I had a great time this past weekend camping with my two sons at Hawn State Park. Well, in execution, I ended up camping with my younger son while my older son was a mile or so away at a different site. The young men wanted to do a lightweight hiking campout, but I didn’t think Garrett was up to a multi-mile hike, so I had the bright idea that while the rest of the boys hiked the red trail counter clock-wise, I was going to hike the shortcut to campsite 3 (and no, I didn’t get lost).
It all worked brilliantly, except it took us longer to get there than I expected. Garrett wanted to look at every leaf, kick every rock, and scooch around every branch across the trail. We must have averaged something under 1 mph. Lest it sound like complaining, I’ve learned over the years that Garrett sees things the rest of us miss. He’ll notice the chirp of a bird or shape of a cloud when everyone else is worried about what they’re doing.
I kept asking Garrett if he wanted to take a break, and he insisted we keep walking. At 9:00 pm, I finally told him we needed to take a break, and so I took my first drink of water in nearly two hours. He wouldn’t sit down or even take off his back pack. We shared a pop tart, got out the flashlights (which were really just my phone and a ball cap with little LED’s on the bill). We had a ways to go before we got to the camp, and I figured we were going to need a light. Around this time, I started to get a little worried about the darkness–I figured Garrett was going to start complaining about the darkness. He gets upset when someone so much as turns out a light in a room.
I was so pleased when he simply took my hand and followed behind me as the woods grew pitch-black. Here we were, a father and his special needs son walking through the woods along a trail neither had ever been on, looking for a camp we’d never seen. There were parts of the trail that was covered by waist high grass…my waist, the grass was nearly up to Garrett’s head. I was so proud of my son for hiking so well in the dark. As we walked, I decided to sing hymns. At first, I was self conscious that someone would hear me, then reason took hold and I realized no one could hear me sing (which also meant no one could hear us if we had trouble either). And so I started belting out some of my favorite hymns. The woods had fantastic acoustics!
At 9:45 pm, I finally told Garrett we had to stop. We found a wide spot on the trail and pitched our tent. Previously I gave the other leader a 2-way radio, but he had not answered any of my calls. After I set up camp, I thought about using my cell phone and see if he would answer. I should have tried that earlier, because he picked up right away. They were about 30 minutes behind us. He called me back later and we discovered that he turned one intersection too early and ended up campsite 3 instead of campsite 2. It would take them an to get to Garrett and I…and so they told me we were on our own for the night.
As we sat in our tent, I heard a pack of coyotes. Then I began to imagine the mountain lions lurking around our tent as well. I have a distinct memory of walking through Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and having the mountain lions stalk Garrett as we walked past their enclosure. (just FYI, there have been 14 confirmed Mountain Lion reports in Missouri in the past 2 years)
I ended up calling the other leader back up and asked him to hold a council of leaders (there were three men at the other camp) and see if they agreed that it was the best decision to leave Garrett and I alone for the night. He texted me back and said one of the leaders and his son would be joining us soon. It took them about 45 minutes to get to our camp. I was so grateful that he made the sacrifice to walk another mile in the pitch black to spend the night with a worry wart.
On top of this, I discovered our legs and arms were covered with scores of tiny reddish-black bugs. A little research once I got home confirmed my thoughts: baby ticks (also called Seed Ticks). They were everywhere! I may have asked Heavenly Father for a miracle. There was nothing I could do to rid us of all of the ticks, they were too numerous, but He could cause them to not bother us. After this rather honest plea to be delivered of this pest combined with a blessing from the other leader when he showed up, we were able to go to sleep without being bothered by the ticks. Granted, many of them were still on us, but they didn’t itch. Moreover, when we got home, I was able to get most of them off in the shower. (the rest came off today).
I’ll be honest, I felt much relieved when the other leader and his son showed up. I was actually able to sleep pretty good that night. I put Garrett on the far side of the tent (away from the door) and set up my cot across the tent. I’ve got to give a plug to TNH Outdoors–their sleeping pad and camp pillow combined with a lightweight cot had me sleeping like a baby…even with an SI joint that is out of place.
The next day, we left camp around 8:30 and headed back to the truck. We made the trip back in just over an hour (the previous night it took us 2.5 hours). The other boys caught up with us as we crossed the bridge back to the parking lot. I was disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time with my older son, but he seemed to still enjoy the campout.
There were a few things that impressed me on this hike:
- There is safety in the buddy system. I never should have started the hike with my son alone–I should have taken another leader and boy with me.
- Sometimes it’s ok to stop and look at the flowers, kick the rocks, and listen to the birds.
- Heavenly Father hears the prayers of his children…especially those prayers said by fathers on behalf of their children.
- Sometimes all a person needs to keep going is to be distracted from the difficulty of the task at hand.
- The right gear can make the difference between waking up stiff and sore or refreshed and ready to go.