I had a moment of panic when Payton informed me that she couldn’t wait to eat s’mores on our campout. Umm, s’mores? When preparing their supply kits, I had covered sleeping bags, sleeping pads, head lamps, flashlights, camelbacks, and even inflatable pillows (which I deemed to be quite a luxury). S’mores hadn’t made the cut. Hadn’t even made the list! Sure, I intended to feed these little humans. I had packed oatmeal and dehydrated food (I figured I had to legit show them the ropes of backcountry camping despite the scant 1.3km hike that would take us to our campsite; although by the look on Payton’s face when I mentioned oatmeal, I assumed she was just going to go hungry – especially in the absence of s’mores), plenty of bars, and trail mix, and even bananas. S’mores fixin’s, not so much.
Ryder (9), Payton (7) and I (Auntie) are sitting on the floor in the Wright house gearing up for our intro to backcountry camping adventure. To be honest, I have been amping them up for this since May and I am already nervous I have oversold it. The lack of s’mores would surely seal its fate. S’more-gate notwithstanding, first we had to pack the essentials into something. They took one look at my hiking backpack and staunchly refused to carry common school backpacks. They too would carry real packs that emerged from the recesses of the basement. These real packs were their parents’ and no amount of strap adjusting was going to make them fit ‘properly’, but their minds were made up. (Is this what parents mean by, pick your battles?)
(Sidenote: After packing nothing but the essentials into the ill-fitting adult-sized packs, I did cave and covertly add marshmallows and cookies to Payton’s load — you want it, you carry it. Auntie rules!)
On the way to the trailhead, we sing classic country (their blood-relation to me confirmed as they belt out the words to George Jones’ Two Dollar Pistol with no regard to tune or tone), we take turns adding one-line to a camping story that involves bear encounters and rockslides (hopefully not a foreshadow), and I teach them to read aloud the RV brands as we see them and add the word fart to the end (What? It’s a reading game). Hilarity ensues. Obviously.
There is nothing quite as tragic as a turtle on its back, little legs floundering in the air, struggling to right itself. A child on their back(pack), however, limbs flaling, downed by the weight of the very ill-fitting adult backpack I had advised against, I can report is decidedly more hilarious than tragic. There was no easing them into the hike. The incline was rather steep and immediate and they immediately reminded me that when questioned on route, I had told them it would be flat. In reality, I didn’t really know. So I had made it up. (Is this not what parents do?). And so, we hike. We rest. We eat trail mix. We drink from camelbacks (the coolest thing ever, btw). And I right them when they turtle. We got this.
We arrive at our destination not a moment too soon, the 1.3km uphill the perfect first-time distance afterall to feel the satisfaction of carrying packs the whole way. Payton had been tempted to surrender hers to me on the trail, but she hung in there in order to experience the light and floaty feeling I told them they would feel when they finally take it off (it’s the little things).
At this point, I am bursting! The lake and the campground and the blue sky and the fresh air and the sunshine and the company are all beautiful (although they are getting tired of me saying so – I know this because they tell me as much). Payton reminds me that it is they who brought the Sunshine all the way from home (The Sunshine Ranch). My heart melts a little.
We check out all the campsites before committing to the coolest one. Although these kiddos have done a lot of lake camping in their camper, this will be their first night in a tent (like, ever!). And in the woods no less. It is now they who are bursting with excitement as they burst open the contents of their packs onto what we’ve officially claimed as our spot. I miss this! The excitement of doing something for the first time! Putting up the tent is not a chore, but instead a triumph. Pounding in the stakes is even more thrilling than hunting out the perfect rock to use as a hammer. And though Ryder’s eyes go big when he asks where the pump is to blow up his mattress and I point to his lungs, they are all but gleaming when he successfully fills it with air. The sleeping bags get pulled out of their compression sacks in a flurry of colour and down and together they tumble inside the tent to determine who will sleep where and in what colour bag. Negotiation ensues. Obviously. But so does the joy. And I almost can’t even handle it.
We tuck our food (Payton discovers the s’more supplies and is thrilled) into the bear bin and explore. We climb stuff (including the bear bin). We jump ravines. We play Camouflage. We skip (yes, skip) on the trails. We climb more stuff. And then we retreat to the tent once more as if to confirm how cozy and cool it is. It seems that a rousing game of sleeping bag UNO will solidify tent life as the good life and I proceed to lose (repeatedly, without even trying). I learn that the amount of time it takes me to shuffle the cards is roughly the same amount of time it takes to get a good wrestle in. I also learn about ‘winner wedgies‘ (a concept that has their mom written all over it. I feel decidedly less guilty about teaching them the RV fart game). And I am happy to be a loser.
We emerge for dinner. Boiling water turns dry noodles into enchilada ranchero and mac and cheese. (Sidenote: Kids do not approve of vegetables in their mac and cheese. I’ll be writing a firmly worded letter to AlpineAire). Imaginations turn logs and benches and rocks into stepping stones and an obstacle course. I am not sure which transformation is more remarkable. The kids, however, favour the obstacle course over the miracle of rehydration and it occurs to me that I am either going to be carb loading alone tonight or carrying out rehydrated meals that now weigh ten times their original weight tomorrow.
I consider calling a timeout on the course, but then it turns serious. There is a stopwatch involved. And eating three spoonfuls of dinner becomes one of the obstacles. I am on board. I join in. It is now a relay! If they/we fall and break their/our necks (or ankles or faces), I know there will be judgment by the actual grownups looking on, but these kids have been bucked off their share of horses so letting them go 8 seconds on a couple rolling logs and firepit benches seems like a calculated risk.
We work up an appetite. For s’mores. Obviously. Payton is donning her headlamp (and has been for some time now). She declares that we have to stay up late enough for it to become required. I like her spirit. We roast marshmallows. I teach them how to play Spoons. There are a few more rounds of the obstacle course (and a few close calls, but looks like we will all be able to walk out tomorrow). The sun sets. The headlamps get turned on. Check.
Having worn our camping packs, eaten our camping food, and used our camping headlamps, we all tuck into camp and crawl into our (appropriately coloured) sleeping bags for the night. In the morning I learn that kids can’t whisper (or at least they really don’t like to) and that it’s no fun being awake if your sister isn’t (so you wake her up too. And your Auntie.). We make oatmeal. We tear down the tent. We (and by we, I mean me) try not to laugh out loud as determined kids take on the impractical task of wrangling sleeping bags back into their impossibly small stuff sacks. They are mostly successful. We load up. We do not brush our teeth or change our underwear. We have not even brought these things. Auntie rules.
On the ride home, I learn what Row Row Row Your Boat sounds like with every single word in the song replaced with the word ‘poop’, that it’s impossible to keep ones hands to oneself when seated in the backseat, and that it is possible to go from picking on each other to picking each other’s toe jam (for real) in the space of three minutes. By the time we get home, Payton has informed me that I have indeed earned my ‘Mom’ badge. I hadn’t even known I was vying for it. I kind of like being Auntie Dic. But as I drop them off and unload the car and unpack their bags and put everything away, I suddenly feel quite parental indeed (assuming feeling exhausted is what parental feels like)! But I also feel like a new tradition has been born. And it makes me happy.
Backpacking the Wright way. I am going to go ahead and call it a win. And I’ll take the ‘Mom’ badge over a ‘winner wedgie’ any day.