Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Rest of the Story

Part 1 of our camping trip to Warner Lake was featured in yesterday’s post. That was about the good stuff. This post is about the not-so-good-I-may-never-camp-again stuff.

You see, I was very hesitant to take my boys camping this weekend. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and at heart, I’m a city girl. I fell in love with nature more via the words of Henry David Thoreau than I did via the woods themselves. Brian, despite also growing up near Chicago, didn’t need Walden to teach him about the power of nature. He has always felt more at home outdoors than indoors, and even when we first met in Chicago, he was intent on heading to the mountains as soon as he graduated.

I had never camped before I met Brian. He quickly remedied that.


We camped in Galena, Illinois. In Yellowstone National Park. Glacier National Park and Yosemite. We’d been married two months when we took assignments with the Forest Service on Mt. Graham in Safford, living in a rustic cabin at the Columbine Ranger Station for the summer. One way to solidify a marriage is to be cut off suddenly from all friends, family, even mail and radio stations (since this was back in the day when people used mail and radios). We celebrated our first anniversary camping in the Dragoon Mountains of the Arizona desert, and another camping on Humbug Mountain on the Oregon coast.

29935-Ph-SK-038_thumb2 29935-Ph-Y-012_thumb2cute-boys-camping_thumb2

All of which is to say, I’m not a camping novice. I can do rustic. I did live in a Russian village for two years with an outhouse and no running water, so I’m not some kind of Lisa Douglass type. And yet, in the 20+ years since that first Galena trip, I have never camped without Brian. Unless you count when the boys set up a tent in the backyard…or the living room.

camping-in-the-dining-room_thumb2            I did particularly enjoy that camping trip.

In June the boys listed their summer bucket list and, of course, included camping. Brian’s summer schedule is unpredictable, depending on where and when his fire team is called. So I thought it was a brilliant idea to rent the Forest Service cabin at Warner Lake for our last summer weekend. If Brian was away, I could manage. With no tent to worry about, even the August monsoons wouldn’t be an issue.

As the date moved closer, and the fires in Idaho confirmed that Brian wouldn’t be with us, I grew less confident. I usually prepare all our clothes and food for camping, but Brian does all the actual packing and all the “what-if” thinking. He’s also an intuitive guy who doesn’t have a master camping list. My friend Christy shared her packing list for river trips, which was a great starting point for me. Another friend, Natalie, laid out the biggest priorities: water, TP, food and bug spray. I packed and prepped food and felt ready as we headed up the mountain.

web2013 08 11_3827 boys at the cabin

As yesterday’s post showed, it was beautiful up there. Warm with a breeze. We didn’t see one mosquito. The boys ran, Duke barked at every deer, and I started to feel cocky. I made a fire and cooked steak and asparagus on it for the boys. We climbed in our sleeping bags and I read Harry Potter by flashlight to all three boys. They fell asleep and I congratulated myself. I can do this without Brian! We should make this an end of summer tradition!

And then the nightmare began.

We weren’t the only inhabitants of the cabin.

I tried to convince myself that the noises were coming from outside the cabin. I tried to pretend I didn’t hear them. Then Sean woke up and asked, “What’s that noise?”

I got up with a flashlight and went into the kitchen. Ooooh Lordie. They were on the table having a party.


Duke, who was begging us to let him take down every deer that ran through the camp, must have some sort of peace treaty with mice. He didn’t so much as bark at them. He did however stay up with me most of the night, despite my admonishing him with wishes that he was cat. Then worries about Hantivirus changed my mind and I considered him wise. The food was all packed up so they weren’t able to get into anything, but they’d been trying. When I flashed the light, they scattered. My scream woke up all three boys. I lied that the mice were all gone now and they could go back to sleep, which they did.

In retrospect, I should have piled us all into the car for the night but it was pouring with sporadic lightning and I didn’t want to leave our stuff alone in the cabin while the mice were at play---nor did I want to try to pack it all up in the middle of the night. So Duke and I sat on border duty all night. Every so often, a mouse would dart out---heading right for our bedroom---and dart back once I shown the flashlight on its face.

My apologizes if this fuss is ridiculous to you who can catch a mouse with your own bare hands. I get queasy even remembering it. My sons have caught frogs, snakes, spiders. I can handle any of those with ease. But not mice. I felt like Indiana Jones, only my lament was: “Mice. Why did it have to be mice?”

I couldn't wait for the sun to come up but it was raining most of the morning. I repacked everything before throwing it all in the van to be sure we weren’t bringing any unwanted guests home with us. We ditched the pancake batter and strawberries that I had prepped at home for a breakfast of hot cocoa and poptarts---out in the rain because anything was better than being in the cabin. Once it stopped raining we took a hike and made s'mores (the boys refused to leave the mountain without having made s’mores), then booked it home before another storm moved in.

I have never been happier to be home. Scrubbed/bleached/cleaned everything but still freaked out. Grateful we safely made it down the mountain despite my scary sleep-deprived state. And never camping without a tent again.

And I’ve come up with a better end-of-summer tradition: a guys-only camping trip! Duke and I will stay home, get out the flashlight and toast to our memory, and sleep in peace.

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