So how did I start backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, camping, caving, etc.. The short answer, my Dad. As a kid I struggled with Dyslexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Asthma, add in very poor vision / depth perception, and you can imagine how much fun I had at school. At my lowest points my dad would pack my gear, check me out of class, and take me camping . Say what you will, but I learned more on those trips then I did watching Sesame Street in a Special Education department. Why did the cookie monster never swallow even the smallest morsel of cookie? Was he cursed to fiend for cookies like a crack addict, devour them voraciously, yet never be nourished? A Sesame Street version of Tantalus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantalus
I still don’t know if my dad had a master plan, or if he was playing the “fake it till you make it” approach, either way it worked. It’s hard to be obsessive when the only thing to eat is chilli topped with cheese wiz warmed in the can. Starting a fire is sort of important when you are cold and wet, there really isn’t time for counting each stick and organizing them into categories of width and length.
Those trips became “our thing“, other fathers and sons went to ball games, we went camping. There were those random beers while fishing at the ripe old age of 14, the occasional cigar, what mom didn’t know didn’t hurt us.The best trip of my life, the apex of absolute backpacking frozen snotsicle failure would find dad and I upon a serious of trails in Blanchard Springs Arkansas. The weather forecast showed an unusual Winter front approaching,…but how bad could it be?
Upon the trail head it seemed the forecast was wrong again, perfect backpacking weather. Putting in some miles we set up for the night. About 3am the rain started and it never stopped. I’m pretty sure Moses came by that night looking for two animals, we were too delirious and frozen to help. Sleet hail, and freezing rain poured down on us till the trail became a stream, the valleys became flooded, and we became Popsicles. Steam rolled from under our Ponchos but when we stopped our teeth began to chatter. Soaked to the bone we pushed on. The low trail was lost to the rain. For a few days we worked the ridge line looking for a way back.
Planes continually flew over, I assumed we were near a small airport which didn’t show on our map. It never crossed our minds that these planes were searching for us. As we tracked our way back into the park the ranger seemed more excited to see us than we were to sit in his heated office, which says a lot. That night we rented a room in town, defrosted, nursed wounds, and ate a hot meal. The next morning the snow was over 3 foot deep. Like the fools we are we tracked back into the park, after endless snowball fights we managed to convince a “snowed-in” park ranger to take us on a wild cave tour.
This trip became my benchmark for adventure. The difficulty, cold, coupled with the joking, sneak snow ball attacks, and stupid decisions forever changed me. My dad had once again somehow taught me a life lesson without ever saying a word. Dad and I later decided that whoever lives longest has to take the others ashes upon one last great trip. A journey of absolute adventure spreading a bit of ashes along the way, but saving the last bit for that ridge-line in Arkansas.
Happy Fathers Day to all those dads who care enough, or to those moms who have had to take on both roles. May your trail always lead to adventure, your compass point to wonder, your flask never run dry, and your campfire be surrounded by laughter.