I do this thing, this thing where I get restless if I go too long without some type of adventure, whether it be a weekend getaway or a day trip to a new place or, if I’m lucky, a vacation to somewhere interesting and beautiful. Since returning from Jamaica in September, with time and finances rather tied up with wedding planning, the opportunities to get away, although not quite nonexistent, had been few and far between. As the end of the year approached I could feel myself getting antsy. The feeling built until the last weekend of the year when I had an extra long weekend thanks to the New Year.
I woke up Saturday morning not having any plans, but really, really, really wanting to have plans. So, like a normal person, I suggested that we go camping. In a tent. The obvious choice for a weekend in December. One spot I had been wanting to explore since moving to Oregon was Cape Perpetua along the coast. Shockingly, we had no difficulty making last minute campgroup reservations at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Less than 2 hours after I initially suggested camping and Brandon agreed (after spending a few minutes reconsidering my sanity), we were packed up and ready to go.
Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse.
After lunch, we enjoyed the scenic route to the coast and then arrived and settled into our campsite. I’m fairly certain that we were the only people in the entire park crazy enough to tent camp in the middle of winter, but we ensured we got a site with electricity in order to make a few, ummm, adjustments to our typical camping arrangement.
After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the best kinds of things – walking along the beach holding hands, watching Sydney play tag with the waves, finding whole sand dollars (not easy to do), and enjoying the beauty that is the Oregon coast.
After a long walk on the beach and taking approximately 1 million pictures, give or take, we had worked up an appetite. We decided to return to Homegrown Public House, a spot we had especially liked during a previous trip to Florence.
It was just as great as we remembered. The literary themed seasonal cocktails were a fun touch. With options such as A Walk in the Woods, My Precious, Lizzie Bennet, and A Song of Ice & Fire it was hard to decide.
The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.
Bellies full, we soaked in the warmth of the restaurant before heading back to camp for what we correctly anticipated would be a chilly night.
Although the space heater and many blankets kept us reasonably warm, there is only so much you can do to make camping in a tent, an activity that is not particularly comfortable under ideal conditions, cozy in the middle of winter. Needless to say, we got an early start the next morning, desperately needing another campfire, lots of hot coffee, and the chance to move and stretch our aching backs.
Despite a mediocre night of sleep, we were excited to begin our day at Cape Perpetua. This was another spot on my Oregon bucket list, Thor’s Well and the tide pools both being among the spots I wanted to see.
With no real plan in mind, we walked the trails, explored the tide pools, and marveled at the incredible ways water and rock and wind and time have shaped the coast.
And just when we thought the views couldn’t get any more amazing, we headed to the top. From the highest point on the coast, we could see miles down the coast and out to sea. There is an immensity that overwhelms in places such as this one, an immensity that washes over and through and leaves a feeling that is simultaneously humbling and expansive.
To finish up our quick weekend away, we enjoyed a late lunch at 1285 Restobar, a favorite because of the pistachio drink, the ingredients of which we have repeatedly tried to determine. Well, it must have been our lucky day because with minimal prompting our waitress revealed the unexpected secret ingredients. I won’t reveal them (mostly because if I did you probably would not try it), but I’ll make you one of these cocktails anytime!
We savored our lunch and began the drive home, reviewing the year, both the wonderful and difficult parts. It had been a year full of amazing things, but also a year that presented some challenges. As we reflected on this year, our thoughts turned to the next year with anticipation. The next year, the one where we would get married and start our life together. As we looked backward and looked forward, I felt grateful for the man beside me with whom I made so many of the wonderful memories of the past year and with whom I would soon be starting the next chapter. Whether we spend the weekend having adventures, recovering from a crazy week, or simply moving through the mundane tasks of life, I am thankful that he is the one by my side. Later that night, exhausted, we sat around the fire pit in the backyard and toasted the new year with friends, welcoming and wondering what 2018 will bring.
Of course I want to be writing about Jamaica. Jamaica was amazing and beautiful and everything I hoped it would be and more. But today, I am writing about another kind of beach in another kind of place. And I’m writing about the thing that made both places wonderful – time with my love.
So here was the scene: Imagine a hot summer day, the kind of sweltering summer day that is thankfully rare in Oregon. To walk outside was to be hit by a wave of heat that made you want to turn around and run straight back into the air conditioning. Except it’s too hot to run, so you just slowly walk and then find a spot to sit where you don’t have to move. Add to the almost unbearable heat the smokiness. For weeks over the summer, wildfires throughout the region settled a tangible haze of smoke into the valley that frequently made breathing uncomfortable. On this particular day, I was also finishing up my work week and feeling hot and tired and stressed.
And then Brandon texts. “Hey babe. I’m at your place packing the camping gear into the car. Let’s go to the coast.”
Music to my ears.
I rushed home from work, eager to head out on our adventure. With no specific plan in mind, we loaded Sydney into the car and headed toward smoke free, cooler weather. An hour and a half later, we were breathing easy and enjoying the novelty of not sweating every time we did something intense, you know, like sitting quietly and breathing. On the drive, we chatted about where we might settle for the night. After some debate, we decided to try to find a spot at our “secret beach.” Although there were no official campsites, camping was allowed on the side of the dunes opposite the beach. After another terrifying drive down the terrible road leading to the beach, we parked and made a few trips to carry our camping gear the short walk to the spot we decided to camp. If we had a vehicle that could drive on the sand, we could have pulled right up to the campsite.
From there, the weekend became everything. And nothing. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love weekends like this with Brandon. Days spent relaxing that end with nothing to do except sit and watch the sunset, days where I don’t have to share him with anyone or talk to anyone else (I know, I know, I’m kind of unsociable sometimes). Days where I can recharge and reset from the stress of day-to-day life.
We walked to the beach and watched the sunset before settling in for the night.
We literally spent the entire next day walking along the beach. See what I mean by everything. And nothing. It was absolute perfection.
We did not see another person the entire day.
At one point, we set out our beach towels, ate a picnic lunch, and then took naps. We know how to have a good time.
Sometimes you just need to get away – from the heat, from the smoke, from the stress and routine of everyday life. I needed to recharge and reconnect. I am thankful for days when we can load up the car and randomly head to the coast to get away from it all.
And up next on the blog, the gorgeous and amazing Jamaica (spoiler alert: aka the trip where I came home with a ring)!
When I last left off, I had shared our caving and camping adventures in California. But that’s not all! There was so much more to see. As I mentioned before, this area of northern California has some of the most fascinating and unique geology that I have seen.
One morning, we set out to find the Glass Mountain of Brandon’s childhood. When we did find it, I do not think it quite lived up to his memories, but I found it astounding nonetheless. Despite it being July, we ran into some snow on the road that my little Civic could not surmount. Not one to let a little snow deter us, we pulled the car out of the way and set out on foot.
Like much of the landscape in the area, Glass Mountain developed as the result of a lava flow. It gets its name because much of the rock that formed it is made of shiny obsidian. It is impossible to capture the scale of the place. Once on top of the black mountain, the rock stretches almost endlessly in every direction. After taking in the vastness of it all, attention turns to the details – how each rock has its own form and pattern.
Although the snow would belie this fact, it got hot and we were both thankful we had arrived in the morning. We finished up our hike on and around the obsidian mountain and spent the remainder of the day relaxing (see previous post and the picture of Brandon floating in the lake – that pretty much sums it up).
Our final morning, we packed up the car, but we were not nearly done with our trip. We spent the morning learning the history of Captain Jack and the Modoc Indian War. This was a timely reminder of the ugly history of this country we sometimes try to gloss over or ignore. It may be easier to look the other way, but confronting this history and remembering this history is important. This is a history where people, because of the color of their skin and their beliefs, were forced off their land, the place that was their home, because people with a different color skin and different set of beliefs were powerful enough to do so. This is a history that should not, must not be forgotten.
