Monday, September 2, 2013

I See a Pattern

Technically, we still have about three more weeks until the autumnal equinox, which will mark the first day of Fall.  However, with the sun setting now at 8:00 p.m., a new crispness in the evening air, and the Halloween and Christmas displays already making their way into Wal-Mart, Labor Day is the day that officially marks the end of summer for me.  Today is the last day to visit the water park (if you like to slide in the rain).  It's the last time this year to sleep in with the windows open, only to be awakened by the buzz of lawn mowers and the scent of freshly cut grass.  It's also the last day that I would consider camping for the year.
I woke, this morning, thankful for a comfy mattress and squishy pillow to snuggle into as I pulled my down comforter back over my shoulder.  I thought about last Labor Day when I was awoken by the rocking of my air mattress as Kent shifted his weight.  The morning light was filtering through the tent fabric, and I pulled my sock hat lower over my eyes in a futile attempt to get more sleep.  I do love waking on camping mornings to peek around and see which of my children are also peeking around, and which ended up huddled in the bottom of their sleeping bags as their unconscious bodies crept toward warmth.  #5 is almost always curled at his sisters' feet in the bags we zip together for them.
Last Labor Day I was grateful for a modern tent with a waterproof fly.  I was also grateful for bloomers and a petticoat to dress into.  Sandy, Kent's mom, had outfitted us well.  When Kent and I were teenagers, his family went to rendezvous every year, and I tagged along with them twice.  After almost two decades' absence, it was time to take the kids back in time to the Mountain Man Rendezvous in Fort Bridger, Wyoming.  Grammy was all in, and Pappy came up for Saturday. While our modern conveniences of car camping kept us out of sleeping in the fort itself, our period clothing at least waived our entrance fee for the weekend's activities.

We watched a blacksmith at work, applauded the Native American dancers, and shopped at the many tents selling jewelry, toys, leather works, clothes, pottery, and food.  We refilled our glass sarsaparilla bottles repeatedly, which you can see #3 chugging as she viewed the competition at the rifle range.  The kids especially had a "blast" with the candy canon where #5's strategy was to simply hold his cap and collect the falling treats.

I've always enjoyed the early morning Church service where nearly one thousand campers gather to take the Sacrament and bear their testimonies.  Back in our little camp, Grammy shared stories of the handcart pioneers and we took turns sharing our own thoughts and testimonies.  We stayed away from the shopping on Sunday and entertained ourselves instead with #5's bull whip, Grammy's lace making, and cooking stew for the Dutch oven pot luck meal with Grammy's friends and neighbors that afternoon.  When it rained, which it did off and on all weekend, we took cover to play games in the tent.

We usually only have energy for one camping trip per year.  In 2011, we went to Moab with our friends, the Petersons.  In July of 2012, we wanted to see another national park, so we invited our friends Matt & Jenny Spadafora and their kids for a weekend in Zion National Park.  One of the great things about camping with friends is discovering new camp foods.  The Spadaforas' fried-egg-and-bacon breakfast sandwiches, where everything is cooked into a hole in the bread, were a hit!  Arriving on Thursday, we were lucky enough to get two of the few remaining first-come campsites in the park, right near the Virgin river.  Besides playing in the water and playing card games at camp, we also visited the nearby ghost town of Grafton with its cemetery marking stories of hardship for the pioneers and Native Americans who first settled the area.

I fell in love with Zion as a college student in 1996 when I hiked all over southern Utah and northern Arizona throughout that summer.  It was satisfying 16 years later to see my children gain that same love for Utah's natural beauty.  Even #4 learned to embrace the nature, which was a big step after her 2011 declaration on our way to Moab, in a grumbly New Jersey accent, "I hate the nate-chuh!"

#3 took more than 200 photos of the park.  Half of those pictures were of this deer that didn't mind eating around our campsite with her two fawns.  Some of the other photos, though, were truly stunning, which isn't hard to do in Zion's grand scenery.

Notice anything ominous?  Yes, we camped in the rain--again.  Really, though, each afternoon's rain shower was sweet refreshment from the hikes in the noon heat.  When the rain became wearisome, we simply hopped on a shuttle and headed back to enjoy the sound of sprinkling from inside our tent.

