I was filled with ill-defined dread. I had given up camping over 10 years ago after a trip with 7 children, ages 1 – 13 seriously tested my sanity. Not only did the packing and grocery preparation run me ragged pre-trip, but moving our household to remote locations in the woods seemed Herculian. I like the outdoors as much as the next person, but keeping track of little kids and cooking in rustic conditions were only the tip of the ice berg when it came to how camping with all the happy, dirty little people increased my work load. My husband, Wild Greg, says that I have a higher than average sensitivity to dirt. I’m not sure how he knows that, because his “sensitivity” might be “lower” than average… But at that point in the children’s lives, my sensitivity was certainly higher than anyone else’s; and me going camping was like putting a dog in an echo chamber with frequent high pitched whistles. Where to turn? What to deal with next? So, we came to an agreement that he would take the children camping in groups. It had its advantages for him, too. He could plan more age appropriate activities for each group, although they all seemed to be bound to silence about some parts of each excursion.
Then, the kids grew up and Wild Greg still wanted to go camping. I tried to bargain and explain. We tried renting cabins for a few years. I let him take me to exotic countries, but we always had indoor plumbing. I suggested a trailer. I suggested smaller trailers. I tried whining. I explained my aversion to going out into the dark multiple times a night to deal with my aging bladder. But he is a problem-solver; and he was sure I would have fun, if he could just get me out there.
For this first weekend trip of the summer, he said he would do all the preparation, as he could see I was still in a near panicked state. I went about my normal household chores while he made lists, did the grocery shopping, took over the kitchen for a bit to pre-cook some meals, and gathered survival gear. Ah, survival. He asked me if I had my own flashlight. I suspiciously asked, “Why?” Was he planning on sending me out at night after all? Or was he going to be leaving me by myself? “No, no, not at all,” he assured me. I just might want one. All I needed to do was pack my clothing and personal items.
He only had a general idea of where we were headed. I knew to expect that. He doesn’t camp in normal campsites. The idea is to get as remote as the vehicle and the forest service restrictions will allow. This is one reason he never agreed to a trailer. We took off with a 5 gallon container of water, a couple plastic totes of things like shovels and camp stove, plus our new tent. Our old tent was one of the first things we purchased as a newly married couple 32 years ago. It was from Sears and made of the heavy canvas. Even he admitted there was nothing easy about putting it up. If there was a breeze and we didn’t coordinate the raising of the poles just right, it was a tragedy. It was always a tragedy. The new tent was one of the ways he convinced me to give this all a try again. Thus, we were headed for 6000 – 7000 foot elevations, where it would be cool enough to hike without becoming prostrated.
To get to those heights, I had expected some winding roads. As long as I don’t read, I don’t usually get car sick. And it helps if I look out the windows. But if one looks out the windows, one discovers that the narrow road is skirting the Cliffs of Despair. (Highway 21 south of Lowman) I mean, the edge of the road was a nearly vertical drop several hundred feet into the ravine. Then, if one closes one’s eyes, every tiny jerk of the vehicle is a signal of doom. He patiently reminded me that he had hardly ever driven me off the side of a cliff, to which I conceded and tried to calm my breathing. I trust him, I really do, but it can be hard to overcome natural feelings of distress at heights. I tried to think positive thoughts, like to wonder how many calories a body burns in a state of such anxiety. Was now a good time or a bad time to try the peanut M&M’s?
He finally found it. The perfect camping spot by the river, just a few miles away from GrandJean, Idaho. He had kindly asked for my opinion before driving down each rocky, rutted road. Anything seemed good after the Cliffs of Despair, though. I did wonder if the tires would pop, but if there’s one thing I can do, it is run or walk decently long distances to get help. Or I could sit in the woods and read while he repaired things. He is well aware of my mechanical ineptitude and would only ask for help if he needed comic diversion. However, the tires held up just find and he parked in a lovely little out of the way spot amongst the trees.