The war began in November 1872 when a handful of Modoc Indians decided to move back to their home. This set off a series of conflicts between the Indians and white settlers. Eventually, a group of Indians led by Captain Jack retreated to the lava beds where they were joined by others. There were 50 – 60 warriors and their families who made a stand here. Later named Captain Jack’s Stronghold, this area of lava bed was home for this group of people for months of fighting against a vastly larger US Army. The war ended in June of the following year with the defeat of the Modoc Indians. Captain Jack and other leaders were hanged and most remaining Modoc who were at the stronghold were relocated to Oklahoma – a place so very far from their home. As we walked these places where such a tragedy had occurred, I could only hope that we have learned to do better, to be better as a country and as human beings.
At both Gillam’s Camp (where the US army camped) and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, there were brochures that provided the history of the war through a self-guided walking tour. I made Brandon stop at every number and we took turns reading the information. And he still wants to marry me. He hasn’t been to too many museums with me, though. Yet. I might hold off on that until it’s too late for him to back out.
Our final stop before going home was Petroglyph Point. Separate from but also a part of the National Monument, this rock formation used to be an island. The nearby Tule Lake used to cover this entire area. All along this formation were petroglyphs, some of which were carved as much as 6,000 years ago.
This was completely worth a stop.
This weekend had it all! We camped, we hiked, we learned, and we saw some things that were just plain cool. If you are a person living in southern Oregon or northern California, this is an easy weekend trip that I highly recommend.
I thought we were going camping. After all, the weekend had all the typical trappings of a camping trip. And then there was this moment, this moment when I was standing on the edge of a volcanic crater, breathless, fascinated, and suddenly aware that this was so much more than a camping trip. Sure, we were sleeping in a tent and cooking our meals over a campfire, but we were also, really, taking a vacation. We were in a new (to me) place, we were learning about geology and history, we were going caving. This was no mere camping weekend.
The decision to come to this particular location had been prompted by Brandon. This area of California had been the site of one of his favorite childhood trips. He had spoken about this place for literally as long as I’ve known him. So when I learned I would have a 5-day weekend because of the 4th of July, we decided that we would spend the weekend in the Modoc National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument. Of course, revisiting Brandon’s childhood memories had not always lived up to his abundant praise (cough, porcupines, cough); I honestly was not expecting much. But I love him, he wanted to go back, so we did. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.
We reserved a lakeside campsite in the Medicine Lake Campground, which had just opened up for the year. As the park ranger with whom we chatted said, “It is a little more lake front than usual.” The lake was feet higher than normal, but even so, our campsite was wonderful.
Whether we were drinking coffee by the campfire, floating in the lake, playing cards, watching the sunset cuddled up in the hammock, or simply relaxing, we enjoyed every second. Conveniences like running water and vault toilets made the campground seem practically luxurious after our recent backpacking trip.
But you know us. We could not be content with just hanging out at a campsite all weekend. This is where the “vacation” part kicked in. We spent our first full day in California at Lava Beds National Monument. I really had no idea what to expect, other than that there would be some caves. Lava Beds is accessible from Modoc National Forest along a gravel road and was about 16 miles from the campground.
Our first stop was Mammoth Crater. The crater was formed 36,000 years ago and is the volcano responsible for the lava flows that created most of the caves in the park. This is also where I realized this was so much more than a camping trip.
Our next stop was the visitor’s center. Because we did not come in the main entrance, we needed to pay the entrance fee and get cleared to enter the caves (I’ve talked about white nose syndrome and bats before, which I think says a lot about my life with Brandon).
After a this quick and scenic stop, we began exploring the caves. Not all of them, of course. There are over 700 caves in the park and over 2 dozen of them have developed entrances. That was definitely more than we could see in a day! While at the visitor’s center, we picked up a brochure with information about the developed caves. This included information on the caves’ locations, difficulty, and any special features. We started with the caves near the visitor’s center before driving Cave Loop Road, where many of the most popular caves are located. We finished our day of caving with a quick stop at Skull Cave, one of the few remaining ice caves at Lava Beds, and a hike to two caves that displayed Native American pictographs.
