Here I am cradling a citronella candle like a beloved child.
I have no idea where to start telling you about the camping trip we just got back from. Three families went: ourselves, my friend Alisa and her family, and my friend Erin and her family, with six kids under the age of six between us. We should have known that it was going to be “challenging” once Alisa, the first to arrive at the campground, drove up to the Visitor’s Center and spoke with the park ranger.
Here is an abridged version of what he told her:
- Only two cars can park at the site.
- Yes, the site fits up to 25 people.
- No, I cannot explain how two cars can fit 25 people.
- Everyone else needs to park in the parking lot, and then walk to the campsite while carrying their equipment and/or children.
- The parking lot is located two miles away from the campsite. Uphill.
- No, I cannot explain how this might be in any way physically possible.
- No, the third car cannot drive to the site, drop off the equipment and children, and then drive back to the parking lot.
- Because I said so.
- You cannot have a fire.
- Yes, there is a fire pit. You cannot use it.
- I do not know how you will cook the food that you brought that specifically requires the presence of a campfire.
- No, you may not use charcoal.
- No, I cannot explain why you may not use charcoal. You just may not.
- There is no running water.
- Yes, I know I told you that there would be a water tank on-site, but it may or may not be empty.
- No, there is no way to check on this.
- No, you may not leave for water. Or for anything.
- In fact, once you drive in, a massive iron gate will shut behind you that actively prevents you from leaving until your designated departure date.
- If there is an emergency, you should call 911.
- No, there is no cell phone service.
So that was a good start. (I finally talked the ranger into letting a third car park at the site “just this once,” and I would like a medal for that, please.)
Six anxious parents, as it turns out, make for a pretty solid water situation.
First, let’s talk about the food-tends-to-go-bad-when-not-in-contact-with-ice problem. We planned out all the meals in advance under the assumption that we would a) be able to light a fire and b) be able to leave on Day 2 for replacement ice, so that the meat/eggs/milk/etc wouldn’t spoil, leaving us stranded in the wilderness with six children who literally do not stop eating, ever, and no food. This was a stressful possibility to consider.
What we did: Switched around the order of the meals so that the most perishable items would be cooked first, and gradually consolidated the food and ice into fewer and fewer coolers as it was eaten and melted, respectively. Somewhat shockingly, this worked: on the morning we departed, we awoke to find our remaining food floating in water, sure, but at least it was cool(ish) water.
Not having a fire was super annoying because it meant that the mosquitoes spent the weekend partying like it was 1999, mostly on Kendrick’s face. I cradled a citronella candle in my lap 100% of the time, as you can see in the top photo, so that was helpful. And we were able to use the camp stoves to improvisationally cook most of our meals – for the breakfast burritos that I had pre-made, for example, we made a little steaming rack out of tin foil balls, set them in an inch of boiling water in the Dutch oven, and then placed the foil-wrapped burritos on top and covered and steamed them until they were heated through. S’mores may not be quiiiiite as delicious when made on a propane stove, but they are still chocolate-marshmallow sandwiches, and it’s pretty hard to screw those up.
The next pressing issue: What, exactly, were we going to do for three days? Erin’s husband brought slingshots, so that was one morning taken care of…but what to do after that?
Isn’t the answer obvious?
Clearly we needed to make a horror movie about a giant rattlesnake living in the woods and the children who fight it off. (Oh, I’ll post it here once I’m done. Don’t you worry.)
What, like mountain-climbing while carrying a baby is hard?
On the last day, we thought we’d walk to the swimming hole that the park ranger had told us was “a couple of miles away.” (He failed to mention that these miles were vertical ones.) We asked if he was sure it was a good idea for us, and reminded him that we had six young children. “Well,” he said, “I told my three-year-old, ‘You’re three years old. You can walk three miles.'”
And so, resting on the assumption that the park ranger’s child would transmit his badassness to our children via some form of woodsy osmosis, we decided to head out, assuming that the walk would be a manageable one (with perhaps some carrying here and there).
Oh my god, it was not. Not even a teeny, tiny little bit. Over the course of the “walk” (a.k.a. “insane hike suitable only for actual hikers as opposed to small children and their non-Olympic-athlete parents”) we ended up getting separated into smaller groups going at different speeds. At one point I found myself hiking through a desert wasteland in full sun with my husband and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, and panicking with every step that I took because I knew that each step forward was a step I’d have to take on my way back. We probably would have turned around, save for the fact that our friends were way ahead of us (with our son), and if we didn’t show up at this mythical swimming hole that was clearly located somewhere near Atlantis, or perhaps the Bermuda Triangle, they’d have to come looking for us, and did I mention there was no cell service and we only had as much water as we could reasonably carry, which wasn’t much?
Cue the sound of angels singing.
OK, so the swimming hole – once we arrived at it, ten thousand hours after we expected to – was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it: big pools of clear, cold water with tiny frogs for the kids to catch and rocks to jump off of and rivers to ford. We piled our remaining water bottles into the stream to keep them cool, used the filtration device that obviously was not mine (protip: always camp with friends who are more capable than you) to stock up on water, and spent a couple of hours floating around and eating sandwiches and watching tadpoles and only occasionally referencing the misery that we knew lay ahead of us.
I wish I could say the walk back was surprisingly okay, but nope. None of it was okay. Our five-year-old son and his six-year-old friend were pretty much fine, minus the apocalyptic-level whining, but they weren’t the problem. The problem was the other four children, who got all hyped up on sun and sandwiches and decided to fall dead asleep, leaving their long-suffering parents to carry them 2.6 miles up a mountain. In 100-degree heat.
Do not be deceived by my smile. We are all miserable here.
The primary source of entertainment: taking photographs of our daughter sleeping on top of her father’s head.
And my favorite.
There was a moment when I was carrying my dead-asleep daughter up a shade-free, horrifyingly steep path bordered on both sides by poison oak, and my son was whining and I thought we were going to have to just give up and camp out where we were and hunt rattlesnakes for breakfast…so you know what we did? We walked to the next vaguely shady spot, and then laid flat on our backs in the dirt. We stayed there spread-eagled on the trail for ten minutes or so, passing our last miniature bottle of water between us and trying to psyche ourselves up for the remaining (uphill) mile, and you know what happened?
Alisa appeared out of the ether, like a mystical angel carrying extra bottles of filtered pond water.
So we drank a bunch of filtered pond water. And then got up and started walking again, with the promise of an ice-cold (or, whatever, vaguely chilly) Corona waiting at the campsite dangling in front of us like the world’s most delicious carrot. Finally – epically, impossibly – we arrived, and all was well.
…Oh, except for the giant rattlesnake that was waiting for us at the site.
I didn’t mention the giant rattlesnake?
There was a giant rattlesnake.