Friday, September 23, 2011

A Day Late and a Matchstick Short



About our backpacking trip...

We were originally scheduled to leave our house on... well. Hmmmm. I think our first plan was to grab our packs and head up to the Big Meadows campground as soon as we were off work on Friday night.

Then we realized that our local county fair was in the way. We traditionally go to the fair on Friday night with the BF's family. We just couldn't bring ourselves to miss out on an opportunity to pay 8 bucks a piece for the additional opportunity to drink $5.00 beers and eat equally over-priced, deep-fried foods that are not only not healthy for us, but present an excellent chance of making us too sick to move for the next 24 hours... so we modified our hiking plans to allow us to attend the fair on Friday night and leave for the trail first thing on Saturday morning.

Which didn't happen either. Pretty much by the time we realized that we'd just returned home from the fair at the tender hour of 1:30 in the morning and had absolutely nothing packed for the hike... we decided to, once again, modify our plans.

Afterall, we'd taken 2 days off of work to allow us a leisurely 4 day/3 night backcountry vacation. We could take our time packing up on Saturday, play with the dogs (who didn't get to go,) and head up the mountain on Saturday night, spend the night at the trailhead and start hiking on Sunday morning.

Of course, between the 1:30 a.m. bedtime and the fair food of questionable quality-- I didn't exactly wake up early. And "early" to me is 9 a.m. to begin with!

But we had a lovely Saturday at home and I put my heart into packing our packs.

Somehow we got distracted along the way and in my frustration at the discovery that all our gear wasn't where I thought it should be, we ended up doing some major rearranging of the garage.

Well, at some point, we realized we weren't going to leave the house on Saturday  night. So we called our dog sitters-- again-- to give them the updated plan.

It's hard for me to pack for both of us. Especially while taking into account that the BF is not the gram-weenie, ultra-lite, minimalist gear-goon that I am. So I had to remind myself to take the non-stick mess kit, not any of the ultra-light titanium cookware sets that I've collected (yes, I think I have 4 sets-- I love gear.) I packed the bulky, rectangular sleeping bags that zip together. I packed the extra-wide, full length, self-inflating Thermarest for him. And the 5 lb, free standing Coleman tent (which is not my 2 lb Tarptent, but holds it's own quite respectably in its class, nontheless.) I chose the Primus canister stove over my tiny UL version or any of the various alcohol or esbit stoves that I would choose for a solo trip, in order to be sure that we would have enough fuel for bigger, more complicated meals and a sturdier base for the larger, heavier pots of the mess kit.

I rarely have a campfire on my backpacking trips. Mostly because by the time I hike my weary butt up a mountain, get my camp set up, and eat something, I'm just done and ready for bed. So all I really need is a small, disposable lighter with my cookset to get the stove lit.

Once all was packed, checked and double-checked, we finally did manage to make our way to the trailhead at a not-exactly-early and only-marginally-morning start on Sunday and actually managed to be heading off on the actual hiking portion of the trip around 12:30 p.m.

Mind you, we are both out of practice. I can't even remember the last time I was above 4500 feet in elevation, and even when I'm in "good shape" I climb hills excrutiatingly slowly. I was pleasantly surprised by the BF's non-chalance at my hike 20 feet and rest/hike 20 feet and rest method. But we were not making good time.

So when we reached the fork in the trail where we needed to make the decision between another 1.5 miles to Weaver Lake or another 4 miles to Jennie Lake, we assessed our rate of progress thus far and considered how many hours of daylight we realistically had left... and opted for Weaver Lake.

We arrived at the lake around 5 p.m.-- an absolutely embarassing time for a mere 3.5 mile hike, but I already told you we are out of practice!-- to find it deserted and beautiful. We scouted out the best place to call home for the next two nights and set about gathering up some firewood for a campfire...

....because the BF considers camping without a fire to be a tortuous ordeal.

I set up the tent, inflated his Thermarest, zipped sleeping bags together and prepared quite a cozy nest to call home.

At which point the BF asked me, "Uhhhh... did either of us think to bring anything to start a fire with?"

Well, I don't know why he bothered to say "us" when the mere fact that he was asking clearly revealed that by "us" he meant me. And naturally, I said, "duh" as I handed him the small, green, plastic, disposable Bic lighter from the cookset. I'd even tested it at home before we left to make sure it worked properly.

As the lighter passed from my hand to his, it occurred to me that I should light the camp stove before he used the lighter to light the fire. A small voice reasoned that at least that way if the lighter suffered catrostrophic failure in the fire process, we'd have the stove lit and that would provide us with an open flame from which we could get the campfire going.

Nah. The BF is an expert fire-starter. A genuine master at the art of flame. And he's not exactly stupid-- he knows that lighter is delicate and won't handle being left "on" for long periods. He'll do fine.

And so it was that what seemed to be mere seconds later, the BF's voice wafted upward from the firepit to my ears on the increasingly chilly and darkening evening breeze, "well, that's about it for the lighter."

