Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the "vacation," part II

(read part I of the "vacation" here)

Kathy and I decided to make coffee and formulate a plan of action while the kids slept in.  We had gotten the camp stove for Christmas from Kathy's mom, and while we had never set it up before, it was similar to one I had previously owned, so although we struggled with it and almost blew ourselves up a couple of times, we got it going without too much hassle.  One thing we had managed to pack was the coffee pot -- an essential if you feel like we do about coffee.  I love coffee so much that I vividly remember the day I figured out how I like it best (2% milk, no sugar).  Kathy loves coffee so much that if she has a particularly bad day, she says to herself as she climbs into bed, "At least this day is over, and when I wake up, I can have coffee."  The only reason I don't like to work out first thing in the morning is that it interferes with that first sleepy taste of coffee, as it rolls down my throat and through my warm, sleepy body.  If you've already run three miles, that feeling is diminished.  On previous camping trips, before we owned the camp stove or our blue speckled percolator, someone had to get in the car and drive to the nearest town to buy coffee at whatever 7 eleven or gas station that town happened to have.  So really the whole point of the camp stove, for us, was coffee.

Believe it or not, the sun was actually beginning to filter through the trees as we set up our camp stove.  Each time the wind blew, the trees rained on us, so we kept our picnic table huddled under the tarp.  We filled the coffee pot with water and coffee, and a sleepy A stumbled out of the tent just as the water started shooting up into the clear plastic ball on top of the coffee pot.  I went to get the milk and sugar, and realized we did not actually have the milk and sugar.  When the coffee was finished, Kathy and I looked at the cups of black coffee in our hands, then looked at each other.  Then back at the coffee, then back at each other.  I guess neither of us wanted to be the first one to drink black coffee.  I stared down into the cup and finally said, "What about a marshmallow?  That's basically nothing but sugar, right?"  So A hopped off to the car and came back with a bag of marshmallows, which we had bought for s'mores that we were too tired to make the night before.  We each plopped one into our coffee and stirred until it was melted and dissolved.  I have to say, a marshmallow does not substitute well for milk and sugar, it just makes your coffee kind of disgusting.

Nonetheless, we formulated a plan of action.  Because all of our sleeping bags were wet, we decided that the only thing to do was drive into town.  That way, we could call our friends and see how the house was, and if it was okay, we could dry our stuff at a laundromat, and if the house was not okay, we would know we had to pack up and head home.  And, to compensate ourselves for our disappointing coffee experience, we could stop at a diner and have breakfast.

By the time everyone got up and dressed, it was around 11.  Our Garmin seemed a little confused about where we were, so by the time we pulled into the parking lot of the diner, it was near noon.  We called home, and spoke to our friends, who let us know that the house was actually fine -- the water level in the basement was going down, but rather slowly.  At least the situation wasn't getting any worse, though.  We went into the diner and chose a booth with it's seat constructed almost entirely out of duct tape.  We then proceeded to eat more food than I have ever seen two adults and three children put away in my entire life.  I really have never seen our family eat with such relish.  You would think we hadn't eaten in days.  We were safe.  We were dry.  Our house was fine.  I had coffee.  Something about this set of facts kicked my appetite into high gear, and I ate a Philly Cheesesteak the size of a Volkswagen.  I ate every last bite of it.

After that, we headed to the laundromat, where we washed and dried all the sleeping bags and wet blankets.  And where B managed to win a stuffed giraffe at one of those stuffed animal claw games.  I have never seen anyone win one of those, but B trots up and asks for a quarter, and comes back about 30 seconds later with a stuffed giraffe.  We also checked out the local bowling alley (only open 2 days a week) and the Family Dollar, where we purchased three super pinky balls.  Remember those?

New toys in hand, we headed back to the campground.  The sun was actually out by this time and the sky was clear except for a few of those nice fluffy white clouds.  We unzipped our tent to allow it to finish drying, and hung anything that was still damp on the line.  Then, we thought, we might as well go for a hike, since C seemed to be feeling markedly better.  I went to the ranger and asked for a trail map.  Instead of a normal trail map, however, she gave me a sheet of paper which was basically this, drawn in crayon and re-photocopied about 137 times:

Bear Spring Mountain Trail System

Notice anything missing from that trail map?  That's right.  A SCALE.  When I asked the ranger how far any of the trails were, she informed me that the entire trail system was approximately 40 miles, and refused to provide any further detail.  Thanks, that's completely useless.  Nonetheless, we decided that the loop near the top center, which includes trail  and part of East Trout Brook Road, is probably not very far, since those state parks almost always have a 1 or 2 mile easy hike.

We packed ourselves a bag with some beef jerky, water, and a flashlight (you never know!) and set off with the kids.  B took the lead, but C was second and kept trying to pass her, which apparently irritated her.  For this reason, a child that is incapable of walking from our front door to the car in under 15 minutes was setting a blinding pace up a completely vertical rocky trail.  Every time we asked B to slow down, she would respond, "WHAT?  I always walk like this."

Finally, we called for a break as the vertical rocky trail joined up with a relatively flat grassy path, with the entire family panting and sweating.  At this point, Kathy realized that C was not sweating because he had just jogged up the side of a mountain.  He was actually sweating because his fever had spiked again.  We contemplated whether to turn back and go down the shorter but steeper way we had just come, or to proceed along the flatter but longer path.  Since Kathy was going to be carrying C on her shoulders for what would probably be a good part of the way, we opted for longer but flatter.  About 20 minutes later, it started to rain.  Out of pretty much nowhere.  This was especially surprising to Kathy, who is apparently a budding meteorologist.  I posed the theory that maybe because of the mountains or something, the weather's just kind of unpredictable.  At the same time, Kathy and I both realized that our tent was wide open and half our towels were on a clothesline back at our campsite.

"Do you want me to run back?" Kathy asked.  I considered this.  I looked at her standing there with C on her shoulders and considered my options.  Carry C, run however far it was back to the campsite in khakis and hiking boots.

"I'll run," I said, handed the backpack to A, and set off ahead of my family.  After about 15 minutes, my pants were soaked and sagging off my body, so I had to run along holding them up with one hand.  I broke out of the woods as the trail arced along a ravine.  It was about this time that I realized I was running through the woods with only a poorly drawn map, alone, in the rain, with ABSOLUTELY NO GEAR.  No water, no compass, no food, no flashlight, no rain gear.  Nothing but a xerox of a map apparently drawn by a first grader.  It was about then that I encountered a giant pile of pink poop.  I looked around and realized I was in the middle of a raspberry thicket.  And that the poop probably belonged to an extremely large raspberry eating animal:  a bear.  "Sweet Jesus," I muttered, and decided to run a little faster.

Just as the trail was about to curve back into the forest, I heard something.  The something sounded a lot like my name.  I turned and saw my family dancing out of the forest at the other end of the ravine.  Actually, I didn't have my glasses on, so what I really saw was a white blob bouncing up and down, which I assumed was B's shirt.  I looked at the sky, which was clearing.  I thought about how far I was from camp, versus how far I was from my family.  I thought about how fun it would be to show the kids the bear poop.  I turned around.

By the time I met back up with them, they had just passed the bear poop, so I made us go back to look at it.  It was so worth it.  B and C were fascinated, and A was thoroughly disgusted.  B announced that she was going to eat enough raspberries to make her poop hot pink.  We started to walk off and realized she meant she was going to do it right that second.  We dragged her away from the bushes where she was busily packing her mouth full of wild raspberries.  Kathy picked up C, and we headed off down the trail, while B and C discussed what they would do if we encountered the bear.


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