I have another rain camping story to tell you. It is hilarious. I still laugh when I think about it.
6 years ago we took the boys camping. They were 4 and 5 at the time.
I had been wanting to go for some time. I had lots of reasons: we live in Colorado, we have some equipment (you know - the usual stuff you need for outdoor wilderness fun: tent, air mattress, lantern, iPhone, plastic wine glasses), and we had kids that needed to make some memories, dammit.
So we went up west of Colorado Springs. This was our second time summer camping in Colorado - we had gone the year before with some good friends and nearly froze to death. However, this summer I was feeling confident, and armed with my vast Colorado camping experience (catch the sarcasm? you just wait), I brought warmer sleeping bags, warm pajamas, and lots of sweatshirts, jackets and wool socks. Forecast was decent...I thought. Highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s, isolated thunderstorms. No big deal, right?
How little I knew.
The first day we got there, it rained. It poured. It dumped BUCKETS of WATER ON US. I took one look at the sullen, sodden preschoolers and the nappy, muddy dog and raised the white flag. “Let’s go get some supplies,” I suggested to the soggy husband.
We loaded everybody up into the minivan. As we drove away, I prayed that the river that running through our campsite would stay away from the tent.
Not knowing what to do, we decided to try Woodland Park. Lo and behold, they had a giant Walmart where we could shelter and ride out the storm. Never before have I been so grateful for Walmart. For the next two hours, we hid out in like bandits, riding bikes through the toy section, eating fried chicken from the deli, and convincing ourselves that if it was labeled ‘Coleman’, we needed it.
Two hundred dollars and several angry Walmart employees later, we figured it was best that we leave, but it was still pouring, and as far as our little iPhones could tell us, there was no end in sight.
FUKIT. We drove back down the hill and had Margaritas at Amanda’s Fonda in Manitou. Thankfully, the incessant downpour let up just as we finished dinner and granted us enough time to get back up the hill and into our tent for the evening, but that was it. As soon as we were safely zipped up, all hell broke loose and the sky let us have it. Non stop downpour for the rest of the night.
We gave thanks for the waterproof tent and tarp and decided to turn in. Unfortunately, the batteries in radio lantern and the flashlights we had brought were all dead. I’m not kidding - we didn’t check them before we left. It’s what happens when you try to prepare for camping with two toddlers attached to your legs.
I turned the flashlight on the iphone, found the toiletry bag, shut the iPhone light off, and rummaged around inside until I found the toothbrushes and what I thought was a tube of toothpaste. I quickly squeezed some out onto both of our brushes and handed Aaron’s toothbrush to him.
As soon as I started to brush my teeth, I knew something was wrong. For one thing, the toothpaste tasted awful - a sort of nasty chemical taste. However, the taste quickly became secondary to the fact that my tongue was going numb.
From across the tent, I heard Aaron make an odd noise. Apparently he wasn’t having a good time with his ‘toothpaste’ either.
What was going on? What had I put on my toothbrush???
Quickly, I fumbled in the darkness for the iPhone. Finding it, I turned it on and shined a light onto the tube of toothpaste.
Hey guess what?
It wasn’t toothpaste. No sir, not toothpaste at all.
1. When camping in Colorado, do not eff around with forecasts that include ‘isolated thunderstorms’. If you see that - stay home, or get a hotel room.
2. In the dark, a tube of Vagisil and a travel sized tube of toothpaste feel exactly the same. Unless you want to end up with numbtongue do not, I repeat, do NOT keep them in the same bag.
How sore do you think a fairly fit 40 year old mother of three is after backpacking and mountain climbing?
Oh I'm not so sore. I can still...
*starts moving a little*
I'VE BEEN HIT BY A TRUCK
In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that my calves were on fire, my quads screamed f*ck you! every time I tried to go down stairs, and I waddled around like an 80 year old woman needing a hip replacement for 3 days.
How brutal was this little walk in the woods, you ask? Well….
The trail itself is 8 miles roundtrip. You start out at 9,650 ft. and climb over 4,500 ft. to summit at 14,197 ft. It is STRAIGHT UP and then STRAIGHT down. My crazy friend Julie (yes, that is her name. I can’t remember if her friends gave it to her or she gave it to herself) thought it would be fun to camp overnight at treeline - about 11,000 ft. At the trailhead, she straps a 30 pound pack to my back and points me up the mountain. The pack was so heavy and the grade was so steep that I found myself doing the ‘weevils wobble but they don’t fall down’ dance all the way up the trail. When we stopped, I had to lean uphill to avoid being tipped over by my massively altered center of gravity, or prop Gigantor against a tree to alleviate some of the torture from my burning shoulders.
Did I mention it was raining?
It was pouring.
Thankfully I had brought a poncho, and it kept me dry...ish. Except for my lower legs and feet because I was silly enough to wear tennis shoes. Don't do that.
We slogged uphill in silent determination, slipping in the mud, teetering on slippery logs to cross raging mountain mini-waterfalls. WHAT WAS I DOING?!? I kept thinking. I’M NOT BEAR GRILLS!
When we finally made camp, it was still pouring. The mountain wasn’t kidding. Did you know that you can get hypothermia if you are wet and it is 50 degrees? I didn’t either. I DO NOW.
