Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: camping

Why Do I Get Up in The Morning – Episode 2

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I’m writing my new “Why I Get Up” weekly post a day late. Why? Because I was busy doing the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning and now, I get to tell you about it!

My husband and I went on a scouting mission for new, more local camp sites a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to pull a trailer and look for good places to camp and we don’t have any vacation time to waste right now. We plan to drive to a few locations half a day’s drive (translation: less than 6 hours) away and then spend the weekend there exploring campgrounds and hiking areas.

The result of our first mission was a lot of great future tent camping places, which we haven’t done in years, and we were able to get in a couple beautiful hikes as well. I texted back locations to our sons at home so they could look them up and maybe do some camping/backpacking on their own. We never did spend much time in the Sierra’s, amazingly enough. We always went on weeks long RV trips into other states instead of exploring the wonderland in our own backyard. Maybe we were unconsciously saving it for a time when we couldn’t make the long hauls, who knows!

Back to why I get up in the morning: my awesome sons. Over dinner last weekend, my youngest (18) expressed an interest in doing some camping, but he didn’t really want to go alone. He was thinking maybe he could find a friend that would want to go on his days off from work. I asked if he would mind taking me camping, just the two of us and he lit up. We began to make our plans immediately. I use the word “plans” very lightly. We’re kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people, so “plans” mean general direction and days.

Early Monday morning, we threw a tent, sleeping bags, water, firewood, the coffee pot, and some food in the truck and headed to the mountains. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but was afraid the best-looking first-come, first-served places would be full, since all the places that took reservations were booked until the end of summer.

I was delightfully surprised! My first choice of campground was available, and my son picked THE best spot right by the creek. We got out of the truck, paid the fees ($25 for primitive camping…wow), filled our water bottles and headed up the first trail we found.

We hiked for five hours, came back to camp, ate, and went for another hour-long walk down the road. The night was wonderfully cold. We got up just as the sky started to lighten, made a fire, boiled some coffee, ate, packed our backpacks for a long day and headed up the other side of the canyon for five more hours of hiking.

We could only stay one night since he had to work the next day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful twenty-four hours. We had amazing conversations, laughed hard, and met some nice people and their dogs. My son is very athletic and I … well, I’m getting old and I’ve never been much hard worker, but he never lost patience with me. These hikes were hard. We started at 9000 feet and got up to 11,000 in about three miles. It was like a staircase up to the lakes, but I got there. He could have run up them but always stopped and rested with me.

We took pictures of each other, made up stories about weird looking plants and trees, and made fun of other campers and hikers. “Burning daylight!” was heard many times. We were tired, dirty, and mosquito bitten. We were hungry. We didn’t sleep well because the ground was so hard. Climbing the second day, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it, but he just kept me going with his gentle positive attitude. He encouraged and empowered me with every climb and every rest in the shade. I felt like a warrior!

Last year, I thought my days of having adventures with my sons was coming to a close. My older son had moved to the east coast and was determined to do things on his own. And my younger son was making plans to spend time in Europe like his brother and go to University in the city when he came back. I was on my own and it seemed so sudden to me. I found myself wondering, “Weren’t they just asking me to take them to Disneyland? Didn’t I have to be there to sign waivers for motocross last week? What just happened?”

And here we are. Circumstances change all the time. I’m not happy their plans had to change and everyone is back in the same house. That kind of sucks for all of us. But I am happy that I was reminded that any moment can be the last time, any adventure could be the last, or not. You just don’t know.

We took a “selfie” at the top of the pass, 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest I have ever been with my feet on the ground. I said, “You never know if this is the last time we camp and hike together like this. We need a good picture of our feat of strength!”

“Every trip we take is the best one, Mom. It doesn’t matter if we ever do it again.”

We taught them that. Always live today, right now, like it’s your last day. Don’t waste a moment.

Bonus level: We came up with a great story starter as we walked, and I made a few notes when we got back to camp. Now I have another short story to work on and this one is Twilight Zone style!

The “Black People”: A Camping Story

boys on trail

We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

On The Road

Campgrounds and RV parks remind me vaguely of a gypsy camp. People come in from the road throughout the afternoon. They’ve been driving from who knows where, from every direction, but they all know to come here, hook up to power and water, do laundry, go grocery shopping, visit with new people, and share stories. It’s interesting to see people doing the same basic things in so many different ways.

After we get settled, we usually take a walk around the park to look at other people’s set ups. What kind of truck do they have? RV, tent trailers, tow vehicles, etc., it’s all very interesting and each has its positives and negatives. People’s rigs reflect the kind of people they are, the kind of traveling they do, but the common denominator is that it’s all mobile, we can all be back on the road in a few minutes.

We talk with people, compliment their pets, ask where they are from and where they are headed. It’s short term community. A friend of mine once told me that camping was just pretending you were homeless for a few days. I thought it was a funny way to think of it, but it’s kind of true in a way. The reality is that it’s so much more. To me, it’s remembering our ancient nomadic past, an echo of our pre-agricultural eras.

Humans weren’t always so sedentary. Before we invented farming, humans used to travel constantly to head to a better climate or a better food source. We owned nothing, we stayed nowhere. I’m not feeling nostalgic for those days, by any means. The invention of farming allowed humans to stay in one place, build communities, and eventually invent the smart phone with unlimited data and excellent coverage, so that we could leave all our stuff behind and hit the road for fun! I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Camping in all its forms, from tents and gear packed in the back of a Subaru to a full-size house bus with a tow vehicle, reminds us that we can live with less than we have at home, that we can pack up some of our stuff and leave. The longer we live in our smaller, mobile space, the more we learn what is really important and/or actually needed.

Staying in the same place, with the same people, while beneficial in many ways, weighs us down. We become accustomed to it, even like it, but we start to think it’s the only way and should always stay the same. But life can’t always be the same. We’re forcing ourselves into a mold we can’t even see. We become bored and weighed down a little at a time and don’t even know it, until something shakes us and then we have to adjust, sometimes painfully.

To keep our bodies reasonably fit and ready for action, most people would say consistent, daily exercise is far better than suddenly having to run for your life. The same goes for our mental health and growth. When we deliberately choose to move out of the familiar space to see new things and meet new people, we waken something in us that we bring back home. It renews our thinking, planning, expanding brain, and makes life better back at home.

Traveling is one thing, but camping and rv-ing are different. Something about being on the road at a slow pace, coming to a common resting area, and gathering for a short time only to move on again in the morning, just does something for me. It feeds a spot in my soul that I didn’t know needed to be filled. I gain so much every time I go out.

We all know humans started as hunter/gathers, but agriculture helped us to stay in one place and thrive like never before. We are more than we once were. We do more. We create more. Camping, maybe, allows us to go back in time and relive the old ways in new ways to remind us what we have. We go out heavy and return light, back to a our home base where we continue to grow long after our return.

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