with no sense of keeping a line moving. We managed to get toasted waffles with syrup, corn flakes and milk, coffee and juice. I always assume hotel buffets will be a write-off, so having a mini-breakfast we could eat was a huge bonus. We gathered things up and headed back to the campground to enjoy the day.
A Bit of Redemption
Our friends, having survived the night, did their best to convince us to stay another night with them by taking advantage of a spare tent. It was tempting, but all of our bedding and supplies were wet, and I knew the sunshine would turn to rain by days’ end. Instead, we enjoyed a good visit and several walks on the beach, with our delighted dog who chased the waves to his heart’s content. There was wine and chips and a campfire, with just enough sun and sand to satisfy. An hour in Picton village was equally nice, and I was able to stock up at several favorite stores. While we left with heavy hearts, we were cheered up soon when we did a pit stop in our university town of Kingston, where we grabbed our favourite spicy takeout for supper and had takeout on the waterfront by the marina.
Sometimes travel doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes it can be a downright disaster! But this experience taught me several key things. A person always thinks more clearly with a full stomach and warm feet. There are things that are worth saving money on, like calling and asking for a cheaper hotel room, and there are things worth spending extra on, like hot pizza delivery. Even when things turn out the opposite of what you expected, you can still find enjoyment. I sure wasn't roasting marshmallows or enjoying moonlight on the lake, but I did my best to enjoy some tasty takeout pizza, a pile of magazines, and cheesy TV re-runs: it wasn't camping, but it was a recipe for happiness most other nights.
We did our best to experience something local, even in a small way, and we managed to make the best of our remaining time. We didn't have hours at the beach, but we had a wild and windy walk that our dog adored. We didn't BBQ or talk under the stars, but we had a good chat around the campfire. There were many moments of the weekend that were the opposite of relaxation, but we also arrived home a day earlier than expected which gave us extra time to get ready for the week and allowed us to create future relaxation. We tried to learn a few lessons for next time – mainly, that we should have given up at our first instincts instead of toughing it out for several unnecessary hours of misery. And now we try to look on the bright side – any time away is a break in routine, a chance to see the world differently, to think outside the box. And that's always refreshing even if it’s not always waterproof!
I'd love to hear from you - any camping disasters you'd like to share?
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