It only encourages him, but I couldn’t help but exclaim at how beautiful it was! Far away from the main highway, it was private, with a nice mixture of shade trees and sunny patches. There was a cute side stream off of the raging, icy river that we could hike a few feet to to get washing water. There was a soft bed of pine needles to set up the tent on. He was in heaven. I was starting to relax. (click on any photo to enlarge)
I offered to help some. He told me to sort the tent poles. Those things were amazing! They had some kind of cord with elastic tension connecting all the pieces from one pole, so they never get separated. All that had to be done was to pull the pieces apart and straight, and they would all basically snap into place. Without coming close to smashing my fingers. I think I could have readied poles like that for several tents, but, alas, we only had ours.
Our new tent also has a miniature sunroom, so I knew I would be able to move in there during the day if the insects became intolerable. That had been another of my concerns. The mosquitoes, especially, seem to think I am tastier than Wild Greg. And there are always those huge horseflies when camping. There ended up not being very many mosquitoes as we set up the tent, but there were tenacious flies. I am not fond of using DEET sprays, but will to avoid being eaten alive. This time, I had also brought along a lemon eucalyptus Repel potion to try. As soon as the bug repellent was accessible, I dug it out and applied it. The flies immediately began to bounce off of me, or that is what it felt like. They would barely land long enough to decide they didn’t want to stay and it felt like little pings and pongs, but not irritating. Really, rather funny! Even that didn’t keep happening. After a while, either word got out or something, because they stopped coming around me.
This date camping thing would not work if Wild Greg wasn’t a good and happy cook. He said he would take care of me and he did. I was told there was nothing for me to do just then to help with dinner, so I set up my portable red music stand and began to play my flute. That was so lovely to do in the woods. The acoustics were other worldly, and I think the birds sang more, too. Chipmunks of multiple sizes would flit around the outskirts of the camp, probably anxious for post-dinner scraps, as there was a large fire rock fire pit there already, so we weren’t their first visitors. There wasn’t a table, but a few large logs had been set on end.
As I played my flute, any remaining tension from the drive dissipated. The light was fading, so I knew I didn’t have long. Then, we heard the dogs barking. Okay, so we had neighbors somewhere. As I continued to play, a woman walked to the edge of camp and asked if we would mind if their dogs were loose. They “were nice dogs.” Thankfully, Wild Greg politely answered that we were not comfortable having strange dogs run around camp. He meant I wasn’t comfortable. Their set up was just barely visible from our site, about 100 yards away. We had not seen them pull in. The lady was very gracious about it and said they would keep them on their rope runs, then. Until night, but “they never left the camp.” I sat there thinking she could not possibly know if the dogs stayed in camp the whole time she was sleeping! Still, she was friendly and we didn’t make a big deal of it. It was at least nice to have some communication and know where any dogs might be coming from. She left and it was time for our tacos.
After dinner, my husband suggested we try to meet the dogs. Okay. I could walk behind him. There were two couples and two dogs in this neighboring camp. They were all quite friendly. Well, the people were. I informed them that I was the one who was terrified of strange dogs. The same lady we had met before led me over to meet her pointer, warning me that he would jump on me. He was a good sized dog, his head up to my upper thigh. I let him sniff my hand and he licked it a bit. Was this a good sign? Then, my husband came a little closer and the dog growled at him. That is unusual. Usually, the animals can tell I’m fresh meat, but think he is their long lost king of the jungle. This dog never seemed to accept him, and the other dog just had a meaner look about it, so we said our good-byes. At least I knew one of the dogs probably wouldn’t bite me. True to their word, though, neither dog ever came into our camp.
Speaking of the kitchen, just because Wild Greg likes remote, doesn’t mean he likes to eat off of the dirt. At least, not when I’m looking. And there is his back to consider. He decided we could improve this alpine retreat by collecting a couple more logs to use as table space.
