Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Camping, just mama and son

Two weeks ago, C and I went camping together, just the two of us. I had worried that it would be too hard with just me and a four year old boy, but really it wasn't too bad. His main motivation was that I had said that he could have marshmallows when he was four and we went camping -- last fall! He has an amazing memory for such things. Anyway, we found a close by state park with a campground, Kanaskat-Palmer State Park.

Since it was the middle of the week and before Memorial Day weekend, there were plenty of spots, so we didn't need a reservation (otherwise we would have had to reserve it a year in advance or something). All we had to do was get everything we needed to bring packed into the car and go. Which would be a much bigger job than I had realized. As you will come to see as I relate the crazy tale.

On Tuesday evening (or was it Monday?), we went to the local big box store, Fred Meyer, and bought a tend. We needed a new tent, because our old one, a Target brand tent, had lost a "shock cord" -- the elastic cord that holds the pieces of pole together. Who invented this style of tent pole must have known that this would happen, particularly if you have to camp in a damp environment a lot and don't have a chance to take the tent home and put it up in your yard to dry out on a sunny day after you come back from your trip - which we can't do being that we live in an apartment.

C enjoyed the little pull-out description of all the tents they had to offer. He kept insisting we get a tent right then and there; I wanted to ponder things a bit more, given how short-lived our last tent was (less than two years). Anyway, we ended up getting a four-person Coleman brand tent (I wasn't so sure about the store brand). Bill showed up at the store around then, having walked there from work on his way home (thank goodness for cell phones), so he helped carry the tent to the checkout.

Then, the next morning, C was still very determined to go camping right that minute (I wasn't so sure at that point, although the idea of just packing up and going did seem kind of cool). I realized we also needed some more fuel for our camp stove, and maybe also a propane lantern. So we went to Target and got their cheapest propane lantern along with some fuel for it and the stove (they had their own brand of propane, two canisters connected together, which was cool, almost like an omen telling me yes, buy a propane lantern, not one of those battery ones).

We have a tiny battery powered lantern, and about a dozen flashlights, you see (C loves flashlights and went through a period where he had to buy one every time he saw one), so we really didn't *need* a propane lantern, but somehow, it just doesn't seem like camping without one.

At that point, it was probably around noon or so, and I was hoping to leave soon. But somehow, between going shopping, cooking, packing, the afternoon just passed. We had had to go back to Fred Meyer for some ice for the cooler and some snacks, and by the time we got home, Bill was coming home from work! He gets home early compared with a lot of my friends' husbands, but still it was nearly 5 pm! I had hoped to leave by 2 pm at the latest, but I am notoriously slow anyway, and with all the last-minute things to do it just got past me. So we had a big snack to tide us over, finished packing the car, and left around 5:30. PM. On a weekday. Boy, did I not look forward to a drive to a new place through rush hour traffic!

I hadn't even known how bad it would get. It took us over half an hour just to get through Issaquah. Lots of people live down there, or further south, and go that way on their way home from work. It was quite warm, and we were sitting in traffic with all kinds of people on their way home to their overpriced condos and McMansions in Issaquah. Not to mention all the people on their way to places like Maple Valley and Black Diamond, which are slightly more affordable, if you consider affordable anything under half a million dollars.

I was pretty mad at the traffic, but also at myself for taking so long to get ready to go on our first camping trip of the year, which also happened to be our first camping trip without Daddy ever. He couldn't have taken the time off on such short notice, but also it was something I'd wanted to try, just to see if we could do it so that maybe we could do longer trips later on.

We finally got through Issaquah, passing over a dozen paragliders on the way -- apparently there is a big site there they use for that -- and began to get into the semi-rural area. I say semi-rural because this area is known for trying to preserve the rural qualities while still allowing some, very exclusive, development. So you will pass an old, broken down farmhouse with rusting assorted farm equipment in front of it, then a sign for a gated community or some such right next to it. It's very odd.

By limiting development, the housing that is built is kept very expensive, yet it is intermixed with very trashy looking old places from before Microsoft and all its money and before the population started to expand outwards. Kind of surreal. Like, if you happened to have been a farmer type twenty or thirty years ago, and fell asleep, and woke up now, you'd think someone had played a joke on you by randomly turning half your neighbors' farms into subdivisions filled with these weird super shiny SUVs and houses almost as big as their lots.

Anyway, we drove through a bunch of this, until we got to an old run-down country store on a corner. My directions, which were printed out from one of those online websites, said to turn left on a particular road, but I couldn't see a street sign. I pulled into the parking lot of the store, noting a Sheriff's car parked next to it. Before I could get out, a woman holding a paper walked out of the store.

C, being conscious of delays to getting his marshmallow fix, said, "ask her what the street name is," and I, ever obliging, leaned my head out and, when she greeted me with that ever so Seattle friendliness, asked. Sure enough, she knew the name of the street, even telling me to take the left fork at the Y. When I seemed hesitant, she asked me where I was going, and when I told her, she gave me directions all the way there. She said "I know that's how to get there because my delivery route takes me there -- wouldn't have known last year how to get there."

