There is nothing like sleeping out in the wilderness after a day on foot and dinner by the fire. Child Harbat and I went camping recently and she’s now an official Camper. What is like hiking and camping in the mountains above San Diego in August? Hot. Dry. Even the clouds are worn to threads by the relentless sun.
Our campground was nearly empty but for the site right next to ours which was so well stocked with cases of beer and a hookah that I worried we were going to be sharing our camping experience with the remaining live members of the Grateful Dead. More on that later. We set out on the trail for what I thought would be an hour-long excursion. Child Harbat’s typical hike goes like this:
1. Lots of excitement, packing of supplies like stuffies and “trail mix” made of M&Ms and one or two peanuts.
2. The first hundred feet on the trail have fifty side-trips and pauses to examine leaves, interesting sticks, crushed snails, unidentifiable animal poop, and trash.
3. After ten minutes, tiredness sets in and her path goes from straight line to wobbling meander.
4. She is bent over 90 degrees at the waist and clinging to my arm like a drowning rat making a high-pitched groaning screech.
5. She rides on my shoulders the rest of the way or until I lose feeling in my limbs and get tunnel vision as my cervical vertebrae are pulverized.
But! This hike was different somehow because we were going to discover a mystery, the Airplane Monument, which we guessed was either where a plane crashed into the mountains or somehow landed safely but the passengers all got lost and were eaten by coyotes and badgers. CH was determined to find this monument. We climbed up for an hour, with a ten-minute cross-country detour after we saw a deer and followed its tracks into the brush. After climbing up hundreds of feet over an hour and a half, CH surveys the countryside.
Still we climbed. I was hot and tired, each curve of the trail that looked as if it reached the ridgeline only disappointed as we had yet more to climb. Two hours and still no Airplane Monument. “Don’t give up, Babbo! I really want to see that Airplane Monument!” She trudged on, far past when I thought she’d give up in tears. Like Sam hoisting Frodo for the last push to Mt. Doom, I carried CH as we came to a ridge and found a small signpost: “Airplane Monument .2mi ahead”. CH yelped, climbed down from my shoulders, and sprinted. We found it, an old engine from a 1922 plane crash. Really it could’ve been anything, a plaque, a stump, a rock. It didn’t matter–we made it. On the hike down we talked about the merits of the several generations of My Little Pony.
Back at camp it was fast approaching dinnertime and we needed to make some doughboys, a family tradition of mine that usually ends in spectacular failure as biscuit dough falls off a stick and into the fire. Not this time, says I, the experienced baker. I whittled the sticks just so, made sure the dough was firm enough to stay mounted on the baking stick, and our butter and jelly were ready for insertion, as inappropriate as that sounds. CH shows off her doughboy ready to bake.
Once she learned that cooking a doughboy meant sitting next to the fire holding a stick while smoke billowed in your face and curious yellow jackets dive-bombed your head, she handed the stick over to me and went to introduce herself to our camping neighbors. Instead of bearded hippies reeking of patchouli and sticky bud, they were a quartet of college girls who were THRILLED to have a little girl camping next to them. CH came back with a pool noodle, light-up magic wand, and a glow stick. These girls came prepared, for what I don’t know. The girls cranked up some dance music at their site and my first instinct was to roll my eyes and wish we could just have some GODDAMN QUIET. But CH said, “Hey, great! We can have camping buddies! Let’s make them s’mores!” Well, okay, I’d see how it went. The doughboys were ready and, after a long hike, about the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
CH approves of doughboys.
We made hot dogs, quickly devoured them, and as the sun set and the yellow jackets finally went back to their lair, we made up a batch of s’mores. “Be sure there are enough for all our guests before we make ours, Babbo,” CH told me. This made me so proud. We took over the s’mores to much high-pitched ooh’ing and complimenting, then we all sat around the fire as it got dark, CH, me, and our new camping buddies. Without my daughter to break the ice and propose sharing s’mores, I’d never have done anything like this. Thank God for extroverts.
Finally the evening was coming to a close. Did we look at stars or play card games or do any of the things that I did when I was camping growing up? No. CH brought her portable DVD player and we watched a Barbie movie before falling asleep. I like CH’s version of camping–long hikes, meeting new friends, and movies in the tent. I’m in love with camping again.