“Hiking boots and extra socks?”
“Check…unless you want clean ones.”
“Ben-Gay and other assorted pain-relieving medicines?”
We were about to embark on a dangerous and exciting mission. One that would change our lives forever. One that would make us men.
“But I don’t want to be a man,” whined my sister. She was always whining about things like that. My mom, who looked forward to our yearly trip with great anticipation, said, “Enjoy your back-packing trip. HA! I don’t have to go traipsing through the mud and muck! My brain is functioning just fine! I get the house all to myself for two whole days!”
“What, dear?” asked my dad.
“I said to enjoy your backpacking trip with our kids, honey. I hope you have a fun time!”
“Oh. I thought you said something else. Was that a snicker?”
“You must be hearing things. Off you go now! Bye! Suckers!”
The five of us – one Dad, one sister, two brothers and one Yours Truly – piled into our bright orange Volkswagon van. (My friends and I would later come up with a song for our beloved van:
“Ora-nge jalopy, orange-orange jalopy. Jalopy!”)
We were off for the boonies; also known as the Sandia Mountains (Sandia means “the place of hot uphill travel and softball-sized mosquitoes”). Here we would brave the elements and my dad’s crunchy green macaroni for two days of backpacking.
Yes, I said backpacking, not camping.
I do not go camping. Lazy, smart people go camping. I, being neither lazy nor smart, go backpacking. What’s the difference, you ask? Pipe down, I’m getting there.
Camping is when you city pansies decide to “harmonize with God’s gift of Nature” and “get away from it all”. Which you promptly do by taking it all with you in your SUV’s as you head for the hills. Showers, TV’s, La-Z-Boys, butlers. All these comforts of home are as easily available as a portable hotel room. There are flocks of families reclining in the mountains ordering catered room service while watching HBO.
Backpacking is when you park your beat-up VW van at the base of the mountain and hike your jug of water and box of macaroni and cheese up the face of your local Mt. Everest. Backpacking is trying to find a flat, treeless plot of ground on which to pitch your tent before it gets dark. Backpacking is when you fail to get it up in time and tempers grow short as you miss the tent stakes and hit your thumbs with the rock you’re using because you don’t have a hammer with you because you left it in the orange jalopy.
Campers wake up in the early hours of the afternoon to hot coffee and pastries served in bed. Then they read the paper for the stock market report and then move on to a hot shower. They make sure to share their lovely rap music and beer cans with the rest of us. No one ever said they weren’t nice!
Backpackers wake up in the dead of night with a bladder problem that needs direct attention. We muster our courage and make a run for the nearest tree. We don’t find it; it finds us – right in the nose. After picking our whimpering, bare-foot, frozen selves off the icy tundra, we fix the problem at hand and follow the skunk tracks back to the tent. We then stand at frozen attention until sunrise when the skunk gets out of our sleeping bag, stretches, and wanders off to find better accommodations. My sister says, “Next time we’re bringing the hotel room. Boy, was it c-cold last night! What’s for b-breakfast?”
Then we eat cold oatmeal, pack up our two items (tent and pack, no hammer), wave goodbye to the skunk, and stagger back down the mountain to our orange jalopy, which, if we’re lucky, will run long enough to take us back to Mom.
What were your outdoor family traditions?