When he suggested buying a mesh tent to hang over the Thunderbox I thought he had lost his mind. We are not wimps. People will think we are ridiculous. We’ve camped for 30 years without one. It will cost money. My list of reasons for not doing this was long, but boy was I wrong. We named it “the princess toilet” and won’t camp in the spring without it ever again! Having a place to go to the bathroom without getting swarmed by black flies is the best!
Now I should explain the term Thunderbox for you city folks or for campers who use another name like KYBO. A Thunderbox is one of the many terms used to describe an outhouse without walls, nestled in the back 40 of a designated Ontario Parks campsite. Basically, it is a box with a hole and a lid.
“In the Scouting Movement in North America, a widespread term for outhouse is “kybo”. This appears to have originated from camps which used Kybo brand coffee cans to hold lye or lime which was sprinkled down the hole to reduce odor.” Wikipedia
Although some people may find these facilities a bit primitive, they are so much better than what we had in the old days – which was nothing. People just went anywhere and everywhere. Not nice at all.
When you arrive at a campsite you can find the Thunderbox by following the well worn path that leads into the forest (look for tape marking the way). One site we had in Massasauga Provincial Park was located in a mature red pine forest that had the Thunderbox in plain site of the kitchen area. It was a weird decision by the folks picking the location but I’m sure there was a good reason. My brother-in-law had a great idea – string a tarp between trees to make a wall. You can’t overestimate the value of a bit of privacy on a camping trip!
In the picture of our “Princess Toilet” you will notice the flattened roll of toilet paper on the lid. If you flatten the toilet paper it will pack better and fit into a dry sack or Ziploc. You do not want to lose a roll of toilet paper! It is one of those few things on a long trip that is more sacred than wine. I once had a head cold on a trip and ran out of toilet paper. Luckily, I was camping with people who were willing to share.
Note: All rolls are different and everyone has different needs, but count on at least one roll per person for every 5-6 days.
Back to Bugs
Bugs are one of the biggest challenges to camping early in the spring – 24th of May for example. For years we camped at the hike in sites at Bon Echo Provincial Park on the long weekend in May. They have a great view of the rock face and offer a bit more privacy than car camping. For some reason the bugs are not bad at these sites after the first night. However, we now have a dog that likes to run and he is not great with people. This meant that camping at Bon Echo was no longer a good option.
As we started planning our first May 2-4 backcountry trip we knew we would need to confront the black fly issue. Turns out it was a year where the mosquitoes were actually worse than the black flies, so we had both.
After a lot of discussion, we decided that we would add both the “princess toilet” and a mesh kitchen tent to our collection of camping gear. We looked at some light tarps with mesh walls for backcountry trips but they were more than we wanted to spend since we would only need it for one or two short trips a year. We also needed enough space to accommodate 5 people and two dogs. So off we went to good old Canadian Tire and found the perfect solution.
When you’re at home planning a camping trip it is hard to grasp how bad the bugs can be. Boy were we grateful for our protected eating area and of course some protection in the “toilet” department. The kitchen tent was big enough to cover the picnic table and still give us room to walk around. These luxuries did add weight to our packs but we picked a trip with short portages and it worked out just fine. It didn’t take long to stop caring what the other campers thought – I think they were actually jealous.
These tents also came in handy when we camped with kids on a trip in June. The mosquitoes were bad and to make matters worse, we were camped in a marshy area. The kitchen tent was a nice place for the kids to play and eat.
We also packed our bug jackets – something that we always take on May and June trips. They are hot so they are not ideal on humid or sunny days or for hiking and portaging. However, they are great around the campsite or campfire when you need a bit of a break from the biting. A full jacket is better than the mesh that just covers your head – especially for black flies because they will always find a way to crawl in.
Having your face covered makes it difficult to read, eat and drink, but for us, they are a necessity at various points during a buggy trip. However you look at it, the jacket is better than bug spray, which can melt plastic, is smelly in the tent and always seems to end up in your mouth. It just can’t be good for you, not to mention it getting into the lakes if you do need a swim.
We camp with some people who are not bothered by bugs at all. They were hardcore, long-term, tree planters and they can sit in swarming mosquitoes without a care. Not us! Even with bug jackets sometimes the buzzing sound drives us crazy.
The nice thing about black flies – if there is anything nice about black flies- they “go to bed” at dusk and they don’t bite in the tent. Not so with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes do “go to bed” around 10, so if you can wait them out you will be rewarded, but as every Canadian knows they will buzz AND bite in a tent.
My grandparents moved from Owen Sound to Apsley, Ontario in the late 1940’s during black fly season. My grandmother called black flies “the curse of the north country”. My mom was 12 and was stoic about the move but to this day she takes issue with any type of bug.
Just listen to the start of “The Blackfly Song” and see if you can feel the shiver.
Don’t Stay Home
So if you find that bugs are keeping you home in May and June, reducing the camping season to only a few months, consider investing in some mesh.
You may end up sitting in a kitchen tent for part of the trip or floating around in the middle of the lake, but I can think of worse places to be on a beautiful spring day – like stuck in traffic, shopping in a mall or sitting in front of a TV. Trust me you won’t regret the decision to spring camp.
Last year we got to enjoy some great spring weather. We heard hundreds of bird sounds, enjoyed several campfires and saw flowers we would not see any other time of year.