We woke up at 6 a.m., dressed quickly in cutoffs and old T-shirts, grabbed sweaters and didn't bother with shoes. After eating bananas for energy, we ran across the field and down to the docks.
The waterfront staff at Camp Letts, near Annapolis, was busy dragging canoes up on the bank, hunting for paddles and bailers, distributing life jackets and giving quick lessons in how to paddle a canoe.
"I have to learn in the next few minutes," one woman explained frantically. "My little boy cried all night until I promised him we'd come this morning. How do you hold the paddle again?"
The group was finally ready. We slid the canoes into the water and, in a ragged sort of formation, followed our leader across the lake towards the first in a series of islands.
"We're just going to paddle around the first few islands," he called back. "Then we'll beach the canoes at the last island and explore."
We dragged the canoes up onto the shore.Most of us just sat and rested -- canoeing can be rough on the arms -- but a few hardier souls set off to follow animal tracks, collect flowers and plants, and search for treasure. "Hey!" someone shouted. "I found an old map. Look!" We crossed around and studied the torn and dirty piece of crumpled paper. We could barely make out the lines and the blurred words; "Follow the map . . . to the treasure."
"I think I recognize that route," our leader said. "Follow me." We dragged the canoes back into the water. "I've got a hundred blisters already," my daughter moaned.
We paddled north for another half hour, stopped at another island and there, right in front of us in fact, was the treasure: A charcoal fire was presided over by two chefs who were cooking pancakes, spicy sausage, scrambled eggs and hot coffee.
The early morning canoe expedition is one of many things my family loves about family camp weekends at Camp Letts, run by the YMCA. We also look forward to the crabfeast -- all the crabs and chowder and hot-buttered corn you can eat -- the sing-alongs around the campfires, and the silly skits and songs each family rehearses and presents to wild applause, the meals served family-style in the huge dining room, the sailing, the swimming, the tennis. The day is never long enough to do all the things we plan.
Unless it rains! Then we scrounge to find things to do. We read newspapers, we organize exercise classes, we play scrabble or bridge. Some of us try to hide in our rooms and nap.
Once, in desperation, we organized a boat-bailing contest and, in even greater desperation, a boat-sinking contest: How many people can pile into a canoe before it will sink? Fifteen -- but several of them were little children.
Everything except horseback riding is included in the price. Accommodations vary, from rustic cabins to the lodge, which has indoor plumbing. Some people bring tents or trailers and camp in them. A few visitors float in for the weekend and stay on their boats just offshore.
Reservations are being accepted for the family camp on Labor Day weekend. Only a few rooms are left in the lodge, but there's lots of room if you bring your own tent or camper.
Camp Letts is a children's camp during the rest of the summer, so if you don't make it into the family camp, the kids can go without you.