There is always a tone to the last day’s breaking camp to go home. Because of how the trip has gone there is sometimes an urgency…an intense desire to be off the trail and into a hot shower and a bag of Doritos. And other times it is different. There is hesitancy and dragging of feet. Pauses and looking all around. It’s the latter this time. The trip has been wonderful, and no one wants to leave…including me. While breaking camp I become an audience to my thoughts as they scheme to find a way to stay. One more day of joyously simple living. One more night of fire and stars and tent. When the show is done I discover that the tent is down and my pack is trail ready. We pause at a special pictographed rock. I point out to the kids that travelers leave offerings of significance here to give thanks for safe passage through the valley and mark the fact that they are somehow different now than when they entered.
There is tobacco, a hat, several notes written on bark. We are silent for a moment.
I’m never sure who we are thanking…God, The Great Spirit, the Universe, the rock…but it doesn’t matter as the moment is meaningful. And as we turn to leave the valley and re-enter suburbia out the corner of my eye I spot a baseball capped pajama panted teen place something on the rock before picking up his pack. It’s his ipod earphones.
Tags: adventure, backpacking, bandanna, camping, exercise, fitness, funny, god, great spirit, hiking, kids, leader, life, nature, outdoors, pictograph, rain forest, river, rock, spirituality, story, tale, tent, trail, universe, walking, west coast
I wake to a humid heat and yellow glow. My tentmate breathes softly and I lie still listening. I roll up my pad and stuff my bag as she stirs. Flip the fly over to dry in the morning sun. Grab my nalgene and amble to the bear locker. In camp there is time to amble. Water is boiled. Coffee is made. A comfortable place to sit is found. The river is adored. A bird is followed. Thoughts are subdued. And I find myself aware of my own breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Mmmmmm.
Life on the trail is gloriously simple. Walk…rest. Set up camp…break camp. Make food…clean up. Balance is easy. There is great joy in having nothing to focus on but waiting for your noodles to be done. As well as in watching what kids deem to be worthy trail food. There is a wide assortment of ichiban and KD type dishes. Canned goods from the rookies. And the shockers. 16 carefully diced raw potatoes. An entire XL zippie of cooked ham. One kid brings nothing but 18 bagels and a jar of peanut butter. Another only hot dogs. Kinda. The cushy buns became one in his stuffed pack, so he eats wieners with a side of white carbs, ketchup and mustard applied like gravy. Wonderful.
The day on the trail transpires: blisters to ducttape, gorp to consume, and packs to adjust…pretty mellow. I hang back as sweep, picking up earth and holding it to my nose…then I inhale the scent of pine and cedar rubbed between fingers. All good…all good…all good.
Camp that night is so smooth. At this point the kids are in a rhythm and need little guidance. They even break into teams to gather wood for the evening’s entertainment. There’s something about a campfire that stirs up the primeval in all of us. Add the sound of moving water and the cover of the constellations and it becomes magical in a hurry. People addicted to electronic popcorn in suburbia find themselves entranced by this different attention grabber. Conversation ebbs and flows comfortably. Naturally. Stories are told. Laughter comes easy. A kid speaks up: “I guess this is what people did before TV.” General laughter and head nodding then silence. And I ponder what we’ve lost in our gradual slide into the digital age. Human beings sit around a fire. They look at it, but also at each other. No one asks anyone to be quiet. There’s no rewind button. A kid gets up and puts more wood on. We watch the flames touch, then envelope the addition. Soon the orange becomes stronger and more active. We watch silently. In the moment. Together.
Tags: adventure, backpacking, balance, bandanna, being, breath, breathing, camping, cedar, duct tape, exercise, fire, fitness, funny, gorp, hiking, kids, leader, life, nalgene, nature, pine, rain forest, river, sonoran desert, story, tale, television, tent, trail, walking, west coast
I’m 43 and newly single. The stage when men buy red convertibles and have affairs with young blondes. So when my 24 year old tent mate hinted at her availability I was majorly flattered but only mildly tempted. Looking back I’m a bit shocked. Being outdoors in the spring most definitely raises my…well, everything! Certainly wasn’t feeling noble or virtuous. Hmmmmm. Maybe my mid-life mess looks a little different than the norm. Or my conservative upbringing continues to fuck me over. Or the thought of two-days-on-the-trail-tent-sex just didn’t do it for me. Whatever it was, I stayed in my bag.