When I say “developed cave,” this is probably what comes to mind – a marked entrance, a way to get into the cave without using a rope, a clear path, and some type of lighting. Sure, that applied… to exactly one cave in the park. Near the visitor’s center, Mushpot is a great place to start because of all of the above. The lighting also provides the opportunity for educational information to be displayed throughout the cave.
Then there was the rest of the day, when paths and lighting were nowhere to be found. Sure, there were ladders to get into the caves when needed, but from there, we were on our own with the exception of the occasional path. And that’s what made it fun. We wandered and explored and discovered, each cave unique ensuring there was always something new to see within the light of our headlamps.
After a picnic lunch, we set out for the greatest adventure of the day – The Catacombs. Brandon could not wait to explore this, one of the largest caves in the park. The description about the cave says (and I quote) “A cave map is highly recommended for any group planning to explore the entire cave, as multiple levels and numerous side passages can be confusing. This cave is not recommended for inexperienced cavers.” Ummmm…. Cave map? No, of course not. Sense of direction? I am the girl who can get lost while listening to the GPS telling me exactly where to go. Cave experience? Hardly, unless you count the few caves I had been in near Bend. How could this possibly go wrong?
We (obviously) made it out alive, but we had very different experiences in this cave. I was stressed out and constantly worried about finding our way out. Brandon was having a great time and had no concern about taking whatever path caught his fancy.
I pretty much just followed him around, letting him choose where to go, reminding myself that we would (more than likely) be okay. Until we got here:
After crawling through on his belly, the space too small for his bag, he came back to reassure me that the cave “opened up on the other side.” Nope, not doing it. Despite his efforts at persuasion, this was as far as we went.
The rest of the day was rather less stressful as we fit as much of Lava Beds as we could into the day.
We had such a great day! I loved that we could start and end the day among the pine trees next to a lake and spend the time in between in the desert seeing unique geological features. Truly, it’s a fascinating place. We were just getting started. Up next, geology, history, and art. I told you this was a vacation!
As I prepared for our recent 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip, I had a lot of questions, many of which centered around what we would eat. I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time figuring out the answer to those questions and in order to not let all that time and effort go to waste, I wanted to share what I packed and what I learned in the process. Hopefully this will help if you’re planning a similar trip of your own!
First, let me note that Brandon and I have been doing a ketogenic diet. Although I quickly decided that sticking to that through this weekend was likely impossible due to the nature of most dehydrated and packable foods, I still made an effort to choose some low carb options. Hence the pork rinds.
For our 2 breakfasts, I made oatmeal packets. You can get pretty creative with the add-ins, but mine had quick oats (because slowly cooking oatmeal over a stovetop wasn’t exactly an option), powdered milk, stevia, chia seeds, walnuts, and dehydrated blueberries. We just dumped the packets in our bowls, added some hot water, and then enjoyed a satisfying and warm breakfast each morning. And then there was the coffee. I might be willing to temporarily give up some luxuries like, you know, running water, but I will not give up my coffee. Give me coffee or give me death! I pre-portioned servings of coffee and included a mini shelf-stable creamer for Brandon. I LOVE my drip coffee maker when camping – it’s quick, easy, light and portable, and makes excellent coffee.
This is where I maybe went a little crazy. Perhaps I spent one too many afternoons worried about starving to death in the wilderness. My goal for lunch and snacks was having foods that would easily fit into our daypacks for hiking, knowing that we probably wouldn’t be around camp at lunch. I put everything into smaller containers, dividing it in half so that we each had a bit of everything. The jerky, olives, and cheese combo made for a great lunch and will definitely be something I do again. And, if you’re wondering, according to my extensive research, Babybel cheese can be unrefrigerated for a few days. Judge your own tolerance and willingness to do that, but we thought it was fine.
