Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Hike That Finally Happened

Well, the hike I have long referred to - both here and here - was finally upon us. I'll be honest: heading into this three-mile, "moderate" trail, I was a novice and completely unaware that Mystic Lake Trail was, indeed, three-miles and classified as "moderate." But I was determined and, looking back, I can't quite put my finger on why. I can say, however, that in hindsight, it was the hike that made all future hikes happen.

Since our plans for this had been foiled thus far, we left the house on this particular day specifically to hike to Mystic Lake. I packed a bonafide novice lunch that Jacob was ultimately too afraid to take on the trail because we were in Grizzly Bear country in the middle of the summer; and we dressed to keep us from the mosquito buffet but not necessarily for the heat, which was still pretty intense, depending on - we learned - which side of the mountain you happen to be on.

 So, here I am carbo-loading in the parking lot on pasta coated with Pesto sauce. Not gonna lie, it was pretty amazing.

You can spot the real seasoned hikers by their Jansport backpacks.

 Look closely and you can see a bird blending in with the trees and rocks, which would normally have me screaming bloody murder, but he was a mostly-walking bird.

 Once upon a time, a Unicorn danced through the forest to Mystic Lake...

 ...While the Little Prince just wanted to drive his pick-up truck.

 Just call me Cheryl Strayed!

Being the novice-hikers we are, though we lacked food smells, we also lacked bear spray or anything else to really defend ourselves. So we took the Parent Trap route of making random, loud noises, wearing bright colors, and I told the kids to bang two stick together. We didn't get eaten, so yay!

 I gawked and took pictures of the awe-inspiring scenery, not realizing that we would soon be amongst the jagged rocks.

 That speck of blue is Jacob with the kids during the most difficult portion of the hike. On the side of the mountain facing the blazing sun, one of the longest, steepest, rockiest parts of the trail, where I doubted we were headed in the right direction, and Jacob was tired and hungry and ready to turn back. But I had been reassuring everyone since mile one-and-a-half that we were "almost there," so I was sure we had to be getting close.

It looks a bit pretentious but the walking stick really does help during those uphill stints. So much so that even Holden was looking for one his size.

Everyone was pretty sick of me at this point but I was NOT GIVING UP.

 And, sure enough, we rounded a bend of the mountain into the shade, was met was a sudden drop in temperature by 20-degrees, and a sight to take our breath away. This, my friends, is Mystic Lake.

 The trail leading down to the lake is fucking amazing, but it's also a straight drop into a waterfall on one side, leaving those of us who are too scared to climb into a bunk bed with an interesting conundrum. The kids, naturally, were completely fearless.

 These three hikers, obviously the non-novices that we were, passed us on the trail, and if this isn't a Montana postcard, I don't know what is.

 There was no way I could NOT go down to the lake after the three miles it took to get there, but I'll be the first to admit it was not the most graceful experience of my life.

I dealt with the height by staring at my feet and gripping on to the side of the mountain like grim death, which felt imminent.

 The lake was, in a word, rejuvenating. Some of us stripped down to our underpants, we ate some tuna-turned-soggy sandwiches and popcorn, and everyone was in bright, cheery spirits the entire three-miles back down the mountain.

 If we're being completely honest, Jacob was thisclose to having to literally drag me from this spot.

 We packed our dog blanket so that our boys could be with us in spirit. Although Louis had accompanied us on adventures thus far, there was absolutely no way he could have done this hike and continued to live. And, sadly, Durbin is now always with us in spirit, having left our house for God's the beginning of the summer. So this started a tradition of taking the dog blanket whenever we head outdoors.

 That's a lake in Montana for ya!

 The start of the trek back down, which took a lot less time, and Holden walked almost the entire way by himself rather than be carried by Dad.

 Yes, we were getting close to being tired but don't let this picture fool you; as I said before, despite the heat and hike, everyone was in extremely jovial spirits.

 I honestly have no idea if Lewis and Clark ever stepped foot near Mystic Lake, but that didn't stop me from channeling them every chance I got.

 Jacob carried Holden only a few times, usually over the rockiest, steepest parts of the trail...while I crawled on my hands and knees behind them...

Jacob pretty much had to pry me from this spot, too.

By this point in our summer - early July - we had already been on more adventures than the previous year combined. And although this was the first real hike hike our family had ever been on, it also ended up being the most difficult; while Zoey enjoys our continued forays into nature, her inevitable first question is: "How many miles is it?" Little did she know then, however, that the more she did it, the easier it would become. And we quickly realized that even though nature can look familiar, it is always uniquely breathtaking.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Camping That Could Have Been

You would think that after our maiden voyage of camping in Yellowstone - and, you know, living in Montana for the last several years - our second attempt at foraging the outdoors would have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, our over-confidence replaced any sort of good planning and preparedness, leaving our camping adventure at West Rosebud Creek as one of those we roll our eyes and chuckle about later.

The thing that put a major kink in our camping plans that we didn't even think about until it was too late was that we happened be to going on a weekend. When we went to Yellowstone, it was busy, but it was also the middle of the week, guaranteeing that we would be seeing about 90-percent less people than if we had gone on a weekend. This go around, we simply took for granted that the rest of the world has the weekend off and that's when *they* head into the woods. So after driving two-hours from home, it was another two hours of driving slowly around various tents, 4x4 trucks, trailers the size of small houses, and ATVs before we finally found a space to set up camp. And - of course - it was at 10 o'clock at night during a season when our part of the earth is light until about 9:30pm; clearly, things were not on our side from the get-go.

Pitching a tent in the dark is pretty much a staple of my childhood. I can hold a flashlight steady and hand over stakes like nobody's business (and if I were a boy that would be a euphemism), but Zoey is still in the learning phase so while I unloaded the car in the dark, tried to keep the fire from going out, made sure Louis didn't go wandering off, and started the car every few minutes to keep the headlights on, Zoey was making everyone nauseous with the flashlight. Holden was fast asleep in the car, and by the time Jacob had set up the tent, Zoey was ready for sleep, so it was just the two of us, the fire, the stars, wine, and every giant camper in the site with their "porch" light on.

Our original plan was to camp out, make breakfast the next morning, then do the hike we had originally planned for our Fourth of July outing. But Jacob and I had un-winded with just a bit too much wine the night before and were feelin' it the next morning. It was all Jacob could do to take the tent down without his coffee coming back up to say hello. So we took our time getting packed up, drove back home, and spent an easy summer Sunday evening at home. Even still, we enjoyed ourselves, let the kids make S'mores for breakfast, and appreciated our surroundings. And, above all, learned to never again go camping on the weekend.

"Mom, can I please keep this sample of lichen?" Word. For. Word. Which, of course, I let her do, but Professor accidentally misplaced her sample before arriving back at her laboratory.

 Our second time out, we felt we were deserving of some Montana camping mugs.