Learning to “roll with it” while camping

Written by: Brittney S., Columbus, Ohio

Skyler, with mom, Brittney, in front of a fire while camping

We are a family that loves to travel. Beach or City? Mountains or Desert? Historical sites or Museums? Lakes or the Ocean? Yes, please! All of the above! Please don’t make us choose! 

However, we aren’t a family that can hit the road without a fair amount of preparation, flexibility and sense of humor. Sounds very much like all scenarios for families with children who have special needs, right? 

We are parents to 3: 14 year old Skyler, 5 year old Quinn and 4 year old Reilly. Our oldest child, Skyler, has Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and uses a manual wheelchair for mobility. While traveling with Skyler does create some unique challenges, he has been able to cross 17 states off of his travel list! The blog Curbfreewithcorylee.com has been a wonderful resource we have used many times in our past travels. Cory Lee is an award winning travel blogger living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who details his travel experiences and offers practical guidance. 

Siblings, Reilly, Skyler an Quinn, enjoying one of their many great family adventures

We’ve been traveling to cities and beaches for years; only recently did we decide to venture out and try our hand at the true great outdoor adventure, camping. We didn’t want to travel far from home for our first camping trip, so thankfully Ohio is home to some of the most expansive, beautiful and accessible parks in the nation. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources website is a wonderful resource as it lists all of the accessible activities and facilities. There are a number of accessible fishing piers, paved trails, boat launches, etc. throughout the state. Note: Hiking was not a priority for us this trip, however, we love the website AllTrails.com that lists park trails and includes user reviews and photos. This has been very helpful preplanning other trips to determine if a trail is appropriate for our family.

Skyler, enjoying the day

We decided to stay at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, just east of Dayton. We booked our campsite through the ODNR hotline and were able to speak with a customer service representative to ensure our site was accessible, near a restroom and an overall good fit for our family. We did a ‘practice’ run in our basement where we set up the tent and let the kids get used to the idea of sleeping in a tent etc. We packed Sky’s medical supplies, our s’mores supplies, an electric heater and off we went! We looked like a parade float driving down 70 with the amount of supplies, bicycles, bike trailers, and even Skyler’s wheelchair that we had in the bed of my husband’s truck! 

We stopped at Young’s Dairy, a Yellow Springs must see, before arriving and unpacking for the night. We set up camp quickly and enjoyed family time around the fire pit. The joy I felt seeing the kids all around the fire together made the entire trip worth it. The s’mores were perfect.

Skyler enjoying the warmth of the fire

And friends, this is where having a sense of humor came in handy.

I had never cooked over a fire before, but armed with a recipe from Pinterest and a good attitude, I tried. Our meal a blackened pulp and kiddos fed Doritos and s’mores for dinner, we decided to call it a night and head into the tent. We knew temperatures were expected to dip low that night, but grossly underestimated the cold and overestimated the power of our little electric heater. We froze. And then…our youngest, our sweet Reilly, sat up and projectile vomited. 

Quinn, Reilly, Skyler and their parents


I remember looking at my husband and saying “Should we just pack up and go? It’s 1o’clock in the morning!” And by the light of the moon and our truck’s headlights, we did just that. I admit to feeling slightly defeated driving that parade float back down 70 heading home in the middle of the night. 

However, I am now able to laugh at the situation and remember the dozens of other travel and outdoor memories we have made as a family. We pre-planned as much as we could, we controlled what we could, and also knew when to pack it up and try again another day. To repeat something I said at the beginning of this post-  Sounds very much like all scenarios for families with children who have special needs, right? 

Over the last 14 years of life with Skyler, we have certainly learned to ‘roll with it’. I’m confident we will try camping again when the weather is warmer. Maybe we’ll just order pizza? We’ll certainly pray for no puke. And if it doesn’t go as planned again, there’s always the Hilton.

Josh, Quinn, Reilly, Brittney and Skyler

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