For the first time since our summer odyssey, the boys and I got away for a quick camping adventure this past weekend. I’d been trying to make this trip happen for weeks, so I dug my heels in and cavalierly brushed aside Belinda’s misgivings as the mercury plummeted in the days leading up to our departure. “They won’t freeze,” I said. “The fact that human beings survived in cold climates for thousands of years means that kids must be tougher than we think,” I said. But yeah, with a low in the mountains for Saturday night expected to be somewhere in the high teens, I was inwardly worried. Not that we wouldn’t survive the night, necessarily, but that they’d be miserable, that they’d quickly sour on the whole camping concept altogether.
Doubt has a way of manifesting itself as crippling procrastination, and even as late as noon on Saturday, Belinda had to ask ”So, are you going or what?” Bitten by an insistent wind every time I ferried a load out to the car, I’d come back in and get caught up in something on television . . . or log on the computer to see how the Liverpool/Fulham game was getting on . . . or read through my guidebooks for another twenty minutes, vacillating on just where we might go. Finally, however, the boys kicked us out of the door—having enlisted them as allies in my negotiations with Belinda, I couldn’t say “no” to them now—and so late afternoon found us settling into our campsite in the upper Tallulah River headwaters, in the shadow of Standing Indian and Big Scaly mountains. I was quickly reminded of a personal epiphany I reached years ago, that inclement weather is never as bad in person as it is when contemplated from a warm, dry place.
Not as fragile as we think they are.
Simply put, the boys didn’t freeze. They had a great time. They learned a number of important winter camping lessons: to eat heartily (food is fuel) and quickly (cold food is not good food), to get up and dance around if your feet or hands start to feel cold (we would have looked mighty silly to someone watching from a saner vantage point), that a Nalgene bottle filled with hot chocolate and tucked inside your jacket works like a personal heater for hours. I built a good fire (nothing beats a store-bought bundle of firewood and a Duraflame log to start it for speed and ease) that we needed less for warmth than we did for marshmallows. I’ve written before about how much work it is to be the solo adult while camping with young kids, and I’ll admit that this time it was worse—along with the usual needs to tend to, someone always seemed to need help getting a glove back on or something zipped up—but watching them feel comfortable and confident in conditions that most adults would recoil from made it all worthwhile. As we lay in our sleeping bags and drifted toward sleep, we chatted happily about trips we’d like to do in the future.
The next morning we found a small cliff festooned with icicles, and the boys had a great time breaking them off and swordfighting with exploding weaponry. As the day warmed up, we moved downstream to a place where the river cascades through a gauntlet of car-sized boulders, found a nice sunlit slab to eat lunch on, and threw rocks into an emerald pool, trying to imitate the sound of each splash (“thiomp!). And then even as we began to drive home, the boys decided they weren’t through—”we haven’t climbed a mountain”—so I drove to a place where a short hike on the A.T. took us to a summit of west-facing rock slabs, and we luxuriated in the sun for well over an hour. In the end we had a weekend worth four or five ordinary weekends, and I come away wondering why we don’t do that more often. What would we have done at home? Watch TV? Spend too much time on the computer? Mount an expedition to Target to buy paper towels?