Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Shadow On The Trail

Thanks to a massive traffic jam in our city, we were arriving late, but I wasn’t about to let that dampen our adventure. Since my son’s birth I’d looked forward to this day. Somewhere along the way I’d made up my mind, “son, when you’re fully potty-trained, we’ll go backpacking together.” He had no idea what that meant, but nodded in agreement anyway. An adventure with Daddy was enough to for him to be sold on the idea.

Well, this summer that milestone was reached. No diapers, no wet beds, and no qualms about going behind any tree, bush, or rock.

On a hiking day trip with friends I discovered that some parks in the French Alps allow overnight camping sauvage (backcountry camping, usually forbidden throughout France). I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. I was climbing a mountain with guys that day, but all I could think about was returning to camp with my son.

So a few weeks later, off we went.

When we parked our car and hit the trail the sun was already beginning to set. Slightly nervous, I knew we’d have to make decent time in climbing just under 1000 ft and hiking a couple miles. Doing it with a 3-year-old threw a major question mark into the whole planning. Thankfully though, on this night, my son was up to the challenge. When we began our hike, he took straight to the trail and embraced the unknown. We walked together, sometimes me ahead and he trailing, sometimes he running along to find a new stick. Every incline that included rocks to scale brought him great joy, and he scampered up them with glee. When he became tired, he’d give me the wide-eyed longing look and beg to be carried, but I’d point at the large pack on my back and tell him it wasn’t possible.
My son is not a quiet hiker. For two hours he sang songs, debated the merits and perils of throwing rocks, and yelled woodsman things like “heeeey birdie!” I don’t recall a moment of silence.

When we finally reached a nice grassy plateau in the mountains with a nearby meandering stream, up went our tent and we huddled inside. We cut sausage and ate baguettes and fruit snacks, we sipped on our water bottles, and we played some card games. I still can’t believe he survived until 9pm for dinner. Adventure can soften hunger pains, I guess.

As darkness fell - it fell fast - the cold came with it. I knew it would be cool a few thousand feet up there, but wasn’t quite prepared for just how cold. The night went well and we both slept soundly in our sleeping bags, but the morning was frigid. And asking a 3-year-old to stay in his sleeping bag at 7am when the sun has already been up for a whole hour was torture! So out of the tent we popped, and the chill smacked us in the face like a cold wet fish from Nineveh (or anywhere, really). We were freezing. And everything from the grass to the tent was wet with dew. I began packing up while my son shivered, but my hands were too cold to finish the job. Fires are outlawed in the park, so that option was out. The mountain peaks blocked direct sunlight and thus we were still in the shade, the cold and wet shade, at 8am.

By 8:30, the sun had broached the grass on the opposite side of the plateau. We thus made the decision to pick up our tent, which I carried above my head while my son followed behind whining of cold.
We arrived at the other side of the field and sat everything out in the sun to dry. I folded up my sleeping mat into a chair and Sawyer and I huddled together, rocking in the sun. We watched birds and barely moved, not letting go of one another for at least 30 minutes. That will be a 30 minute stretch I may never forget. He felt warm and safe in Daddy’s arms, and I do wish you could have heard the elation in his voice every time a bird flew out of a tree or made an audible morning call. We were cold, but the sun had arrived to save us. In our distress my son found comfort in the arms of his father. The wonder and beauty of creation kept us company. This is life. This is a memory I will cherish.


Jimmie said...

Nice. Many of my fondest childhood memories are times when just Dad and I did stuff together.

Clem said...

It's just... beautiful .. ! Amazing :)

ryan shane said...

Dude! I didn't know you had made that trip with Sawyer yet. I'm so excited for you. I miss that little guy. I'm sure you both had a great time!

Michael & Joe Joe said...

Jimmie- good to hear that. I'm trying to make as many fond memories as I can!

Clem- Thanks!

Ryan- indeed we did. Went in August actually. It was a ton of fun, and Sawyer was such a trooper. Camped right there by that stream we passed. Never did see any marmots this time though, I think you scared them all away. We miss you too!