You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?
But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.
It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.
And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.
Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.
I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.
Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.
Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.
We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.
That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.
Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.
This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.
The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.
After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.
It was not even 8 am.
And then there was this:
I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.
But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.
And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.
When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.
I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.
And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.
Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.
We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!
The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.
Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.
Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:
Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.
But I made it.
Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.
And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.
What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.
What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.
What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.
As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.