Monday, August 08, 2011

The Funk of a family trip

It only took about an hour for the funk to latch on to our clothes like a leech.
The camping stink.
Our first camping trip as a family was officially underway.
As you might have guessed by now, time in the mountains is important to me. I want it to be important to my kids too. Our efforts seem to be working. The girls, at their tender age, ask to climb mountains. The boy, with Kindergarten approaching, asks to go to the mountains every week.
The mountains, to these young minds, means anything with trees and without a McDonald's within 100 yards, but we're starting small. Still, Friday we'd head up to Rocky Mountain National Park, and that counts as a full-fledged day in the mountains. The thin air made our Kansas friends, silly flatlanders that they are, breathe heavy even during a simple walk.
I bought a six-person tent, a camping bed/air mattress/princess pad and a rechargeable pump to blow it up. I booked a reservation for a campsite in the park with a cushy bathroom, running water, a place to wash your dishes and a large tent pad. There was a picnic bench at each site. And a firepit.
I'm not used to such luxuries. My camping trips were out of necessity, a tent at 11,000 feet to break up a particularly tough 14er or a place to stay when the drive was almost a full day. Car camping, as we called it, was heaven. I usually had to pack in, which meant water pumped from a river, not a faucet I could just turn on, and dinner was boiled water in a pouch with freeze-dried food. A pillow was a tiny thing I could fit into my pack. My clothes were what I had on.
Kate, bless her, did this kind of camping with me as well, though she's moved on. She does agree with me, bless her, that camping should be done in a tent and not a huge vehicle that works off a rumbling generator all night, though she probably agrees because we can't afford anything but a tent. I'm more on principle: You have to rough it a bit in order to rough it.
I camped with Jayden last year, so I knew he was up for anything. We weren't sure about the girls. Last year, when they threw a fit if their milk wasn't topped off the moment they asked for it, we would have laughed, tearfully, at the idea of a camping trip. But they've chilled out. The 4s are much better than the 3s.
So, having no idea if the tent would actually set up (I still like to gamble a bit even if online poker is now akin to selling meth to grade schoolers), we set out, got to the site, sat on the bench and, yes, the tent set up. Our Kansas friends, however, camping veterans they are, had to bail me out for the air beds/princess pads, a necessity for Kate's blanching at most things roughing it. I didn't see the valves in the box. They had extras. Once the pads were plumped, the kids and Kate staked their spots. I was left with my camping mattresses and a sleeping bag. That's OK. At least there was running water and peanut butter pie.
The smell set in soon after.
I can't explain it. I've slept in many tents, sleeping bags and in all kinds of areas, and yet the smell is the same. You can't imitate it. It's not what Kate calls "mountain stink" from a hiking trip or race stink from running. It's not shoe stink or old leather stink or underwear stink. It's sort of like BO wrapped in tarp and smoked in campfire.
Man. Those campfires. That was the only bummer for me. I did, I have to admit, like the bathroom and the running water and the picnic bench and the pie on ice.
But one of my favorite parts of being in the mountains is the sweet smell of pine and clean in the air, and the campground smelled like a campfire. Every spot among the hundreds had to have a campfire going. And here's the thing. Why? We cooked our hot dogs. Fine. We roasted marshmallows with a neighbor. Cool. But you don't need a raging campfire so you can showcase your mediocre guitar skills to your stoned mates, as a guy I named "Jack Johnson" did until the quiet hour crept in at 10 p.m.
After a brief battle for Mommy turf, which was expected, the girls settled down and went right to sleep. They're already veterans. But Jayden, as usual, was a maniac.
"Daddy, can I see if it's darker out now?" he asked me 20 times as 9 p.m. melted into 10 p.m.
Finally, I agreed to it. We walked outside together. The campfire smell had faded into the black of night. We looked at the stars. I agreed they were pretty cool.

No comments: