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September 2-3, 2000

"Trip of Fools"

It is fast becoming a tradition that we spend Labor Day weekend with John's parents. Two years ago, we spent one very wet and very adventurous weekend with Bill and Erika Verley on the Mogollon Rim. We got stuck in West Clear Creek Canyon during a downpour, and we got the van stuck in the mud while trying to get to the Willow Crossing Trail #38, on FR 9366M. Then, the following year, we backpacked Aravaipa Canyon in what was yet another adventurous weekend. Again, we got the van stuck - this time during a creek crossing about a hundred yards from the trailhead!

This year, John and I decided once again to spend Labor Day weekend camping or backpacking with his family. Naturally, my first question was, "Are we taking the van?" After all, getting the van stuck was the Labor Day tradition. John assured me that, although we were taking the van, we were not going to get stuck. There had not been enough rain on the Rim for there to be mud on the roads, and the weather forecast was for a dry and warm weekend in the high country.

The plan was to do a luxury backpacking trip into the Clover Creek area with Bill and Erika as sort of a practice run for Bill and John's backpacking trip to Paria Canyon on September 21 through 24. It would also be Mary's first backpacking trip - at twenty-six days old! Bill and John would be carrying all of our stuff in their backpacks, and Erika and I would only carry our daypacks (I would also be carrying a diaper bag containing Mary's things).

Somewhere along the line, the plans changed; we found out about two weeks before the trip that Janice and Danny would also be joining us on our backpacking trip. Janice had never backpacked before, and Danny's only experience had been his trip to Wet Beaver Creek with John during the month of June. On top of the that, the plans were still up in the air a few days before the trip, because everyone began expressing their concerns that I shouldn't be hiking while I was still healing from my Cesarean, even though I wouldn't be carrying anything heavy and the trail was both familiar and easy. I will admit that when John first suggested the idea, I was skeptical, but after having hiked the trail the weekend before the trip, I was sure that I could do it without a problem.

About two days before our trip, the details were finally hammered out. John would be carrying all of our supplies (his and mine) in his backpack, plus he would carry Mary in her Snugli. I would have Mary's diaper bag and my camelback. Danny would carry all of the supplies for himself and Janice, while she carried only a daypack with their food and a tote bag (she was now five months pregnant, so no one wanted her to carry much). Both Bill and Erika would carry backpacks with all of their supplies, including a five-liter bag of wine - what else would we have for a luxury-style backpack!

The night before our trip, John came home from work with a sore throat and a bit of congestion - he was coming down with a cold. Although he knew that going camping was only going to aggravate it, he insisted on going anyway, because he didn't want to give up the chance to spend some time in the outdoors with his family - especially his daughter! He had been looking forward to showing Mary "the good life" - the life that he and I loved to share in the outdoors. He couldn't cancel now.

So Saturday morning, at six a.m., the three of us - John, Mary and I - left the house to embark on our latest Labor Day adventure. We stopped, of course, for bagels at Einstein's en route; then, we drove non-stop to the Mogollon Rim, along SR 87. Mary slept quietly in her car seat during most of the drive - she was so quiet that we kept checking on her to make sure that she was okay! She didn't even wake up until we had found the Verleys' motor home on FR 142 - that was when we finally pulled her out of her car seat and got her - and all of us - ready for our backpacking trip.
Our motley group...
Once everything was loaded and ready to go, we all hopped into Danny's pickup truck and drove to the Clover Creek Trailhead to begin our adventure. To commemorate Mary's first backpacking trip, we took a group picture at the trailhead, just inside the gate. We used our new camera, which has a timer on it - that way, we were all able to get into the picture. (The picture came out perfect.)

Our hike began around ten a.m., as our group started down the trail that used to be an old jeep road, until the bridge washed away several years ago. We were quite the motley band of hikers, consisting of a twenty-six day old infant (Mary), who was being carried by her sick father (John - his cold was starting to bother him); a five month-pregnant woman (Janice); a woman with an open Cesarean wound (me); and a dog who thinks she's a cat (Sheba). And it would only get worse...

The pace at which we hiked was a slow one. For one thing, I wasn't hiking at my normal speed - I had to hike much slower as I needed to be cautious. We also had to break periodically so that John could rest; including Mary, he was probably carrying close to seventy pounds - the most weight he had ever carried on a backpacking trip. That alone was enough to slow him down, because that was almost twice as much as he usually carried. The terrain, however, was still familiar to us, so route finding wasn't an issue, except for one incident, where John almost dropped Mary. He couldn't decide which way to go, and as a result, he became fumble-footed and tripped himself up. The weight of his pack tried to push him to the ground, but he used one hand to catch Mary and another to catch himself on a boulder, thus preventing a very bad situation. (Of course, I nearly had a heart attack!)

We reached camp around eleven a.m. The campsite that we chose was about a half a mile from the one that John and I had used during our first luxury backpack into Clover Creek, in May 1999. Like that first campsite, this one also had "chairs" that someone had set up using rock slabs; there were six of them, all in a row. The campsite itself was much larger than the first one, too, so we had plenty of room for all three tents.
The Verleys in Clover Creek
After all of the tents were set up and the sleeping bags were unrolled, it was time for lunch - and, of course, a glass of wine! (Did I mention that this was a luxury backpack?) Even Janice had a half a glass of Merlot with us - she had brought little bottles of Merlot so that she could have just a little bit. I only had a little bit, too, because I ended up spilling some on both myself and Mary when I dropped her formula bottle. (Twenty-six days old and she already smelled like a wino!)

A bit later, John, Bill and Danny went for a day hike while the rest of us rested at camp. They were gone about two hours, during which time Erika, Janice, Mary and I took naps. When they returned, they had quite the story to tell. John told me that they had made it all the way to the rock shelf where he had carved "John loves Heather" two years ago - the writing was still there after all this time! After that, they decided to turn around because it was just too overgrown to go any further; however, there wasn't a whole lot of water in the creek. "Remember how deep it was last year?" he asked. How could I forget? It was thigh deep! "Ankle deep," he continued. "That was it."

Both John and Danny had cuts on their legs from the overgrown foliage, but their injuries were nothing compared to what happened to Bill. While they were hiking, Bill fell and got his foot caught between two rocks, injuring it. He managed to limp back to camp, where Erika wrapped it with an Ace bandage and propped it up on a rock. We were really hoping that he hadn't broken it, because hiking out of there wasn't going to pretty had he done so. I overheard John and Danny discussing the situation; if they needed to, they would make two trips to carry all of their gear out, so that Bill wouldn't have to carry a backpack in the morning if his ankle was any worse. Of course, John wasn't happy about that, because his cold was getting worse all the time. I imagined that, by morning, he was probably going to be pretty miserable.

It had indeed become a "trip of fools."
Mary Verley - a backpacker at 26 days old...
But we made the best of it. We spent most of the afternoon playing with Mary, trying to keep her awake in hopes that she would sleep for most of the night. I figured that, since she had had so much excitement that day that she would probably sleep all night long - we were usually able to get her to sleep for most of the night if we kept her awake and active until ten p.m. We were successful in keeping her awake for most of the afternoon, as we handed her off from one person to another. Both Janice and Danny practiced giving her a bottle; her grandparents took turns holding her; and John and I changed her diaper frequently to keep her happy. As a result, she was very alert and quiet as she studied everyone's face - and we got some great photographs of her.

By evening, as the temperature cooled, it was time to start bundling Mary up in her blankets to keep her warm. Of course, once Mary was nice and warm, it didn't take long for her to fall asleep...and she slept for most of the evening. By the time we began cooking dinner, she was in a deep sleep from which the only way to wake her was to change her diaper...but then she would go right back to sleep. Crap, I thought. That can only mean one thing...

We spent a rather stinky evening next to the campfire listening to Janice and Erika toot away - Janice, of course, used pregnancy as an excuse for her flatulence (having been there and done that, I accepted her excuse). The wine was gone early, so I nursed my glass while the others switched to Scotch. John wanted to be unconscious to get over his cold, but after taking Tylenol Cold, he, too, began nursing his Scotch. Mary just wasn't interested in nursing at all; at one point, Bill even asked me if she was okay, because she had been sleeping for quite some time. "Oh, yeah, she's fine," I replied. "Just watch; she'll be up all night."

And just as I suspected, Mary was awake for most of the night.

Bill and Erika retired early, and the rest of us crawled into our tents around 9:00 - though it took John and me a little longer to do so, since we had to prepare a bed for Mary in between our sleeping bags. She was still sound asleep when we laid her down on our backpacking chair, but I just knew that it wouldn't be long before she was awake and fussing.

John fell asleep right away, and almost immediately, he began to snore. Now, John does not normally snore, unless he is nicely drunk and he passes out on his back. That night, he was not drunk, nor did he fall asleep on his back; he was so congested that he couldn't help but snore. To make matters worse, he had given me his Thermarest pad to sleep on, as we had not yet replaced the one that Danny had punctured during their Wet Beaver Creek trip, so he had to sleep on the cold ground. That only further aggravated his cold, and it prevented me from falling asleep. In fact, I was still awake at 11:00 p.m. when Mary finally started fussing.

And all we had to feed her was cold formula. Although she ate it, she was not happy about it, and as a result she fussed all night long.

Her fussing finally awoke John around 11:30. I had been trying to feed her, but every time I thought she was done and asleep, I would put her down, only to see that she was still awake and still hungry. I was getting frustrated, especially since I had not yet been to sleep, so John agreed to take her so that I could get a few hours of sleep. Then, I would take over later. Miraculously, I managed to get about three hours of sleep before I was awakened by Mary's loud cry. John had been holding her in his lap, but when he reached for her bottle, she rolled from his lap onto the floor of the tent, head first. Although she had only fallen about four inches, she cried as though she had fallen four feet, and that woke everyone else, too.

I took over and let John go back to sleep. As soon as he lay down, he began to snore loudly again - loud enough that the rest of the camp heard him. I continued to feed Mary until I was sure that she was asleep, which took about another hour; then, I crawled back into my sleeping bag and attempted to sleep for another hour or so...until Mary began to fuss again. By that time, it was already six in the morning, and Bill and Erika were awake, stoking the campfire, and Janice and Danny were beginning to come to life. We decided that there was no point in trying to get anymore sleep, so John took Mary outside to feed her by the campfire, so that I could change the top dressing on my wound. Then, I, too, emerged from the tent to start the day.

It was decided that we weren't going to linger around the campsite all morning, as we had originally planned. Immediately after breakfast, we began tearing down camp and packing up our things for the return hike, knowing that it was going to take us much longer to hike out than it did to hike in.

Fortunately, we didn't have to make two trips to get all of our supplies out of the backcountry. Though Bill's ankle was pretty swollen and purple, he insisted on carrying his own pack anyway. His pace was considerably slower - much slower than the day before and even slower than mine. Janice hiked with him and talked to him to keep his mind off of the pain.

As for John, he was also feeling very miserable. Now that he wasn't carrying so much food and water, his pack was much lighter, but his pace was slowed by his cold, which had worsened overnight. He decided that, as soon as we returned to the motor home and our van, we were going home to get some sleep.

That is exactly what we did. After taking a few minutes to strap Mary into the car seat and say our good-byes to everyone, we climbed into the van and left the Mogollon Rim.

Thus ended Mary's first backpacking trip, and it was quite the memorable trip, what with the injuries, illnesses, and the lack of sleep. For me, it was nice to be back in the wilderness, enjoying a quiet evening next to a warm campfire under a blanket of stars. Though Mary was much too young to ever remember this trip, it was nice to be able to share the experience with her, and I look forward to all of the trips in the future, when she will be old enough to enjoy them.

 

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