Winter Adventurers

“You know what’s happening this weekend, right? You’ve seen the weather forecast?” the park ranger asked the first of our friends to arrive at the campgrounds early on Friday afternoon.

“We know,” they replied.

“Are you here for the start of hunting season?”

“No, just here to camp.”

The ranger shook his head in disbelief. A winter storm was rolling into the area, expected to drop up to 10 inches on much of the Midwest. And we were driving up north, headed the opposite direction of the geese flying south for the winter overhead, to spend the weekend outdoors.
IMG_6684Winter camping is one of my favorites. Though the days are short and our beer freezes overnight, there’s something about the quiet stillness that makes the forest otherworldly. The world hibernates around us, but in our small circle around the campfire, we stay warm and pass the whiskey. Overhead, stark branches criss-cross against the silver sky. The snow falls steadily, piling up on our tents, our boxes of beer (no need for a cooler), our fur-trimmed hoods pulled up over our heads. Beyond the circle, whiteness obliterates the landscape; we could be in Wisconsin or Westeros. Coyotes yip in the night. Or direwolves.

We’ve camped in snow before. We’ve camped in 1-degree temperatures before. But this was our first time camping in a legitimate winter storm, one big enough to get a name: Bella. We were undaunted by this news; we are not the type to be scared off, especially by a storm named after a damn Twilight character. We may be crazy, but we’re tough, and this wasn’t our first rodeo. There’s a Norwegian saying that goes “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” We were prepared with insulated sleeping pads, bags rated for 15 degrees, waterproof layers, a coat and Musher’s Secret for our dog.

IMG_6714We arrived, car by car, at our large group site. As Friday slipped into Saturday, the snow fell. It melted onto our coats, warmed by the fire. It piled onto our tents, causing rainflies to droop under its wintry weight. It buried bottles left out on picnic tables, turning them into ambiguous white blobs. It blanketed us from the rest of the world, silencing the sounds of civilization, leaving only our laughter, our breath as we blew into our mittens, the crackle of the fire.

On Saturday morning, the snow still fell. We stayed in our warm sleeping bags, our tents transformed into igloos. Finally lured out by the promises of coffee, campfire, and Bloody Marys, we emerged from our brief hibernation. Before we could eat or drink, we had to shovel inches of snow off the tables. The dogs frolicked in the fresh powder, losing tennis balls and frisbees. We posted photos to social media with Winter Storm Bella hashtags, declaring ourselves Team Jacob. Our friends back home called us crazy.

The snow eventually stopped; blue sky peeked out through the bare tree branches. We began to cook our Thanksgiving meal. Potatoes boiled over the campfire. Vegetarian curry stewed on a camp stove. A turducken dripped savory juices in the smoker. Just before sunset, we set up our spread over the picnic table, salivating before our feast.

“I wish the ranger would come by and see this,” my friend said. We ate our meal together, friends bonded by our breaking of bread under the most snowy extreme circumstances. Call us crazy; we don’t mind. We’re adventurers.

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The Mountains are Calling…

…and I must go.

It’s an appropriate time to quote John Muir. In just a few days, my husband and I will get on a plane and fly to San Francisco, then drive down to Yosemite National Park and Emigrant Wilderness Area for an adventure. We will spend 2 weeks camping, hiking, backpacking, exploring, and getting incredibly dirty and smelly.  I am greatly looking forward to this trip. I need this trip. It’s been a long time since I’ve fully immersed myself in nature, and this will be the longest time we’ve spent “off the grid” together yet. After months of devouring hiker blogs online, I’m finally going on my own hiking trip! It will be a far cry from a 5-month long thru-hike, but you’ve gotta start somewhere.

My backpack holds: one bear canister full of snacks and dehydrated meals, one quick-drying t-shirt, one sports bra and pair of underwear, two pairs of socks and sock liners, one pair of long underwear, one nano-puff jacket, one set of trekking poles, a headlamp, travel toothbrush, two empty water bottles, a water filter, rain jacket and pants, a sleeping bag and sleeping pad, tent, pocket knife, hat and gloves, a solar charger, a small journal, and a paperback copy of Outlander (because who doesn’t love reading trashy novels in the wilderness?). Kurt’s backpack is similar, plus or minus a few odds & ends we split up between the two of us (he’s reading The Martian). Other than the clothes on our backs, that’s all that we’ll have for 2 weeks.

There may be bears, fires, and plague. We may have to improvise our plans at times, or deal with rough weather. We may want to strangle each other. We may give up after 3 days and get a hotel room in Reno. Who knows?! I can’t wait to find out.