One of the first hurdles the VEB and I had to get over was how to define “camping”. In my mind, camping was something you did in a portable house, aka a motor home, because that’s what my family did. You pulled into a campsite, plugged in the utilities, and slept in an air conditioned box. When I was little we had a pop-up camper and that was considered roughing it. With this in mind, I explained to him that I could “camp” for a few days, but then I really needed a Marriott.
The VEB’s idea of camping is, shall we say, a bit more hardcore. It involves hiking great distances into the backcountry wilderness for days on end, with everything you need carried in (and out) on one’s back. This includes things like dehydrated meals from REI, a super lightweight tent, a tiny sterno stove, and a bear bag.
“What?!” I asked incredulously, when he first explained what he takes with him on his journeys.
“A bear bag,” he replied. “You put all your food in the bag and you hang it from a tree, so the bears can’t get it.”
“No, I mean, what bears?!”
“Uhhhh….the ones that live in the woods?”
Yeah. That’s what I was afraid of.
I like hiking, and I like the outdoors, and I like the VEB a whole lot. I went tent camping with my cousin last fall and enjoyed it immensely, and so when the VEB first mentioned how much he loved to camp in the Pemigiwassett region of New Hampshire I heartily agreed to a weekend trip. He knew of a camping spot where you can hike in about 2.5 miles and camp not far from the river. I thought this sounded like a great intro to “backcountry” for me – I can certainly hike that far, and if we were only going for one night the chances were pretty slim that I’d get eaten by a bear.
I showed up at the VEB’s on Saturday morning with a sleeping bag the size of Texas, a dozen various nutritional bars, two pints of raspberries, two changes of clothes, a make-up bag, my journal, a book, my knitting, my camera…you get the point. I was horrified to learn that the deoderant had to stay in the car (the smell would attract bears), that plain old toothpaste wasn’t allowed because it isn’t biodegradable, and that I really needed to pare down the nutritional bars. I left two on the table and shoved everything else back into my daypack, except for my sleeping bag. The VEB took one look at the bag, winced, and then somehow managed to cram it into his pack along with everything else.
I won’t be surprised if I get a new sleeping bag for Christmas next year.
By the time we finally made it to the trailhead, the skies were looking pretty ominous. The forecast said there was a chance of intermittent rain, but I felt like we’d come too far to wimp out over a few raindrops. The hike in was beautiful, if cloudy, and the entire way we smelled the balsam firs that are so plentiful here. The river is amazing too – the riverbed is full of multi-colored granite rocks, and the water is so clear you can see straight down to the bottom. After weeks of hiking through murky marshes, it was kind of startling to see just how beautiful the water was. And the path was lush and green, with several little creeks and tributaries meandering on either side of the trail.
The trail is a pretty easy hike – it’s an old logging road, so it is wide and fairly flat. There are a few hills, mind you, and a few places that have been washed out that deserve some care, but nothing at all dangerous. There is one spot where Tropical Storm Irene relocated an enormous culvert, such that you have to wade through a brook to continue on the trail. Crossing this made me a tad nervous, because I am not very steady on my feet while hopping from rock to slippery rock, but I made it through unscathed.
The universe conspired with us until we got the tent up – and then it rained for three solid hours. And then it rained some more. In fact, it basically rained all night. I was oddly not fussed at all about it – I was sad that we didn’t get to hike around and explore, but I was grateful to have some downtime to just read and doze while listening to the rain on the tent. You could also hear the river, and the VEB heard an owl hooting in the early morning hours. The camping area had bear boxes – metal containers where you can lock your food up overnight – and I’m pleased to let you know that while the mosquitos and spiders were plentiful, not one bear was to be seen. We did see this little guy, which I thought was totally a fake toy some clever kid had left behind, but then the VEB poked it with a stick and it moved.
The rain finally petered out this morning, and after we packed up we wandered down to the river for a last look. The fog had not quite lifted yet, but there were a few far-off patches of blue sky headed our way. This is one of my favorite photos from the trip:
As we hiked back out the sun began to shine in earnest, and the smell of the balsam firs wafted down the trail along with us along with a number of little butterfiles. I caught a picture of this one right at the end of the trail – a parting gift of sorts, and a little bit of that magic I was talking about the other day.
Finally there was this little bit of magic, a reminder that even if you have to squint a little bit, love is, indeed, everywhere: