So, the Merkles attempted our first ever backpacking trip last week. I should mention that Ben is an old and seasoned backpacker/ climber/mountain biker/ skier/ camper. I, contrariwise, am nothing of the kind. Just driving past an REI makes me glaze over and drop into a state of boredom from which it is nearly impossible to extricate me. I should hasten to add that I don’t feel that way about the outdoors – just about stores for outdoor people. Weirdly enough, I could hang out all day in a hardware store. I love a good hardware store. But plunk me into an outdoor-outfitter-emporium and I instantly wilt. And then I find a nice quiet corner to sit and weep at the tedium of it all. Nalgene bottles – and even worse, Nalgene bottle sleeves – can’t get even a flicker of interest out of me. Everything in those stores costs the earth – and isn’t even a tiny bit stylish to make it worthwhile. If it all looked less drab and neoprene-ish and a little more like British campaign furniture then I could get behind it in a big way. But it doesn’t, and I can’t. Those stores hurt my feelings and that’s all there is to it.
Anyway, for the first ten years of our marriage I got away with this prudent and rational lifestyle because I was either pregnant or nursing or both and we were certainly not going to be hitting the trails with five toddlers. Then once we got through that phase we galloped off to England for Ben to get his PhD. (That was a bit like survival camping.) And then we moved back to the US and lay down on the floor and panted for three years. And now, and only now, we decided that our family was at the point where we could give the old backpacking trip a whirl.
Ben kindly spared me from having to go into any stores to purchase folding shovels, and did all the necessary prep of that sort. The one thing he did throw down about though, was he insisted that I buy a pair of hiking boots . . . his theory being that wedge sandals with an ankle strap weren’t quite the ticket. I was peeved. Every single pair of boots was entirely dreadful – and heinously expensive. I fussed. I tried many many pairs on, and complained that they chafed my Achilles tendon – never mind the fact that I will put up with any amount of foot pain for a really gorgeous pair of shoes. I am also willing to pay a good bit of money for a gorgeous pair of shoes . . . but a gorgeous pair of shoes these were not. (See the above photo for verification of this statement.) What they were actually chafing was my soul. In the end I found the rock bottom cheapest pair that I could rummage up (that also hurt my aesthetic sense the least) and we went with those. I have to say that they were in fact quite comfortable. But I would also like to apologize to anyone who happened to see me in Costco that day as we were on our way out of town. I know someone out there saw me – I was the one trying to coyly hide my feet behind the grocery cart because my husband wouldn’t let me stay in the car.
Anyways, we tootled off to Hell’s Canyon for a bit of outdoor excitement on Thursday. Within 40 yards of the car I had spiritually bonded with Robinson Crusoe, and I was taking back all my criticisms of him and his endless raisin making. Do you not agree that there were a lot too many raisins in that story? But then again, who am I to cast the first stone? The split minute we were on the trail . . . out came the trail mix. It really just hits the spot, answers the questions, and sums it up. And while Robinson Crusoe didn’t have peanuts and m&ms, he did what he could with the raisins.
It was stinkety hot in Hell’s Canyon. We passed a rhinormous rattlesnake skin. Hero fell and put her hand in a cactus. We took the wrong trail and ended up back in a parking lot. We exhausted the water supply before we even found the correct trail. Our m&ms had melted into the raisins. I felt like a bit of bacon spitting and twitching in a frying pan. When we picked our way down to the river to filter some water I paused just long enough to drop my pack, peel off the boots, and I then sat down in the river in all my clothes. (Those who know me well call me Bear Grylls for short – my stamina on these occasions is amazing.)
After this eventful beginning to our hike we managed to refill the water bottles, pick all the cactus needles out of Hero’s hand, lower my body temperature enough that I could remember that I hadn’t taken my iphone out of my pocket when I sat down in the river (it didn’t get soaked thank goodness), and get ourselves onto the trail for real.
After that it was fantastic. The canyon is gorgeous, the hike was fun, and we all had a great time. When twilight was starting to set in we found a promising little patch of cheatgrass, ringed round with a tasteful border of poison ivy, and pitched our tents. I whizzed up our little dinner over the miniature camp stove, and then we lay and watched the stars come out. Totally stunning. Then we proceeded to not sleep a wink all night due to the lumpy ground and lack of pillows, and when we came out of our tents in the morning something had gotten into our little garbage bag and there were three deer in the camp – a buck, a doe, and a fawn. We sipped our instant coffee and thought that it tasted much better than instant coffee ever does. Then we packed up and hiked back out, thankfully before the sun had come over the ridge which meant that even though it was already in the 90s, we weren’t directly in the sun. And then we came home. And I have, ever since, been pondering the question of how an overnight backpacking trip can blitz my house out to this amazing extent.
But all in all we had a terrific old time – and I have a feeling that won’t be the last of our backpacking excursions. Which means that if any of you have any good backpacking recipes I want to know about them. A quick google on the subject will show you that people eat the most awful muck when they go out into the wilderness. I packed orzo, a stick of butter, and a ziploc full of parmesan (which keeps well) mixed with salt and pepper. That was our dinner – and it was pretty bland and lacking in zip. Not bad, but also not very interesting. I won’t be party to a freeze dried ice cream sandwich or tofu jerky – so there’s no use suggesting those, or anything else that falls into that general category!