For 2013, we decided to do real camping and took the family backpacking to Notch Lake in Utah's High Uintahs.  Kent and I scouted out the trail over our anniversary weekend in July and planned our trip for the weekend before the Labor Day rush.  When I mentioned our plans to our cousins, the Eddingtons, they jumped at the opportunity for a backpacking trail that would work for young children.  Their friends, the Wests, also came along, and we all enjoyed a day of camping in the rain.

Let's get a better look at #3's ponchoed packing outfit, because it simply cracks me up!
I admit to being a little intimidated at the prospect of back packing with the Eddingtons.  They are pretty serious campers, known to scale mountains and karate chop wood with their bare hands.

Luckily, my kids proved to be up to the challenge.

They drank fresh water straight from streams coming out of the mountain.  (Lest you think we lost our minds, we also filtered and boiled most of our water.)

They even stepped it up a notch and brought some comfort to the duty of taking care of nature in nature.  #4 dug the latrine and built the stick-and-duct-tape toilet paper holder herself.

Kent spent his Scouting years back packing through the Uintah Mountains, and he's been back many times as an adult with his dad and brothers and friends.  This was the first time our family has been there.  The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.

As I mentioned, this was another camping trip in the rain.  This time we had planned for it, convinced that the rain would enhance the trip.  After all, the reason camping is always the most memorable and unifying vacation is because you can count on things going wrong.  We pitched our tent in the drizzly dark, finishing just ten minutes before a downpour.  While the girls and I laid out bedding, the boys miraculously started a fire in the wet, which the kids kept stoked throughout the next day.  We hiked and played between scattered showers, and took down camp between downpours.  In total we spent four hours shopping, collecting gear, and packing, and five hours back home running laundry, wiping mud out of the tent (yes, we took this HUGE ten-person tent on our BACKS!), and airing out sleeping bags.  Was nine hours of prep and cleanup worth 24 hours of adventure?  Let me refer you once again to the scenery:

The accomplishment that accompanies a back packing trip was also great for our family.  We know we can do hard things, and it is more fun to do them together. 

We thought we had learned this lesson pretty well, but we had one more challenge ahead of us.  After stuffing our packs into the van and watching the sun set beyond the forest, we climbed in to discover an almost-dead car battery.  We probably should have expected this.  Did you notice the title of this post?  You may have thought I was referring to a pattern of rain every time we sleep in a tent.  Or maybe you noticed that we like to camp with friends, which is now our favorite way to go camping.  This is not just because it makes for interesting adult conversation and fewer complaints from our kids.  The other benefit of camping with friends is that they have car batteries that work!  The Spadas even had a battery charger when they came to Zion with us.  On that trip, we killed our battery by inflating air mattresses using our van's charger, but not pausing to restart the engine once in awhile.  At Fort Bridger, we were dumb enough to repeat that mistake, and then had to jump the van a second time on that trip after the cold weather discouraged our already weak battery.  This year, we had not inflated air mattresses at the van, so the dead battery took us by surprise.  I guess it just didn't like the overnight cold.  Unfortunately, we had left our friends back at camp to contemplate whether they wanted to sleep another night in the rain, so no immediate help was available.  We said a prayer, mustered our muscle, pushed the van backward out of it's parking space and forward through the parking lot to the main road.  #1 was happy to put her new driving steering skills to use, while #4 was generally freaked out by that and by the fact that night had fallen and she saw no vehicles.  Luckily, the first driver to see us waving for help had jumper cables, and we were on our way.  Our prayer was answered again when we stopped at a gas station halfway home and the van restarted after refueling.  However, the prayer was over when we reached home safely.  After backing halfway into the garage and unpacking the equipment, the engine again refused to start.  A quick check of our maintenance records proved the battery to be completely dead at 5 1/2 years old.  Our hope is that our new battery will survive next year's camping trip to Yosemite and this part of our memorable pattern will be over!


Our family said...

Yosemite huh? Are you taking applications for someone to accompany you?

Mary said...

Next year's trip is supposed to be for the old Alta-Timpview gang in lieu of our 20-year high school reunion. I'm not sure how to define who the "gang" is, as it tended to morph over time. Plus Yosemite is a big, public place. Probably anyone who wants to hang out there should!