This weekend was one that my wife was planning on for the last couple weeks.  While both of our families have outdoor roots, hers is more outdoor than mine, and well, I’m the least outdoorsy of them all.

Now, let me be clear.. just because I said “least” outdoorsy, doesn’t mean that I can’t hold my own.  I am a fairly decent marksman, can put up my tent and gear pretty well and still do a hike without feeling too sore for the experience.  Though, admittedly, this weekend really pointed out that I need to remember a bit more of the days of my youth when I would fearlessly get lost in a national forest just for giggles.

The First Day

We leave our house, four hours away from our destination, a small town where both my wife and I grew up.  Our SUV was packed so much that each of the kids, the wife, and even myself was sitting and/or carrying some sort of camping gear.  We have three kids, so either myself or my wife has to constantly engage them or else they will be at each other’s throats.  My wife doesn’t mind doing this at all.  I, on the other hand, am content with silence as I drive through the pine tree covered mountains of our homeland.  So, yeah, I didn’t get much silence.

We stopped in Coeur d’Alene to get some .22 rounds for me and my stepson as well as a few other camping essentials like insect candles, a hatchet, and a cast iron skillet.  Piece of advice to single guys who want hot girls.. yeah, become an outdoorsman.  Seriously, I had to spend most of our visit looking down at the floor so that I wouldn’t be staring at all the 18 to 26 year old girls in skimpy attire checking out camping and hunting gear.

Then we drove from there down to St. Maries, where we went to a grocery store there and bought some perishable food.. overly expensive perishable food.  Same ole St. Maries.  For those who have never heard about St. Maries.. think of a place that is physically beautiful.  The mountains and valleys and all the greenery is just amazing and is almost without par. 

So, after we get out food, we head up the St. Joe River, past Calder and reach our campground.  I’m feeling pretty drained by this time because the four hour trip has taken us about six to complete.. dealing with kids who aren’t old enough to appreciate silence, even just a little bit.  So, I start putting up our tent and my father in law starts putting up the other with my stepson’s help.  Now, at this time, I have not noticed that my father-in-law and my uncle-in-law are not in tents.  In fact, both of them are in nice, air-conditioned units with refrigerators, mattresses, thick blanets..

Once the tents are up, we start setting down and bringing out the rest of our gear and getting all the sleeping bags, food, and inflatable rafts out.  We are also starving so we get the pans on the fire and start cooking fish…. no,  not really.  We have spagetti with noodles cooked from one of my in-laws campers and their nice stove.  Some of the kids want hot dogs, but the rest of us have spagetti and beer and pop.  At this time, the temperature is about 75 to 80 degrees.

It was no where near 75 degrees that night… in fact, it turned out to be almost half that, and my wife had managed to secure a nice quilt blanket for herself.  Of course, there wasn’t enough room for both of us.  Plus, I had managed to stake our tent right on some unseen rocks.  Go me.

The Second Day

The second day started up with the outside temperature being around 50 degrees, but with nearly a 100% humidity because of how close we were to the river.  Now, while my wife might be a pyromanics.. I am the anti-pyro.  I am so unable to start a fire, that fireman could throw me into a burning building.. and I could put the building fire out by trying to start a fire.  So for a good two to three hours, my stepson and I are huddled around wet wood, wet grass, wet paper trying to start a fire.  My father-in-law wakes up, looks at us, opens the door to his pickup, and pulls out three logs of dry tamerack he keeps for just such an occasion.  Soon we have a roaring fire, and I still look like an idiot.

Growing up it used to be a big event for us to go camping for one particular reason.  The Float Trip.  There is a section of the St. Joe river which can be floated down in about two to three hours at a leisurely to moderate pace.  So, we begin this by the ritual of blowing up the rafts.  This is when 5 to 10 people bring big, inflatable rafts or tubes..

.. but only one brings a pump.

This year, no one brought an empty pickup either.  So, we stored the kids inflated rafts in one SUV, and the larger uninflated rafts in the another and make our way to the push off point.

