Over the weekend Rusty and I went backpacking in the Ozark National Forest. As a kid I went camping alot with my family, but it was always car camping, sometimes for a week at a time, which when I think about it, is pretty awesome. But I had never been backpacking, never packed and carried everything I would need for an overnight trip on my back, then walked with those things up and down and around for 2.5 miles. Nope. Never done that before.
It was something I had always wanted to do, and something Rusty had done alot when we was in college and even though we had talked about it and planned to do it for years now, we had yet to actually do it. So last week, after spending several days in a funk I said to my husband, "Rusty. We are going backpacking this weekend. I don't care how cold it is, I don't care if we are tired and the house is messy, we are going. The only thing that would stop me is rain and it isn't raining this weekend so you better call your mom and make sure she can keep the kids" and he knows what that crazy look in my eye means, so he called his mom.
So we packed up our junk on Saturday morning, I did a few squats in my hiking boots and giant backpack, because you know, if you can do 5 squats in your hiking boots and your giant backpack, you can pretty much do anything in them and we headed out for the forest. And after an unnerving drive down to the ranger's station and an obnoxious talk with a very snooty station lady who apparently believed we had never even been outside let alone done something crazy like camping and I was all, "Umm hi ma'am, you are wearing sheer black tights, pointy heels and a shoulder-padded blazer. Look at me, I am in freaking clogs. I might as well be made out of organic, free-range granola and yes, I have been camping before".
Pffft. Some people.
I discovered about halfway up the first hill that oh, 5 squats with all this junk is just a teensy bit different than hiking up a mountain. But whatevs, I'm awesome and I can do this. And then I promptly passed out.
Ok not really, the hike down was fine and in fact we happened upon a kind lady hiker who explained to us that she had passed by some hikers headed the same way as us, and then a little bit up the trail happened upon some hot dogs buns. Putting two and two together she figured they had dropped them and just in case they came back for them, she had put them up on a tree branch, but hey, why don't you two just take them with you since you are likely to run into those hikers?
We went on our way and eventually did run into those hot dog buns. We, being the kind hikers that we are, took them with us with the intent to find the owners when we made it down to the falls, which is apparently where they were camping. We hiked some more, stopping a bit at a crevice which we obviously climbed in and around and where I found a sweet rusty old spoon! Treasures everywhere you look. I, of course, took it with me and it was the first thing I showed Norah when we got back (and I act like I have no idea where she gets her compulsion to save her "treasures"). I am planning to put my spoon in a place of honor once we move into a new house.
Eventually we climbed out of the crevice and headed on our way, looking simultaneously for a place to make camp and for the owners of the hot dog buns. You know, the whole time we were hiking I kept coming back to this one thought: Where are we going to sit tonight? I asked Rust and he said, "On the ground" which I mean, that just wasn't going to cut it for me. Usually when camping you bring your camp chairs but we were contemplating shaving down our toothbrushes to cut down the weight in our packs, so I wasn't about to strap and damn chair to my back. But really? Where was I going to sit once we got to our campsite? About ten minutes later a heavenly answer dropped down to me. We walked up on this perfect little campsite, not one on the map mind you, but one that had been frequented before us. It was ready made with a giant fire pit and stone chairs all the way around the fire with easy access to the stream to boot. I was sold. Rusty was not so sure but one look at those stone chairs and I was not moving another inch until he agreed to make this our camp.
After hiding our packs in between some rocks we hiked on further, taking the orphaned hot dogs buns with us in search of their owners. We hiked all the way down to the falls, but never found the hot dogs that belonged in those buns. I did, however, get to have my first water purification experience.
With fresh water in our bottles and having given up our quest to find the hot dog eaters, we headed back to set up camp before the sun went down. "Setting up camp" included pitching a teeny tent, busting up some logs and Rusty starting a fire while I sat on my stone chair and thought about how cute his outdoor skills are. And I don't mean that in a patronizing way at all, because for real, I forget how much outdoor and camping and backpacking and fire building experience he has. There is something about getting out of your regular environment, getting out of context that makes you see people differently. I see Rusty so often within the four walls of our house, the four mile radius of what we do, I forget about this whole other life he lived before me. A life of hiking and backpacking and leading adventure camp groups and being a veritable crunchy granola kind of dude. I forget, but I love that part of him so much, the part of him that lines up kindling according to size, hunches his whole body over the fire pit, carefully blowing air onto his smoldering sticks and then setting up logs in such a way that they will burn most effectively.
You know, I was thinking about this trip alot, thinking that I am probably crazy for forcing my husband to go camping with me in the middle of winter. In reality, winter camping has quite a few advantages. There were no bugs, for example. Nothing crawled on me or flew into my soup at dinnertime. And there was no poison ivy. However, the biggest downfall to winter camping, by far was the middle of the night pee, the pee characterized by freezing your naked butt off as you try to determine whether or not you have stepped far enough from the tent to avoid stepping in your own pee the next morning, the pee complicated by the fact that your leg muscles are to tense from the wicked cold that they won't allow your bladder to relax, only prolonging the whole frozen naked butt thing, the pee that was precluded by a twenty minute mental debate about whether or not you can fall back asleep, only to be petrified by some crazy raccoon dropping from the trees onto the ground right outside the tent which is basically, right next to your face. Yeah, that pee wasn't fun. It was only mildly worse than the first of the morning pee because that time I could actually see the steam coming off of it and man, that was just weird.
So after the nearly sleepless night, the frozen peeing, the crazy raccoon and the surprise hot dog buns we got with our dinner (which, we earned, by the way, since we carried those bad boys for miles while we hiked around) we hiked back out to the car. Once we emerged from the woods and began crossing the road back to the car and triumphantly raised my arms in the air, whipped out a fist pump and hollered "We SURVIVED!" just before I realize there were two burly mountain biking men standing there, witnessing me and my misplaced glory, since really we only hiked like 5 miles total. Probably nothing compared to their accomplishments.
Regardless, I was so proud of myself, so proud of us! And even though I was exhausted, I was also amped, so excited and exhilarated that I literally did not stop talking until we got home and I fell asleep on the couch.
So yeah, maybe a wimpy trip for people who are more hardcore than us, but it was a great time. It was time for us to connect, to be quiet, to appreciate the simplicity of nature, to strip away all the things that distract us, and just do something together. It was awesome. You'd better believe I am doing it again.