I can relate to that -- I know most of the Bay Area based on my bread delivery routes that I had many years ago. Chris asked me what she delivered, but I was at a loss. She had a paper, so I said "maybe newspapers" and he said "but then why was she buying a paper?" I had no idea.

Anyway, we made our way there, and found a spot to camp at. I had brought cash, but not the right amount. You were supposed to pay by putting money in an envelope and putting it in a box, but you had to have exact change, and the price had gone up from the published $15.00 (which I had) to an awkward $19.00.

How many people just put in a twenty and left it at that? I'm sure they count on that happening. I am ever so conscious of paying no more than the right amount, so we drive back to the entrance, where I'd seen a light on in the little hut there, although the blinds were drawn. We went in, and asked the ranger for change. He seemed a bit confused about what to do, as if nobody ever asked that of him. He thought about it for a minute, then said, "let me see what I can do."

He didn't actually have change for a twenty, but he did have a single one dollar bill, along with a twenty. So I said, "why don't I just pay you and you can give me the dollar as change?" This seemed to be quite a revelation for him. Again, I don't think many people try to get change from him. In order for me to pay him, he need to put it into the computer. It took him a while to figure out how to do it without logging back into some special area of the computer. He said he'd just logged out and didn't want to log back in again. Anyway, eventually he figured it out and we were out of there.

We went back to our site, and I started dinner, which consisted of some frozen stir-fry veggies and hot dogs. Remember, I had very little time to plan, and we aren't really eating much in the way of processed foods, so couldn't just buy a bunch of canned stuff (I really don't like most canned stuff anyway). I used the camp stove we brought. I discovered I'd forgotten to pack any sort of oil or butter, so the stir fry had to be cooked in water (tap water, no less, since I hadn't brought bottled). Not exactly a gourmet meal, but it had to do. Oh, and lots of miniature marshmallows for C. Lots. He had no interest in trying to toast them, which was fine since we had no wood for a fire anyway (the ranger didn't sell any, and our trunk had been too full to bring any from home).

As we were getting ready to set up the tent, a man came into our camping spot to ask for matches. I was a bit creeped out by having a strange man approach me in the middle of a nearly deserted campground, but he seemed ok. I found my large box of strike-anywhere matches, and began to get it out. He said, "are they..." and I finished the sentence, "yes, they're strike anywhere," so he just said, "great, I'll just take a few then." And smiled. I was glad to have my wedding ring and engagement ring on (which I was to lose later, see the post about Bainbridge Island). I hoped he'd assume my husband was just in the bathroom or something. But I figured if my mom could take us kids camping for weeks every summer without any incident, we were fine.

So, we set up the tent (which I didn't really like -- it didn't really sit right on the ground -- I much prefer our old Target brand tent over this new Coleman tent), and then I filled the air mattress. At this point it was getting dark, so we started up our new propane lantern. I didn't read the instructions first, so I just tied on the mantles and then tried to light it.

I didn't realize you were supposed to burn them first before starting it up, so the combination of the mantles doing their first burn along with a generous amount of propane nearly singed my eyebrows off. I quickly turned off the fuel. At this point, I decided to read the instructions. Why did I think that growing up with one would make me a natural at this? Anyway, we got it started, and found it very bright. It was also a perfect magnet for mosquitoes, apparently. We sprayed each other with some all natural DEET-free mosquito repellent (which smells nasty, by the way -- eucalyptus mint does not combine well in a bug spray).

We went to bed, after I'd gotten the all-important air mattress inflated (I have a battery operated pump, which works way better than blowing it up with your mouth). It was freezing cold. The two of us snuggled into one sleeping bag was quite a snug fit. Also, it turned out the air mattress had a slow leak in it. So, between the air mattress losing its air, the cold air, and being tightly packed into a sleeping bag with a four year old, I got very little sleep. I woke up with a nasty sore throat. I a was also very tired.

The next morning, we had turkey bacon and eggs for breakfast, again cooked without any butter or oil. They stuck, of course. We brushed our teeth with the water from the spigot (which looked kind of orange in the water container -- yikes), deflated the already mostly deflated air mattress, and took down the tent. C really wanted to go home at this point. He had eaten almost the entire bag of marshmallows at that point, and I think he was tired of them.

I really wanted to at least look at the local river (I think it was the green river), so we drove down there. There wasn't a lot to see at first, because the banks of the river were well covered with trees. But then we hiked down to the water, and it was beautiful. The water was clear and cold and it was so quiet. All you could hear was the sound of rushing water. It's a big whitewater rafting river, and they have signs giving the ratings of the rapids. We were at the point where beginners were supposed to get out, because it becomes a Class IV river after that (only experts can handle that). We walked down to the edge and put our fingers in the water. It was freezing. It is melted glacier water, so you'd expect such, but wow, was it cold.

Then, we headed home. We drove back through Issaquah, stopping to eat lunch there. We lost C's jacket there, I think, because I haven't seen it since. Why do I lose so many things, anyway?

Anyway, we had a good trip for a first shot early in the season. It felt good to be outside. Next time, though, I'm bringing a new air mattress and a bigger sleeping bag!