How a Yurt Saved a Failed Camping Weekend

We had been looking forward to our Labour Day long weekend trip to Crimson Lake in central Alberta all summer. This was largely because you have to book spots there so damn far in advance (the entire campground had filled up for every single weekend for the entire summer by the end of June, I mean come on), but mostly because it’s such a beautiful place and an extremely family friendly campground.

This is what we were looking forward to.

So when Friday morning, the day we were supposed to leave, brought rain and more importanly BITTER COLD, we were apprehensive. We delayed our departure until the next morning in hopes that the skies would clear and temperatures would rise by about ten degrees within 24 hours.

Well, neither of these things happened. On Saturday morning it was still pissing rain, the temperature at the campground had dropped near freezing, and they had even added snow as a possibility to the forecast. The prospect of spending a weekend around a fire, under a tarp, and in small tents with five children freezing our little toes off was not appealing. Even a friend’s offer of a camping trailer didn’t sweeten the deal much.

So, disappointingly, we cancelled the trip. And then we set to figuring out a weekend plan that would make it up to the kids and still give them something to write home (to their other parent) about.

We rollerskated. We invited friends over. We rented a hotel room and frolicked in the hotel waterpark until 10 pm, then let them watch The Simpsons until midnight. The all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet the next morning surely didn’t hurt.

And for Sunday night, we called dibs on our friend’s yurt. While not open for public bookings, the yurt is available to certain friends for things like, say… a board game night with the kids. Or a one-night secluded writers retreat.

Our yurt in the countryside.

Our yurt in the countryside. Photo courtesy of Earthy Birthy Doula.

The yurt is about 24 feet in diameter and sits in our friends’ yard at the edge of Alberta’s foothills. Their ranch has been in their family for about a century (this is me being too lazy to verify specifics) and is so, so beautiful. There is an old farmhouse, greenhouses, gardens, beehives, and chickens, goats, kittens and rabbits. They erected the yurt tentatively thinking they might move into it one day, but it is now used as a classroom space for their homeschool classes, in which they teach all sorts of self-sufficiency skills, and as a meeting space for their farm playdates. Their farm is an educational working farm, where they practice permaculture, grow all sorts of animal- and plant-foods, teach school children and adults how to be more self-sufficient, and wildcraft tons of edible and medicinal goodies.

Our 13-year-old wasn’t interested in joining us; the idea of a sleepover at a friend’s was much more appealing to her. And when the 15-year-old found out there was no WiFi (Ha! We laughed at that… There’s not even a cell signal!), he opted out as well.

We anticipated that there wouldn’t even be any electricity so we packed our camping lanterns and flashlights. The cars were already all packed up for camping, which meant that we actually only needed to unpack things to be ready to go. We grabbed our backpacks from the night before and some board games, kept the inflatable air mattress, sleeping bags and pillows in the cars, packed the coolers with enough of our camping food for the night and morning, downloaded The Princess Bride to my laptop, made popcorn and we were on our way.

We were excited for our glamping experience, but it was beyond what we had expected. I might just go full glamp and abandon camping forever — this is coming from a longtime hardcore car camper/Outward Bound mountaineering alumni. It was like we had all the best parts of camping without any of the discomforts or inconveniences. Roughing it without roughing it!

The inside of the yurt!

The inside of the yurt! Photo courtesy of Earthy Birthy Doula.

As it turned out there was electricity. We opted not to use it, though, and when it got dark we lit our lanterns and a bunch of candles that were already in the yurt. This was magical. Add to that the fact that the rain never did let up but instead only got heavier, and therefore beat heavily on the roof of the yurt all through the night, and I don’t feel like it’s an exaggeration to say that the experience was transcendent.

As soon as we got there, we lit a fire in the wood stove and kept it stoked all night to keep things warm and toasty. The warmth of a wood stove is one of my favourite feelings, deeply comforting for me as I grew up in a log house with a woodstove. This warmth feels like home to me. We put a disposable baking tin on the woodstove and emptied our pre-cooked and seasoned taco meat into it, and it was sizzling within minutes. On the menu: tacos in a bag with all the fixin’s!

Playing Black Sheep by the light of the lantern.

Playing Black Sheep by the light of the lantern. Photo courtesy of Earthy Birthy Doula.

We played board games all night. Slamwich, Apple to Apples and Black Sheep. The kids LOVED it. It was like the evening was everything they had been dreaming of. The setting was so quiet and peaceful, and the arguments that broke out were minimal and easily resolved.

Finally, around 10 pm, we all sat on the queen-sized air mattress, set up my laptop on a chair, and watched The Princess Bride. There were no phones to answer, no distractions, and no separate couches to fight over. We all snuggled down and munched on popcorn while we enjoyed the show.

We slept well with warmth emanating from the woodstove and the steady beat of rain on the roof. I woke up in the night to add more wood to the fire.

The next day, we had yogurt and granola for breakfast, played some more board games, and cleaned up. Then our friends offered to let us dig potatoes in the garden and keep what we dug. We went up to the garden and dug a few hills, picked some beans and harvested some shaggy parasol mushrooms from the yard.

It is not often that we find a day, night or weekend activity or getaway that successfully replenishes any or all of us. The sheer number of people in our family and the dynamics between some of the kids (and between the teens and everyone else) mean that there is often tension or some sort of stress. This night in the yurt was the exception. Being out of cell and wi-fi range, living by candlelight and nestled in the warm cocoon of the yurt, playing simple games that reconnected us, was just what we needed.

And all of this borne out of the initial disappointment of a failed camping trip.

*All yurt photos by my beautiful fiance, Andi Johnson (Earthy Birthy Doula).

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