It had been a very long time since we had last backpacked. When Mary was a baby, she was portable, and backpacking with her was easy. As Mary grew, it became harder and harder to take her backpacking, as it was impossible to carry her and forty pounds of equipment. She was too heavy to carry but too young to hike more than a mile at a time.
But now, well into her fourth year, we were beginning to get more mileage out of her; although she was only good for about two or three miles, that was all that we needed to do a nice overnight backpacking trip with her.
John thought it would be a fun idea to do a short backpacking trip into the West Clear Creek Wilderness Area, along the West Clear Creek Trail #17. Having done this trail before, back in October of 1998, we knew that the first couple miles of this trail were very easy and would be appropriate for Mary to hike; we also knew that the elevation was just right for a March backpack, as that trail was at an elevation of 3,400 feet.
Having picked out our trail, we then spent the next week preparing for our trip. John printed out the maps that we would need for our hike, and I went to the store to buy the food supplies that we would take with us on our trip. We then spent Friday night packing and making sure that we had everything. We even threw in a few extra items to add a little bit of fun to our excursion, including a small deck of about 50 The Simpsons trivia cards.
So, with everything packed and ready to go, John and Mary and I left the house at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning, to drive to the Bullpen Campground, where our backpacking adventure would begin.
And what an adventure it would become!
After an uneventful drive to Camp Verde, we arrived at the Bullpen Campground around 11:30 a.m. to find it full of teenagers who were camping there for the weekend. (It was still early in the day, so they were quiet teenagers.) We chose a parking spot as far away from them as we could get, and then we sat down under the shade of a nearby tree to eat our lunch. While we were eating, a forest ranger drove through the campground to make sure that all was well there. When he spotted us, he stopped and asked if we were planning to camp there.
"No," John replied. "We're backpacking."
The ranger nodded and recommended that we park elsewhere if that was the case. We were parked in a place where someone could be camping, so he would prefer it if we parked closer to the trailhead. We said that we would do so after lunch, and with that the ranger wished us luck and left.
As soon as we finished our lunch, we pulled the Jeep up to the trailhead and parked there. Then, we set about getting our equipment together for our overnight excursion. When we were finally all geared up, we stepped off onto the West Clear Creek Trail.
Now, we learned a number of valuable lessons on that trip, and we learned the first one within the first half hour of the hike: Mary does not hike well at nap time. For the purpose of this trip, we thought it would be appropriate to hike in at lunch time and set up camp just in time for Mary's nap. Unfortunately, Mary is not at her best during that time of day, so forcing her to hike even a short distance was asking too much of her. That afternoon, we learned that the best way to hike with Mary was to do so first thing in the morning, while she was still fresh.
As a result, we didn't get much distance out of her that day. After hiking only three-quarters of a mile, John suggested that we take off our packs and stop for an extended break so that Mary could rest. We could tell that she wasn't going to make it much further, because as soon as John set down his backpack, Mary laid down on top of it and tried to take a nap.
John left us there for a few minutes while he scouted around for a place to camp. When he returned, he was very excited, because he had found the perfect place for us. Donning our packs again, we continued down the trail for another five hundred feet or so, to a place where a spur trail took us down to West Clear Creek. There, on the other side of the creek, was a beautiful little beach that would make a great campsite for us. The only problem was, we had to get across the creek.
Of course, that didn't stop us. Putting Mary on his shoulders, John plodded across the creek, through the cold, thigh-deep water, until he reached the other side. I followed close behind him.
As soon as we were on the other side of the creek, we dropped our packs and started setting up camp, so that Mary could take her much needed nap. We put up the tent and laid Mary's sleeping bag out inside of it, along with all of her toys. Then, we put Mary down for her nap.
Once we were settled in our campsite, we decided to spend the afternoon enjoying the warm afternoon sun and watching the teenagers lugging heavy ice chests along the trail above us. (We saw one group carrying a party keg - that must have been some hike!) It was obvious that they were on their way to one of the more popular swimming holes, where they would party all afternoon then return to camp in the evening. At that point, we would have the wilderness to ourselves.
Not all of the teenagers were going to the swimming hole. Sometime during the afternoon, we were joined by a group of teenagers who decided to sit on the other side of the creek and drink beer. They never actually crossed the creek to come to our side, but they did keep throwing a stick into it for their dog to fetch. After a half an hour, they finally decided to leave, and then, we were alone again.
After Mary had her nap, and she was refreshed again, she decided to spend the afternoon throwing rocks into the creek. (That had become one of her favorite trailside pastimes.) I started to take pictures of her doing so...and that was when I learned the second valuable lesson: always bring extra batteries for everything. Not only did the camera batteries die, but they did so while the camera was on, with the lens extended. I was unable to get the lens to retract, which meant that I could not put it back into its protective case. Afraid that we were going to somehow break our expensive digital camera, John placed it carefully in the top of his backpack, to protect it from the elements during the night.
One by one, the teenagers began hiking back to the campground, signaling the end of a lovely day. Just as the sun was starting to set in the sky, John opened up our cookware and prepared dinner for us. Meanwhile, I got a small campfire going to keep us warm, because the temperature was cooling fast.
We spent the evening next to the campfire, trying to keep warm. Around 8:00 p.m., we put Mary down to sleep after trying unsuccessfully to get her to go potty. We followed soon thereafter, leaving our campsite just as it was...something we would never usually do. Ever.
And that was the beginning of a very rough night, in which we learned two of the most valuable lessons that we would ever learn.
The first came at 11:00 p.m., when Mary started crying in her sleep. I woke up and discovered that she was completely drenched - sleeping bag, sleeper and all. Although Mary was day-time potty trained, she was still iffy at night and occasionally wet her bed. It was worse when we were camping, because the cold air caused her to lose control of her bladder.
So what do you do when you are a mile from your car, in the middle of the night, and your child soaks her sleeping bag? Absolutely nothing. There is nothing you can do. Even if you change her clothes, she is still going to be sleeping in a wet sleeping bag. All I could do was stick a towel over her sleeping bag to hold in some of the warmth and hope for the best...and, the next time we went camping, we would bring a Pull-Up for her to wear to bed, until she got the hang of the night-time potty training.
I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but soon after that, I hear the sound of critters scurrying through our campsite. I tried my best to ignore them, but just as I drifted off to sleep again, I could smell a very strong, foul odor - I mean, it had to be strong to be detected over the scent of the soiled sleeping bag! At that point, I paid it no mind and quickly fell back to sleep.
For the rest of the night, sleep was hit or miss. I awoke often to help Mary cover up or listen to the critters in our campsite. Finally, around 6:00 a.m., after getting a few restless hours of sleep, I emerged from the tent to start the new day.
And that was when I learned the final lesson of the trip: ALWAYS bear bag your food - including your garbage - and your equipment. And never, ever, leave any sort of food in your pack. And always close your pack. And never trust critters in your campsite. They're usually up to no good.
The critters wandering through our campsite were certainly up to no good that night, and we had left them an open invitation to wreak havoc on our equipment. Although we had bear-bagged our food, we had failed to hang up our backpacks, close the top pouch of my pack, and bear-bag our garbage bag.
The first thing that we found that morning, as were were surveying the damage done to our campsite, was my birth control pills, still enclosed in the cardboard box in which they had been dispensed, sitting between a rock and the creek. The critters had stolen them from the top of my pack and had carried them over to the creek to nibble on the box. Unable to find anything good about them, the critter left them there. Although the box was full of holes, the pills were completely intact.
Having realized that the pills had been taken from my pack, I rushed over to see what else was missing. There had been four items in the top of my pack: my pills, a pack of gum, my cell phone, and the Simpsons Trivia cards. Now, all that was left was my cell phone.
"They took the trivia cards?" John exclaimed in disbelief. We were both flabbergasted.
As we continued to scout the area, we also discovered that the garbage bag was gone. In it were the remains of last night's dinner and several pudding cups.
John took a little walk to see if he could find our missing items, and when he returned, he announced that he knew who the culprit was. At that same time, I, too, figured out which critter had raided our campsite - it was obvious, after all, once I remembered the foul odor from overnight.
"It was a skunk," John said, and with that, he pointed out that he had found the skunk's nest, only twenty feet from our campsite.
"Yep," I sighed. "I smelled it last night."
"So, what we're looking for then, is a skunk with fresh breath (from the chewing gum), who is sterile (from taking birth control pills), and who is a Simpsons trivia buff!"
While waiting for Mary to wake up, John and I scoured the area looking for our missing items. We soon found the chewing gum under the tree next to the tent - every single piece had been nibbled on. We retrieved that and put it in a new garbage bag. Later, John found a pudding cup next to the skunk's nest - it had been completely cleaned out. As the morning progressed, and the winds began to pick up, we found five of the fifty Simpsons Trivia Cards, as each one blew in with the breeze. We collected those as well, but we only managed to find the five; the other 45 or so are still out there somewhere.
When Mary awoke, we dropped our search for our missing items and focused our attention on her. As soon as she emerged from her soaking wet sleeping bag, she was shivering, so we quickly undressed her, cleaned her up, and put her into warm clothing. We then put her into John's sleeping bag and let her sit by the fire to get warm while she ate her breakfast. Finally, we took Mary's wet clothes and sleeping bag and set them out on top of the tent to dry in the morning sun. (Of course, they never actually got completely dry before we had to pack them, but at least it was a start.)
Having given up on our search for the missing cards and garbage bag, John and I decided to start packing up so that we could head home. We wanted to hike out while Mary was still fresh and spunky, as she usually was first thing in the morning, so we decided not to linger around camp waiting for Simpsons cards to blow in with the breeze.
After we finished packing our backpacks, at about 8:30 in the morning, we crossed the cold creek and stepped back onto the trail. As predicted, Mary was at her best, as it was still early in the morning, and she managed to hike the entire distance back to the trailhead without a single complaint.
It took us about an hour to return to the trailhead, and once we arrived, we loaded up our gear and drove away. We decided not to do any exploring, nor did we take any side trips, because we needed to get home to do some work around the house.
Another typical Verley adventure had come to an end...
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