There was a pile of half burnt, semi-cut wood up the rocky road about 1/4 mile. It looked like the Forest Service had found it convenient to dump post-fire clean-up lumber there. Although it was charred, the wood was still solid and burnable, so there were options for both tables and firewood.
Of course, to be a worthwhile table, a log had to be of significant diameter. I watched as Wild Greg rolled a log up to the car that was so big that my arms hugging it would still leave my fingertips almost a foot and a half apart on the other side. It occurred to me that he was going to try to pick it up … a split second before he tried. As I told him not to hurt himself, I realized I was going to have to offer help. I tried not to look at all the bug hideaways in holes and loose bark and I grasped it with my bare hands to hold it close against my chest. In one well coordinated heave, we had it lifted into the back of my Suburban. I wondered what was going to crawl out of it and find a home permanently in there, only to reveal itself when I was driving by myself one day. I also made a note to put work gloves and a hazmat suit on the camping list.
While I brushed hundreds of small splinters out of my forearms, Wild Greg collected some firewood sized pieces. We had already noticed that we had to keep the Suburban doors closed at camp or chipmunks were going to jump in to go shopping. Now, he was willingly giving haven to who-know-what. I decided to just be glad that we were not using the back of the car to sleep in this time around.
The lack of close neighbors made the lack of an outhouse easier to deal with. Wild Greg had brought a bucket set-up for my
nightmare nighttime escapades, which I had managed to make clear would not include going outside the tent. The sunroom came in handy for that, too. I just needed to grab my little LED flashlight and try not to shine it in Wild Greg’s sleeping face while I fumbled for the zipper to the door between the compartments. The space I had to walk in between the air mattress and the slanted tent wall was about a foot wide. Getting up from the air mattress seemed to through off my equilibrium as the air mattress recoiled, and I started each trip to the bucket with a wave of sea sickness. Or was that because of Wild Greg rolling around trying to get the flashlight from shining directly in his eyes?
Anyway, the zippers were easy enough to work, but they were not quiet. The second night, Wild Greg tactfully positioned the zipper pull so that I wouldn’t have to put my hand on his head to balance myself as I tried to reach it. That second night, we had also left all the windows in the sunroom unzipped, though. As soon as I walked into it, I could sense all the wild animals licking their chops. I quickly zipped them all closed, only “quickly” is relative when a body is groggy, the window flaps have all been rolled neatly and secured at the bottom, and there are supply bins blocking access. At least the flaps were on the inside. I gave up being quiet and just started talking “to myself.” One needs a little company during situations like this, especially with a full bladder.
With a sigh of relief, I could finally attend to my real reason for being awake. As I lifted the lid to the bucket, I realized I had another decision to make. Wild Greg had put a couple of small shovels full of dirt in the bottom of it, to make emptying it easier. I had to decide how concerned I was about what might have been living in that dirt and how badly it might want out now. If anything was in there, it was apparently happy. I returned to my bed unscathed.
The next morning, Wild Greg asked if I “normally had to get up that much.” To which I replied, “yes, that is why I was so adamant about nighttime bathroom facilities.” The things you can learn about each other while camping!
The trip wasn’t all cliff hangers, barking dogs, and bathroom buckets. We went running and exploring. I accompanied Wild Greg on a fishing hike along the river. He took me to hot springs, most of which I will write about later. And he fed me regularly. He knew I had been apprehensive about having enough to eat, so he packed enough food for about four people. One night, as I struggled to finish my burger, still in the mind set that I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, he chuckled and said, “Good job. That was nearly half a pound of hamburger.” Okay. I guess I was fueled for my run the next day. He had even mixed up one of my favorite fruit rum drinks and frozen it, so that it would be nice and cold for an evening beverage. Maybe he should have saved part of it to “medicate” me for the drive home. The drive wasn’t any easier on me going home, but, in spite of myself, we talked about going back, and hopefully sharing our new remote camping site with friends and family.