We get to our push off point.. a section where the river barely covers the rocks, and we inflate our raft up and tie the girls’ two rafts to ours.  We managed to pick up a couple other kids so, we throw one with us, and one with one of my kids.  My stepson is old enough to go on his own.  So we move our boats into the middle and hop on..  and get suck on the rocks.  We scoot along, push off using our oars, but pretty soon I am stuck having to get out and walk us farther down the river.  I finally get past the shallow end when the raft takes off, almost without me.  I get up and start paddling in the front trying to keep the girls behind us and away from the rapidly approaching rock shore.  I almost get it, when one of the rafts gets caught on a rock, and just as quickly, the connector on the boat pops off.

So, my girl is now in very rapidly deflating boat, in fast rapids.  I grab the first rock I can and force our raft to the shore with my bare hands.  My kid and the friend that was with her (both were wearing life vests) make it to shore and I put one in with us, and the other with my stepson who was nearby.  As I let go of the rock, my wedding ring falls off and lands precariously on the rock I just let go.  My fingers slip as I reach for it, but with one might stretch I was able to grab it before it would be too far away.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

However, the whole episode freaks my other step daughter out and she begins hugging her raft for dear life for the rest of the trip.  I can still hear her screams as she sees rocks approaching.. that we are nowhere near.  Still, we get to hit some fun rapids as the rest of the kids are enjoying themselves thoroughly. 

During this time I see many a mighty outdoorsman sunning themselves as they float down.  This activates the Machismo is me, and I pull off my shirt, bareing my mighty non-outdoorsman (i.e. white as copy paper) tan.  I hear my wife behind me say, “Are you should you don’t want sunscreen?”  I defiantly reply, “No, I need to burn!”

About halfway down we hit a location popular when I was young.  A place called “jumping rock”.  It was called that for the obvious reasons.  Now, we get out.. and while we had an idea that the water was very cold.. we hadn’t realized til now that it was close to freezing.  All of us were numb within minutes.. but this was summer and because of that fact.. we felt the need to prove ourselves good and honest outdoorsman. 

Course, that didn’t stop us from freezing and whining about it.

We head out and finish the rest of the trip, during which I hammered my knee on a rock the was the perfect height under the boat and nearly lost my wedding ring a second time.  But other than that, we made it to camp safely.  However, by this time my skin no longer white and I cannot tell if its Lobster red, or fire engine red in its hue.  The night is very unpleasent.. despite my wife’s parents having pity on us and giving us some foam to sleep on.

The Third Day

Our final day starts off with us going Huckleberry picking.  A huckleberry is a popular local favorite and is very difficult to find and nearly impossible to cultivate.  Growing up, everyone went Huckleberry picking.  Well, everyone but me that is.  So, that day I got to experience it for the first time and while I wouldn’t call it an exciting time (bears love huckleberries too), we did get a good amount in a couple hours.  I was still in pain of course, and drained as bad sunburns usually make you.

We get back from picking and I grow envious, as my wife’s brothers were experts in minmalist camping and all they needed to do was close the tailgates to their pickups for them to be done packing.  Me and my wife on the other hand, had managed to pick up two more little kids and now had to pack up for five kids.  With so many kids, their help really isn’t all that helpful and with their friends around their attention span can be measured in fractions of a second.

After three hours of packing, we finally get all the kids, and their clothes, and their sleeping bags, and the food, and the tent, and the inflatable rafts in our SUV and head back to town.  However, during our stay, my wife finds out that her friend is trying to get rid of a chihuahua.  She already has one chihuahua, so apparently the cure for that disease is another chihuahua (you got to admit.. it is fun to say Chihuahua).  I am quite skeptical, since the current owners and the kids have pretty much described this puppy as the spawn of Satan and it barks and pees and chases everyone and it isn’t neutred, etc.

We get there and, unless Satan is a really nice guy who enjoys baking cupcakes and having long talks about “feelings”, see this little scared puppy that didn’t even growl, and mostly whimpered.  The kids and my wife begged me to get him.. and as a good father should.. I said “NO!”, then “no.”, then “Okay, but with conditions”.  We took the dog home and even my cats weren’t intimidated by him.  One of my cats even thought of him as a chew toy.. which we promptly stopped.

So, all in all, it was a good trip.  And my massive sunburn will hopefully remind me to listen to my wife more than to my machismo.