We’re supposed to recreate the hiking-bonding moment with Charlotte, the same one I had with Lily, but we can’t because of a funeral, and I wind up taking both girls instead.
That means carrying three sleeping bags, the tent, extra clothes, fuel, food, rain gear, first aid kit, ridge rests, and so on 2.7 miles up with about 2,000 feet of vertical gain.
We find a way to market the trip so everyone’s excited about it, despite the fact that Lily won’t get to go to the funeral which she was really excited about, and Charlotte won’t get to have one-on-one Dad Time until Next Time.
I’m compromised from a bad week at work that ends with me rushing to get to soccer photos on time, dinner at Subway, bad parking situations in a suburban hell of families with SUV’s everywhere trying to get in and out of the soccer field complex.
Breakfast at Starbucks and more marketing about our trip. Arrive at the trailhead just past noon, both girls are already tired from too much running around and stimulation and school.
The girls have their backpacks which they normally use for lunch and homework; I have light, bulky things packed in there that I can’t fit in my pack. We get across the footbridge out of the parking area and Charlotte gives me her pack to carry, not five minutes in.
We charge up the dusty trail and I tell them to breathe, stop running, stop talking, focus on pace. It’s about 85 degrees and we’re at 3,000 feet altitude so I push water and snacks on them. I have a thimble’s worth of sunscreen that I slather on them, no hats, because I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to packing.
Now I need to tell you girls the most important thing of the day, I say. They stop and listen.
I point down the hillside to the river below and say, if you fall that way you’re going to die. If you fall, fall the other way, against the mountain.
They nod, as if they understand. It’s true, there are some short parts of the trail that could be really bad if they fell the wrong way. I try not to think too much about it, and put Charlotte ahead of me, so I can grab her if she falls.
It’s hot, and it’s a long hike. We take a lot of breaks. We’re almost out of water, and I’m stressed about how much is going to be available still at the creeks I know about, higher up. I didn’t read any trail reports: I’m hoping there’s water still that I can pump, to fill up. I’ve got two quarts plus the kids’ little bottles and the kids’ bottles are empty, as is most of mine. I only have freeze-dried food for dinner, which requires water to cook, and leaves us just dried apricots, almonds and a couple nut bars if we can’t cook dinner. I’m a shitty dad.
Up the trail we spot a guy on a horse, coming down. He’s got a button-down Oxford with cut-off sleeves, a handle-bar mustache, and a camouflage cowboy hat. He explains the horse is being socialized still, a bit jumpy. She eyes us cautiously, sideways.
He’s an archer looking for elk, has been out camping and hunting for a couple months now. He spends more time making small talk with us than I would think normal, and maybe that’s because he doesn’t see a lot of other people. It’s nice. He used to take his kids out doing the same thing he says, but now they’ve got their own lives. He looks at me and says, enjoy it.
Charlotte keeps asking how many minutes until we get there. We can see the saddle, and by about 4 PM, three and a half hours in, we arrive at the junction. We could camp here, but Lily wants to press on further, to the secret spot where she and I camped a few years ago.
We find it, off-trail across a small meadow, across a little stream, and there it is, just like last time, a magical little camp below a canopy of trees, out of view of the trail.
I use the small stream as a kind of bidet, wearing just my sandals, return to camp naked and dripping, then fish for a 24 ounce Heineken in my pack, which is still cool — cool enough to taste like heaven.
I zip the kids up in the tent and pacify them with a couple of wipes. Their discovery of the wipes is almost sensual and they’re cooing, how good it feels to clean the spaces between their toes!
I sit by the fire ring with the gurgling stream and the ants scanning the ground, heads down…and it’s like the kids are in a different area code behind me, in their small conversations that could be a short story collection, a thousand sketches and story ideas hatching in the small talk of the tent, late afternoon, late summer, the season about to flip over to fall.
I gather water from the creek and think about the Indians, how ridiculous this water pump thing would be, then stir the boiling water into the pouch of freeze-dried beef stew, and we take turns eating out of it with our spoons. There’s a ridge in the distance with red volcanic rock and sand in it that lights up as the sun sets and it’s a slow burn, like coals simmering as the sky softens to dusk.
Charlotte and I go to the nearby climbing rock and have our moment of one-on-one time, admiring the moon as it comes out: she says it looks like a tear drop, the shape of an egg, asks how far away it is, as far as we hiked today?
I go back to nature to offset the madness and detachment that comes from being trapped in an office all week, and take this time to write about it to do the same, to take myself away. It’s the same with the pitter-patter of the rain now, that reminds us of something bigger that will be here after us, despite us.