We set up the tents in the rain, and quickly realized that nobody in the group knew how to put together one of the tents! After a quick scramble, I found myself in crazy Julie’s tent, and Amy, my irstwhile tentmate disappeared to the other tent for the night. I won’t even go into how the rainfly was on upside-down, or that water was pouring through the tent like a river until we got that fixed.
I remember bitching and moaning because the electric wasn’t working in our pop-up trailer at the Grand Canyon last month, and how there was a leak in the water heater so we couldn’t have hot water in the trailer...HA. First world camping problems.
That night was, shall I say, one of the coziest I have had in my history. It is a good thing my crazy friend Julie is a GOOD friend, because the tent was tiny with a capital T. Actually, no. It’s tiny with a lowercase t because a capital T is too big for this tiny house. You couldn’t sit up straight. It was long enough for us to lie down and wide enough for two sleeping bags. Barely. It was too cold and too wet to cook dinner, so the menu for the night consisted of crispy M&Ms and nuts, and we were grateful.
The next morning, we were up at 3 a.m., on the trail by 4 a.m., and summited 14,197 ft. by 7 a.m. It was spectacular and brutal. Mt. Belford doesn’t require any technical climbing, but the trail is very steep, and it hurts as much (or more) going down as it does going up. We had the mountain to ourselves for the summit, and enjoyed top of the world views that I really can’t explain. You have to be there.
Was the pain and hassle worth it?
One hundred percent yes, and let me tell you why.
Going into the weekend I had anxiety of epic proportions. I think my husband was actually glad I was leaving because financially-threatened Sarah is no fun to live with. She’s a crabby bitch that can’t enjoy anything because she is obsessively mulling over what financial catastrophe may befall her. Nevermind that she is completely provided for at the moment - SOMETHING MAY HAPPEN BAD NEXT MONTH AND SHE MUST WORRY WORRY WORRY.
What you may not know is that I am in the midst of the scariest career transition of my life. I have moved from having the bulk of my income come from practicing medicine to the bulk of it come from writing, speaking, and media work. This would not be nearly as scary if I wasn’t the primary bread winner (I am), or if Aaron wasn’t going through a massive expansion that honestly I have no idea how we will fund (he is), but that is how our fates aligned. Both of us are feeling the winds of change at the same time and when I am doing well mentally, it is the most awesome roller coaster ride of my life, but when I am not doing well, it is a cesspool of anxiety, and like waves pounding on the shore, one confidence crisis after another.
I don’t do well with the unknown. Stepping away from the W-2 has been the scariest choice I have ever made. If you ever do it, BRACE YOURSELF, because personal doubt and growth will act synergistically and try to swallow you whole if you let them, which is what I was letting happen to me.
I wasn’t in a good mood when we left for the trip. I wasn’t in a good mood during most of the drive. And then the universe must have picked up on my sour mood because I manifested a speeding ticket in Jefferson County from the surliest sheriff I have ever met. UGH. I wasn’t in a good mood when we stopped for lunch in South Park (yes, it's a real place), or took a funny picture.
Thankfully, everything changed on that trail up to the campsite.
You see, when you are gasping for air (it’s a little thin up there), and every muscle is straining and burning, and you are focused on not falling into a stream, or you are counting the steps in your mind because that is ALL YOU CAN DO TO GET UP THE FUCKING MOUNTAIN, there is no room left in your conscious mind for anything else. Huffing and puffing, I burned every last drop of anxiety I had out on that mountain. I got angry. I cried. I gritted my teeth. I kept my mind focused on just getting to the next cairn and not rolling my ankles when my legs got weak and shaky. I tried not to be frustrated when I reached a summit and it turned out to be false - the summit teasing me from even further above. The trail snaked to dizzying heights above me that seemed impossible, so for the most part, I kept my head down and didn’t look up. One step after another, don’t focus on the immense task before you, just take the next step - that is how you climb a mountain.
As I climbed alone (Julie was either far behind or far ahead), I understood that this mountain was a metaphor for my career in so many ways. The path I have set before me is hard and the summit is far, far away. If I see how far it is, anxiety paralyzes me from taking action and I just want to quit. It’s too hard. It’s too big. But if I just focus on the next 5 steps, then I feel like I can accomplish that, and I move forward, and after 5 steps, just focus on the next 5 steps after that.
You see...in the past I have been a destination person. I could not relax into the journey because I was so focused on getting to the destination. Life has taught me that when you reach the destination, you die. Life is about enjoying the journey and embracing the adventure of uncertainly. In the words of Helen Keller, after all, life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.
If the trail ever leveled out enough so that I could catch my breath, anxious thoughts would immediately start to sneak in. I learned that all I had to do to quiet those voices in my head was to stop, take a breath, look behind me to see how far I have come, and enjoy the view.
Standing on that ancient, crumbling mountain reminded me how small I am, and how finite and temporary my problems really are. When we frame the situations of our life in this type of perspective, everything evens out, and we can move forward again.
So if you find yourself worrying about something in your life and you find you can’t stop, go climb a mountain.
I mean it, snickerdoodles. Doctor's orders.