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May 2004

An Overnight Success?

Need a crash course in backpacking? Join our newbie and his brooding teenager as they fend off mountain lions, overzealous retail clerks, and other beginner hazards.

“You’re eating pad Thai!”

What can I say? We are weak.

Back at the campground, I wake up repeatedly in the night, mainly because a small weather system is building up inside our tent. Vapor rises from our bodies and condenses on the nylon walls, forming disconcerting little areas of chilly water right next to our bags.

In the frosty morning, I arise and go out to gather more deadfall for a little fire. Due to bad clothes planning, I’m wearing a black knit hat, a blue vest, and beige shorts over black long underwear.

“You look like a crazy person,” Joey tells me, when he emerges to find me making a breakfast of squeezable peanut butter on semicold bagels.

“Thank you.”

“You have snot dripping out of your nose.”

“Thank you.”

“Let’s stay here again tonight. Why should we hike out into the desert?”

“Forget about it. We have to prove we can do this.”

We head back into town and get some directions from a forest ranger, a doughty gray-haired woman who, like everybody else we encounter, overestimates our worthiness and need for real adventure.

“We can just hike out on the Bell Trail and camp, right?” I inquire.

“Yep. But it’s gonna be busier’n a peapicker. Now I can guide you to places folks don’t know about.” Then she starts drawing crooked lines on a map and talking about “steep grades.”

“Look,” I interrupt. “We want the easy thing. And we don’t mind seeing other people.

We’re incompetent.”

She shrugs.

We stop in at the juice bar next door where we can plop down on a couch, enjoy a smoothie and a dark-roast coffee, and reread the chapters about pitching tents so they don’t contain tropical storm systems.

“We’re going to start roughing it any time now, right?” Joey asks, sipping his smoothie.

We arrive at the promising new trailhead. I’ve repacked our loads with a simple strategy. I’ll carry everything, except Joey’s sleeping bag, his clothes, and the first-aid kit.

I have so much in my pack, the weight of it is making me mildly dizzy.

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