Last weekend, I took Selah on her first backpacking trip with my dear friend Kelly and her daughter. I’ve always liked backpacking, but this trip was a first for me, too–it was the first time I had been the major planner and carrier of the things, as I had always either been with my parents or spouse. I liked the idea of the challenge, though I’ll admit I felt relieved when Kelly thought she had a tent we could all fit in that we could just split up into our packs.
I should probably also admit that Kelly is kind of awesome and basically ended up being my parent/spouse. She climbed Mt. Whitney this year to raise funds to bring disadvantaged youth into nature. I think my main accomplishment of this nature has been hauling my own children into nature and then yelling at them. She was very patient with me though.
I could probably write an awful lot about this trip, but I think it’s important to cut straight to what inspired this title, and what I immediately threatened was going to become a blog post: our attempt to hang the bear line.
Kelly had already warned me that she had had difficulty in the past with this task. I figured I’d man up and help her out. I do have pretty good aim, after all. I could almost surely hit the broad side of a barn.
Kelly tied the rope around a rock, and we wandered around trying to find just the right tree. We found it. It was directly above someone else’s tent. Eyeballing the beautiful branch stretching out over their rain fly, we regretfully moved on to a grove of not very good trees. They all had about a hundred zillion little tiny branches in them. Winding up, Kelly let the rock fly. It was really impressive, except for the fact that it sailed under all of the branches.
She repeated the process a few times, and then I rolled up my figurative sleeves and said I would give it a try.
I climbed up on a boulder that increased my height a bit, retied the rock, and let ‘er go. “She” utterly failed me. I kept retying, throwing, and missing. Kelly took the stupid freaking rock and rope back and tried again too, with no success. We kept managing to throw it over the wrong branch, and occasionally over no branch at all. Our throws seemed to be getting worse the more we laughed and threw. Finally, Kelly made good contact. But the rock wound itself around the branch and twisted the rope all up in itself.
Kelly, being the smart one, went to go try to find a good branch to whack the rock with. I, being the dumber one, figured it’d be a snap to just throw a rock at the rock in the tree to knock it down. Unfortunately the rock in the tree did not turn out to be the size of the broad side of a barn, and I sent rock after rock hurtling by, nowhere near it. I quit when Kelly got back, hoping she would think I had been looking for branches too.
The branch in her hand was maybe two to three feet long. It was a nice, rakelike one with lots of arms. However, we’re both in the mid to lower range of five feet fall, and the stuck rope was way higher than that.
This was the point when Kelly suggested I should climb onto her shoulders.
I clambered back up onto the boulder and she backed up. I got onto her shoulders, and immediately my life flashed before my eyes as she pitched forward a little. “Whoaaa!” I hollered. She got me back onto the boulder. We laughed hysterically for about five minutes. “OK, let’s try again,” I said shakily, with a new awareness that another person’s shoulders are not quite as sturdy a seat as they seem.
I climbed back onto Kelly’s shoulders with the raky branch clutched in my fist. She staggered over to where our rope hung in the tree. I reached the branch up toward the rock…and quickly realized that we would have needed a third person on my shoulders to get us anywhere near the height of that rock. Kelly let me back off on the boulder, and I felt relief flood through my body at the fact that I had not face-planted into the rocky soil from a height of maybe 7.5 feet.
Kelly finally attempted the tried and true method of just pulling like crazy on the other end of the rope. I felt a little nervous, given that she had recently told me a story about doing this and that story ended up with a large rock smashing into her as it plummeted from a tree. This time, thankfully, we were luckier. I didn’t want to have to carry Kelly AND the whole tent back out of the woods.
By some miracle, not much later, she tossed the rope back up into the tree in the right spot, and we had a bear line.
This is when Selah showed up. “What are you guys doing?”
I said, “When you are backpacking, you need to hang your food so that the bears can’t get it.”
“Can’t bears climb trees?”
Feeling slightly grumpy at being questioned, I said, “Yes, but probably a bigger problem here is the squirrels.”
“Can’t they climb trees too?”
I thought how best to answer this question, and finally came up with, “Yes, but squirrels can’t…they [mumble mumble]…” and finished with a slightly snappish, “I don’t know. We are doing our best.” Darned know it all kids.
No bears or squirrels ate our food. It was a relatively uneventful trip, though there’s plenty more I could say about it. So here are some highlights of the next post:
- Ten year olds better at lighting fires than adults
- Failure to read freeze-dried food directions
- Elementary-school romance
- Water snake
- The best backpacking attire: a dress
Oh, and if you comment, please do not suggest better ways to keep your food safe from animals. I might harm you.
Update: Here is the next post: Women Gone Wild Part II.