We came up into the place where I have to take a small foreign car through a deep stream*, and it was crowded so I'm no longer telling anyone where I am going. Hint: Let your car make a bow wave, to get there.
And so, there we were at last, deep in the Applachians -parked next to the bear-proof trashcans, engine roiling the steam of the clear mountainwater we just ploughed through. Only 200 meters of hiking to the campsite / 200 pounds of gear. After about an hour's work, sun setting low - We made the perfect camp just on the edge of a hill, a good distance away from the main site. This is a spot I've camped nearly three times before and its great. A big tree across the river. It was at this point a ranger came by and quietly informed me .. "You've got an illegal campsite here". ... "You're supposed to be 100 feet back from the river".
She proceeded to take me deep into the woods and point out a possible site, adjacent to almost nothing. She said. "This site looks pretty plush". I discovered a new way to curse to myself , quietly. She had to arrive just after I had taken nearly 12 giant rocks arranged neatly in a five foot diameter circle. So much for that.
So. Moved the entire camp back, and right at sunset. Tent is up. Sun goes down. Woops. No lighter. No matches. No flashlight. Yes. We found our crisis of faith moment. One of my kids was making a great case to just break camp and leave.
I just closed my eyes. Took a breath. And decided to start from first principles.
First things first. I got my son calmed down ( he was pretty miffed at having had to move site). No, all rangers should not slide under a gas truck and taste their own blood. No, they're not out to throw you in jail and beat you. Yes, we had an illegal campsite. Yes, I want to go home too. No we're not going home.
Now, as to the problem of us sitting in the complete dark in a forest full of bears...
No flashlight? No problem. We have a flashlight in the car! So I left the kids in the complete dark , telling them to stay there and making sure they got the message. With kids, sometimes you have to say it slowly. Three times? I then made the trek back to the car to retrieve the flashlight and stopped by the ranger's jeep to pick up my ID and the ticket for the illegal campsite. This is the point at which I discover the flashlight is missing from the car.
So, wandering back to the campsite in the complete dark with only my cellphone for a light I hit sixteen spiderwebs , cleared about 14 of them with my face, almost tripped over three logs and just barely located our campsite - deeply located into the woods courtesy of our friend the ranger. And. No kids.
I start a search circle and find them about 100 m into the woods looking for me. And guess what? They've got the flashlight. Fortunately my dog was with them (half border/half retriever) and he's got a good nose for bears. They could have easily wandered too far. But since I did find my kids, I figured that since they're going to be around its probably a great idea to put them to work.
After hunting down some dry wood, I get the kids started on breaking sticks. And then in the meantime I headed over to a neighboring campfire and requested to borrow a light. A nice biracial couple with a one month old baby, and a roaring fire. Nice people. Nicer fire. My quest for fire returns to find my son lackadaisically standing next to four sticks in a big wide 'house' that my daughter had planned out for her perfect campfire, upon which she planned to cook perfect penne pasta. Nice try. We make a new structure - working together. It was about this time my son finally stopped complaining.
The campfire gets lit, and the outlook improves. Since I have a flashlight the search for firewood begins in earnest. Meanwhile, my son is throwing tiny little sticks into the fire and just sort of staring at them - so upon my first return with a cord I dropped it near a tree and explained how important it is to keep this fire going, ok? And he 'got it'. Second foray out into the woods I return with some nice pieces from one of the many abandoned sites courtesy of our friend the ranger. Dry, good wood. And a good shot at dinner and a nice night.
Soon the fire is blazing and the spirits are warmed. My daughter makes the best stew ever, and we eat it up in plastic cups. We laugh and tell stories. My son also chooses this moment to ask a very strange question... which I will go into later.. but by and large, we're all happy. I tie off the lines and we finalize camp and then roast marshmallows and the kids are smiling and happy.
I sleptwell. I still feel good. The next morning we had a great swim in a cool mountain stream. Explored the woods. We found a lake on the top of a mountain and a waterfall. It was great.
Weekday's started. Back from the mountain, down in the valley. And here is where I get snowed under?
* the same car that negotiated the seven inch boulders and the forest service road that consists largely of small rocks and potholes