I turned to find him on his hands and knees, blowing gently into his little pile of tender, trying to coax the faint hint of a spark into a steady flame.
And then, there we stood, staring down at the cold, dark, emptyness that failed to be a roaring fire.

We spent an hour taking the lighter apart and attempting to get it back in working order. To no avail.

We ate peanut butter and jelly bagels for dinner and agreed that perhaps this would end up being a one night trip.

Naturally, I blame the BF. For one thing, I brought all the fire I needed. But at this point, one must also realize that the BF has a slightly compulsive need to collect Strike Anywhere matches. We literaly have 8 boxes of them in our garage. He cannot pass them by in a store without buying yet another box of them.

AND his parents are from the same town in Pennsylvania where Zippo lighters are manufactured! You KNOW the man has a Zippo! Not only does he have a Zippo lighter, he has the adorable little leather pouch that goes on his belt to hold his Zippo.

Now you tell me how it is that this man hiked into the Sierra Nevada wilderness with a hatchet, a handgun, and a Leatherman multi-tool all strapped to his belt but not the Zippo? He brought a 2 D-cell Mag lite for crying out loud! But not the Zippo! Not even one of his precious Strike Anywhere matches.

And that's the irony-- that this man should find himself nearly 9,000 feet above sea level in the back country of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with darkness falling on a night that promised to dip to near freezing temperatures, staring at a fire pit with a stash of carefully selected firewood beside it-- unable to manage even a spark.

So we enjoyed one very quiet night and had more peanut butter and jelly bagels for  breakfast-- a devastating departure from my eagerly awaited fried Spam and coffee breakfast that I'd been looking forward to; the BF considers not having to eat Spam as sweet mercy from the gods-- and then we packed it all back up and descended the 3.5 miles back to the car in record time... and stopped for lunch at Bear Mountain Pizza in Squaw Valley on the way home. (No. Not that Squaw Valley.)

We arrived home and called the dog sitters-- again-- to let them know that the plans had changed-- again.

We spent Tuesday unpacking, and I even made my fried Spam for lunch-- the dogs loved it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sharing Hobbies

Once upon a time, I was an avid ultra-light backpacking babe, averaging one weekend a month on the hiking trail and one weekend a month on the 4X4 trail... that's a lot of bag nights! (nights in a sleeping bag.)

Naturally, just when everything was going great and I was really getting the hang of this whole "Life" thing-- Love came along and smacked me upside the head and next thing I know I'm all shacked up with a couple of dogs and a man who completely changed my lifestyle.

Ok. Not "completely," but much much more than I'd anticipated.

Which really threw me for a loop, seeing as how the man I'm shacked up with had been a good friend for many many years before he decided that his life was empty and meaningless without me by his side (oh! It's such a long story.) and he's always been quite the outdoorsy type himself.

I didn't exactly expect him to switch out his Wranglers for Omni-weave convertible cargo pants, or leave his full-grain leather calf-high waterproof hunting boots at home in favor of some lightweight gortex trail runners, and I sure as heck never even asked him to hike without his full Batman-utility belt full of hatchets, firearms, zippo lighters and Leatherman multi-tools... he is who he is and while we might look like Mutt and Jeff with in the backcountry with our hippy and the hunter personas-- well... trust me, somehow it just works-- mostly.

Nevertheless, somewhere along the way, our personal routines of his hunting and my hiking on a regular basis came to a near screeching halt when we started dating.

A lot of variables contributed to that, but I like to blame him anyway.

The first  year we were a couple, we went on a little jaunt up to Lower Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon Nat'l Park along with my BFF and backpacking partner, Amz, and her hubby and 2 out of 3 of their kids.

I agreed to make some concessions for the new SO in an attempt to convince him that backpacking with me was something he would want to do on a regular basis; so I got him an external frame pack and begrudgingly closeted my most prize possession-- my Western Mountaineering Versalite down sleeping bag: rated to 10 degrees Faranheit, weighing in at just shy of 2 pounds, and oh-so-squishable that it takes up very little room in my 54 oz Mountainsmith Chimera pack-- and purchased new Campmor down rectangular sleeping bags that mate together for "snuggying" together.

The things we do for love.

That was May of 2006... and it was the last time the BF backpacked with me for the next 5 years despite claims that he enjoyed it and "looks forward" to more hikes together.

BFF Amz and I still manage to get outside for a few nights at least once a year, and last summer I was thrilled to break the 15 lb mark for my total pack weight-- that's really light, btw.

Of course, Matt and I got the canoe last year, and we certainly cannot be accused of having bought it just to look at it! But backpacking hasn't exaclty been our number one priority for far too long... but recently we decided we were going to do something about that.

So we both wrangled some time off and set about making plans for an early fall hike in the nearby Sequoia Nat'l Forest. Fully aware that we are out of practice and that this will be our only chance to get on the trail before it's covered in snow.

Now all I have to is learn to pack for 2.