For dinner, I had purchased two kinds of Mountain House dehydrated meals – Beef Stroganoff and Mexican Style Rice and Chicken. Of course, it’s hard to tell just how good they are (or aren’t) after being outdoors all day because at that point almost anything tastes good. However, we both thought they tasted quite good and would eat both meals again. On the first night, Brandon finished off an entire pack of the stroganoff and I had most of mine. On the second night, we didn’t even finish one package of the chicken (the package contained three servings) and could have left the other package at home. We added some of the white cheddar into the chicken, which was a nice touch. Best of all, we enjoyed some of the fish that Brandon caught. I had come prepared with foil and seasonings, just in case. There is nothing like freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire.
One Last Touch:
We both thought it would be nice to have something warm to drink by the fire in the evenings. After considering different options, we finally settled on apple cider with a little spiced rum. We brought along packets of cider and a small, plastic bottle of rum that was easy to carry. It was a bit of a luxury, but a nice way to end the day.
After getting all of my food supplies together, I packaged everything as compactly as was possible. I then divided everything in half. We both ended up with two dehydrated meals and one gallon size plastic bag full of food which easily fit into our respective backpacks.
What I Learned: All in all, I think I did pretty well preparing for this first trip. But I did learn a few things along the way that will be helpful next time. Because there will be a next time – this was one of my favorite weekends all summer.
The Jetboil is my friend. I had purchased a Jetboil for this trip (it’s a small propane tank with a tiny metal contraption that screws onto it over which you can cook things). This was literally a game changer. It boils water quickly without getting a kettle all smoky. Even on regular camping trips, this is now how we (and by we, I mean Brandon) make coffee in the morning. Less hassle than trying to heat water over a campfire = quicker access to coffee. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been an amazing addition to our camping gear.
Related to this, I have now determined the Best Way to Make Coffee. Thanks to being gifted the drip coffee maker, I now have everything I need to make delicious coffee while camping and backpacking. We had experimented with various coffee making methods while camping last summer. Although there were no true failures (well, except the time that Brandon forgot to pack the coffee…), we have conclusively determined that this method is the best. No instant coffee for me, thanks.
As I mentioned above, I brought too many snacks. In the future, I will not give into my fear of starving to death and pack a reasonable amount of food. Which is probably about half of what I brought. My back will thank me.
Dehydrated dinners can be delicious. I was a little skeptical, but I had researched various brands and Mountain House was consistently reviewed as the best. In the future, I could consider making my own given the cost of these meals. But for the occasional backpacking trip, these are good enough that the cost is worth the ease of not making them myself.
I was particularly proud (and Brandon was particularly impressed) that I thought to prepare seasonings just in case Brandon caught some fish. Of course, we would have figured out a way to cook the fish without the foil and seasonings, but having them made the whole process better. If you’re going somewhere where fishing is a possibility, this is a small (literally small – it added almost no weight and took up almost no space) way to take your meal to the next level.
We should have brought a bigger water container. Although our 1L water bottles worked fine, we had to make repeated trips to the lake to fill them (we had brought along a filter and a Steripen to treat the water). Not only were we drinking water, most of our meals required water to prepare. It would have been nice to have had a larger container and to make fewer water runs. After this trip, I bought a 5 gallon water container that folds flat for easy packing.
And I learned that a small treat can make a difference. Even if we had just brought along the cider packets without the rum, it was nice to end the day with a warm drink in hand. Again, this was a small luxury that added an almost undefinable sense of comfort and relaxation to the evenings. If apple cider isn’t your thing, there is always hot chocolate.
So, there you have it! I am hardly an expert, but I feel like I learned a lot through planning and preparing for my first backpacking trip. If you are planning your own similar trip, hopefully this information will save you some time and effort. If you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite backpacking foods, I would love to hear it!
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.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.
Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.
Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.
Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.
Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.
After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).
In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.
Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.
I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.
The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.
At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.
Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.
Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.
Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.
We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.
Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.
And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.
But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.
Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.
Sydney, however, was in her happy place.
The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.
He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.
The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.