I sleep really well outdoors. When I get into a stretch of stressed unsleep I pitch a tent in the backyard. Beats the hell out of benzodiazepines. But the bladder bugs me at least once a night. This night I lay there…not wanting to move but needing to. As I stirred, my tent mate spoke. “Mark, are you going to pee?”
Having camped in bear country with a woman for nearly 18 years, I have a pretty good idea what that question means. “Yep…you want me to go with you?”
“Um, no,” she replied with a nervous giggle. “I want you to go first.”
And that, my friends, is what you get when you sleep with a 24 yr old.
Tags: adventure, affair, american beauty, backpacking, bandanna, camping, exercise, fitness, funny, hiking, leader, life, nature, outdoors, peeing in the woods, rain forest, red, river, sex, sleep, story, tale, tent, trail, walking, younger women
The improvised camp in the trailhead parking lot went as well as camping in a parking lot can go. Which is to say that it was pretty shitty. No water…no bear lockers…no fire pits. But the unexpected 14K start to get there left us too tired to care. The next morning found us breaking camp quickly and moving down trail for an extended breakfast stop by the river whose valley we were following. Nalgenes were filled. Oatmeal was cooked. The sun came up from behind the eastern peaks. And the bears came out to play. Yep…we sat and watched them do bear things on the other side of the river. It was awesome! There’s something about seeing a 450lb teddy do its thing in the wild that catches everyone’s attention. It beats the hell out of Angry Birds! At some point it was time…and we saddled up and headed out. That night we set up camp by a suspension bridge, had a fire, cooked a lot of food, stared at the stars, and realized that God was in her heaven and all was right with the world. For real…it was one of those magical nights when all you desired was there all around you. Precious. And then it was tent time.
Tags: adventure, backpacking, bandanna, bears, camping, exercise, fitness, funny, hiking, kids, leader, life, nature, outdoors, rain forest, river, sonoran desert, story, tale, trail, walking, west coast
20 or so kids, three guides, and me. Dropped by the bus to walk onto a small ferry which would…well, ferry us across to the trailhead. 2km in and we would set up our first camp. Excited hormones flooded our breathing space. The day’s sun lingered behind the southwest peaks. Our timing was perfect. Except that the ferry workers had gone on a surprise strike that day. Well, it was a surprise to me. Meaning we now had a change in plans. Which is to say we now needed to do a 7K hike to an old train bridge, a sketchy jaunt across said bridge as trains chugged along beside us, and 7K more along a dirt road before the trailhead would be in reach.
At one point we paused to eat and put on headlamps and I pondered. It’s difficult to measure distance along a path you’ve never walked before. Were we 2K or 5K from the trailhead which was to start our hike? Hard to say. The teenage grumbling was palpable. Morale was lower than a snake’s belly in a tire track. Something needed to be done, friends…but what? Just then a dirty white pick-up stopped to see what we were all about. Charlie emerged from behind the wheel with a friendly nod of the head and an offer to help. He was jovial. He was helpful. He was really fucking drunk. The guides and I chatted briefly before loading the kids’ packs into the bed while two of them hopped into the cab with Charlie. I know…MADD would not be pleased. But desperate times and all that. Those that remained tackled what turned out to be the final 3K or so with considerably brighter moods.
Categories: adventures, misfortunes, Tales
Tags: adventure, backpacking, bandanna, camping, exercise, fitness, funny, hiking, kids, leader, life, nature, outdoors, rain forest, river, sonoran desert, story, tale, trail, trains, walking, west coast
The Sonoran Desert undulates downwards from southern British Columbia, through the coastal states, and ends in northern Mexico. It‘s bordered to the west by the Cascade Mountains. Where these two very cool pieces of geography meet has become my favourite eco-system to play in. A mash-up of westcoast rainforest and inland desert. A place where you can get good and sweaty, knowing there’s plenty of water around to quickly thermo-regulate. One of my primal pleasures is skinny-dipping….and this is the best place in the world to indulge it. But currently I am not enjoying it much, as I am monkeying about on a branch receiving packs full of food from one of my guides on the ground and clipping them to a line strung between two trees. I am plenty sweaty and there is no water for a dip…skinny or otherwise. In fact, there is no water to drink. The day has not gone as planned.
Categories: adventures, misfortunes, Tales
Tags: adventure, backpacking, camping, exercise, fitness, funny, hiking, kids, leader, life, nature, outdoors, rain forest, river, sonoran desert, trail, trains, walking, west coast