Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our first ever hike-to-camping trip as a family!

     As a kid I’d spent plenty of nights in a tent in the yard and a few nights in the open during summer camp. Esther was raised by wolves and probably snoozed in an eagle’s nest during her summer in Montana. As a family, with the kids, it’s been several years since we’ve collectively spent any time in a tent. There were the disastrous, snore-filled, pre-apnea diagnosis nights when the kids where really young and then a few trips in a tent with the extension cord powering the CPAP when we lived in Tennessee (the trip of my 30th birthday stands out). At some point comfort, access to electricity, and Wi-Fi became a priority and hotels and the pop-up camper our default means of bedding down for the night. While the CPAP allowed me (and more importantly Esther) to sleep through the night and actually started me down the road to losing weight, it really restricted our choices in regards to where we could camp. We’ve been restricted to either putting up a tent on sites built for campers or hauling our pop-up and plugging it in.

But recently things have changed…
     In early 2007 I had two procedures, one involving my nose (which was mildly discomforting) and the other my tonsils and throat (which was the most pain I’ve ever been in. Ice cream, my ass.) This helped me breathe better if nothing else, but did not “fix” the problem. I was still on the CPAP. I still had apnea. It would take dropping a few pounds to see the full benefits of the surgery.
     When I started using the CPAP I weighed about 240 pounds. That was around 2002. After years of false starts and semi-effective diet plans I’m just under 200 pounds. In fact, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen that first “2” roll around on the bathroom scale. The last time I remember being less than 200 pounds was two kids and about 10 years ago. Less weight means less fat on my neck, which means less apnea issues. I’ve been off the CPAP for over a month. I’m not 100% snore-free, but there’s no gasping myself awake, no acid reflux.

     So we decided to give it the real test. Camping. No power. A little over 2-miles of hiking down to the site and then setting up and sleeping in a tent. Kind of a “live without a net” situation.

     We left out Saturday morning from the house and arrived at Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve around noon. I can’t say enough kind words about Cane Creek. The Preserve is 800+ acres of woods that are wild and untamed when you want them to be and yet slightly civilized when you need them to be. Trails thread their way through the trees, alongside the creek, underneath water falls, and up to breathtaking vistas. This is the third trip we’ve taken to Cane Creek Canyon, having wandered briefly back in early February and then later the same month undertaken a longer, 7-mile trek. All five of us had at least 20 pounds on our backs, Esther closer to 35 (because she is half bear and made of awesome).

There were a few minor pauses along the trail; a few streams to be hopped over, a mud puddle to navigate, packs to be adjusted; but for the most part we and our gear made quick work of the trail and soon found ourselves at the clearing known as “Beaver Pond” (that we’re told will soon be given the more accurate name “Creekside” as there is no pond to speak of.)

     The exceptional rains from the previous day had left several mud-slicked puddles scattered among the clearing so we picked three spots at the higher rim of the creek near each other. The creek would be the sound that we heard outside our tents for the planned two following nights and that was very appealing to us all. Friday’s storms seemed to have made most of the wildlife scarce, as we didn’t see or hear much from the local fauna until closer to dusk when the whippoorwills and barred owls came out to call to each from the opposing walls and floor of the canyon. We watched the full moon rise over the top of the trees, gathered around the fire, poked at the glowing red coals and lamented both the absence of marshmallows and their regrettably sticky nature at the same time. Sure, we wanted to eat pure sugar that has been slightly browned or blackened (depending on skill or preference) over fire, but nobody wanted to be taken off like Fay Wray by thousands of ants to be sacrificed to a freakishly over-sized and ravenous queen. (Those of you under 35 may want to substitute “Fay Wray” for Jack Sparrow from the second movie with the cannibals.)

     The forecast had called for a low near 43°F for the night. The kids’ sleeping bags would be more than fine and the double helping of sleeping bags in Esther’s and my tent would get us through the night. Silly us. We were in a canyon (at least a “canyon by north Alabama standards). Cold air collects in canyon floors. Sometime around midnight Esther’s zipper pull-thermometer read between 35 and 40°F. I know because she told me this as she was adding a space blanket (not as cool looking as it sounds) between the layers of sleeping bags in an effort to keep us a little warmer; which worked for maybe an hour until the outside temps dropped below 35°F. That was the best hour that night- the brief feeling of having conquered the cold, bested nature, held back the freezing death that was gathering its coils around the tent and poking its nose through the door flap. Soon Esther was shivering vigorously and I was thinking that I’d never sleep with my feet hurting so much from the cold. I dozed off while trying to rub some heat into her back with my hands then woke up again at the sound of my own snoring. If it wasn’t the chill from the night air keeping us awake it was my snoring- either because of the cold itself or my insufficient pillow choices. I was in and out all night. Esther was mostly awake and much colder (I’ve been assured) than me. She’s made of wolf gizzards and bear teeth, but not from arctic wolves or polar bears. More like lost equatorial wolves and vacationing Floridian bears. I say this with great love.
     I should add that at one point in the night I was deeply considering some sort of strange survival-amalgam of Empire Strikes Back and Silence of the Lambs, but alas I had no lightsaber and I’m pretty sure Esther would have used it to really open up my nasal passages if we had.
     Despite all indications to the contrary, we did not succumb to hypothermia and eventually we were able to catch a nap the next morning under a very friendly sun and clear skies. Ben and Chan had been much warmer than us in their thicker sleeping bags and Jake had shoved our Shorkie, Zephyr, into the foot of his sleeping for warmth (which was where she wanted to be anyway).

     All the pictures from Saturday can be viewed here.

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