Friday, August 9, 2013

Did I Ever Tell You About my First Backpacking Trip?

I was in Brownies. Yeah, like 8 years old.

The absolute best thing ever about being in Brownies/Girl scouts was getting to go to camp every summer. I liked the whole sleeping in sleeping bags, campfire, swimming in the river lifestyle just fine, but I loved being away from home for a couple of weeks.

I always heard people talk about "summer camp" and wanted to do that. I was pretty sure that "summer camp" meant getting to go away for the entire summer. A paltry 2 weeks away was not enough for me, but I was one of those kids that was bored stiff by summer vacation.

Many years later, I came to realize that in most cases, summer camp really only lasts a week or two, no matter which camp you go to. So I feel less robbed now.

So anyway-- back to that first backpacking trip:

It was my third year of girl scout camp. Girl scout camp (camp Elowin in the Sierra National Forest area near Shaver Lake in California, btw) consisted of my mother running around trying to make sure I had a bag packed with everything on the list and then making sure she got me to the bus stop at some ungodly hour of the morning. Then we put all our stuff on the bus, climbed aboard and completely ignored our sobbing mothers' tearful goodbyes as we set off for adventure.

When the bus dropped us off in front of the giant mess "tent" (it was not really a tent, it was a peaked roof structure with open sides) we got divided up into groups and then had to haul our belongings to the camp site that would be home for the next two weeks.

In all the years I went to GS camp, I was almost always a resident of "Chippewa" camp-- all the camp sites being named for Native American tribes.

Chippewa camp was across the river, which meant we got to walk across the narrow, swaying bridge. Other that having to go across the bridge, camp was directly across the river from the mess tent. Chippewa camp was comprised of 3 very large "tee pees" that were more like big, conical cabins with an open circle in the ceiling where the giant beams came together, and open sides all the way around the cement foundation floors. The sides were probably 5 or 6 feet of open space before the "tee pee" started, which was all wooden siding.

Other camp sites had various types of lean-tos, cabins, and/or tent structures.

Once we were assigned to our tee pee, we set up home: laying out our sleeping bags and stashing our gear nearby. And pretty much, that was home.

So it had never mattered that my sleeping bag was one of those ginormous, heavy cotton duck behemoths that weighs 13 pounds and rolls up to the size of a modern Smart Car. Who cared? I only had to carry the thing (and the duffel bag with my clothes and stuff) from the bus stop to the camp and back two weeks later.

Until that year when one of the teenage "C.I.T.s" (counselor in training) decided to introduce her group of 8 years olds to the majestic wonder of backpacking.

I'm sure that, in her 17 or 18 year old mind, she thought she was going to impress us all with the magic of sleeping on the ground, beneath the stars. Probably get us all hooked on the beauty and the splendor and turn us all into lifelong backpacking enthusiasts.

actual picture of ME,
as a junior GS,
 about age 11

Did I mention I was 8? And I was a tiny, stringy, delicate 8.... now, remember my sleeping bag?

So since backpacking wasn't really part of the regular itinerary-- at least as far as I knew-- no one had a backpack. I don't know where the backpacks came from, but I remember them being wood and canvas, giant, heavy things that looked like props from the tv show M*A*S*H. They were almost bigger than I was.

We had to somehow shove our sleeping bags, toothbrushes, and a change of clothes into them. Oh! And there weren't enough backpacks to go around, so we had to use the buddy system. Which meant that each pack got TWO sleeping bags, toothbrushes, and changes of clothes packed into them.

THEN each buddy got to take turns carrying these things UP--*!&#!--ING HILL!

We went to "Camp Merrimac" which I now know is actually "Camp Mar-Y-Mac."

I don't care how it's spelled, it was UPhill. Under a backpack that was older than I was, almost as big, and twice as heavy! Seriously. I could not pick the thing up myself. My buddy and best friend, Denise, had to haul it up almost the whole way herself (I don't think she was very happy about that at all) but they tried putting it on me and I maybe made it all of 300 yards before I keeled over. And if I fell down, I was like a turtle on it's back. I could NOT carry that pack!

Everything I know today about carrying a backpack-- and about convincing a newbie that it's fun-- makes me want to build a time machine so I can go back and slap the every loving crap out of that fool counselor.

Somehow, we all survived the torturous uphill death march under the oversized, overweighted packs, and arrived at the mythical Camp Mar-Y-Mac, which had been talked up to us as though it were inhabited by magic fairies that would grant us all wishes, only to discover there was no actual camp there at all.

Just a big, bald spot on top of a mountain. No tents, no showers, no running water, no bathroom.

GS camp already required a serious amount of fortitude to endure the "BIFs" (bathroom in forest) which were old-fashioned out houses that smelled like old fashioned out houses. They took some serious getting used to, but at least they had toilet seats and walls!

So there's this teenage girl (I think there were actually two counselors, but it was 31 years ago-- I'm entitled to have some hazy, and subjective, memories of the event!) up on a hill in the middle of nowhere with maybe 15 or 20 8-10 year old girls. (ok, maybe there were only 10 of us. Maybe. Remember-- 31 year old traumatic memory here!) And none of us are particularly into this plan, as I recall.

A whole lot of "Hey! Where are the bathrooms?! What are we supposed to do?!!" And a whole lot of "watchutalkinbout Willis?" looks when the concept of digging a "latrine" was explained to us.

Then there was the girl who was terrified of bears coming through our camp while we slept. Which did seem like a possibility to be concerned with, but now that I think of it, I'm not sure why bears were never a concern back in the main camp.

But we all managed to cook a dinner, make s'mores, get a really amazing view of the stars, and sleep outside, on the ground with no cover whatsoever other than our sleeping bags-- which everyone was pretty jealous of mine by then because as heavy and cumbersome as it was to pack, I think I was the only one who wasn't up all night shivering. :-)

And then, in the morning, we made breakfast, and then "Tigger" (seriously, who was that guy? He was what? Maybe 19? 20? His "name" was "Tigger" and he was there every year-- the girls loved him) came into camp with a truck-- a FREAKIN TRUCK!-- and put all our stuff in the back of the truck and then we got to walk back to the main camp via the FREAKIN FIRE ROAD all nice and easy downhill with no packs.

SERIOUSLY?!!!! There was a ROAD?! And there was a TRUCK?!! This whole time we didn't actually HAVE to hike up that ridiculously steep, narrow trail? And we didn't actually HAVE to carry those stupid packs?!

I swore. I. Would. Never. Backpack. Again.










(note: the pics are not actually of/from camp.
All my gs camp pics are still trapped on rolls of undeveloped film at my mother's house.)