Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Conclusion

So there we were ... haven't you ever noticed that is the best cliche for beginning an adventure story?

I left off with a sleepy camp and flagging motivation. We bummed around for a while, rocked in the hammock and ate a breakfast of oatmeal and leftover dinner from the night before. Soon Sylvia and April got antsy, so we decided we'd make a trip over to the nature center. Sylvia was getting more and more cranky as the minutes went by meaning it was close to nap time. Dave and dawn said they'd catch up and decided to catch a little more sleep in the warmth of the late morning sun. As soon as we rolled out of the campground, Sylvia was out. We pedaled over to the nature center. A number of people were enjoying the trails and milling about the park. Sylvia didn't wake up and we knew she needed the sleep. We parked the bikes and trailer beneath the shade of a tree and stretched out on the grass ourselves. April napped and I did a bit, but although I was tired I just couldn't completely give in to slumber. Maybe it was because there were families walking by on the trail next to our family nap spot. My cell phone rang once and I couldn't get to it because of laziness. I finally decided I should just get up. I looked at the phone to discover Dave had called. "Maybe they couldn't find us," I thought. I called him back to discover he had received some bad news that his grandmother had passed away. He and Dawn were in the process of packing up. I unhitched the trailer and left Sylvia and April to make a run back to camp and see them off. They were sad; Dawn wasn't feeling well anyway and this news only added to the downtrodden mood. We were sad to be losing them for the weekend. hugs and well-wishes and they were on their way back to Minneapolis.

Alone, in an empty camp, I found myself all of a sudden with something I rarely get -- quiet time and no one around to place a single demand on it. I also had a pretty hefty stash of beer and no one else around to drink it. The seasoned backpacker in me is always conscious of "lightening the load." The poet in me is always ready to seize a moment of repose to jot notes and verse in my journal. I fetched my notebook and pen, cracked a beer, and perched myself at the picnic table to enjoy about an hour of uninterrupted time for writing and observation. When Sylvia and April did return they left again to head down to the lake. I was gifted another hour or so of writing time.

All good things must come to an end, however. The solace was broken by a rambunctious toddler again at camp. It was nice though since it was then time to begin preparing dinner. We ate another meal of roasted potatoes and vegetables. Dave and Dawn had taken hardly any of the food with them and it was becoming apparent how much we might be hauling back with us!

The campground scene modulated so much during the weekend. Some families cleared out Sunday morning only to be replaced by others popping in for one night. A few sites looked to have been left vacant all weekend. Everything seemed a bit more frenzied by Sunday evening. As April struggled to get Sylvia to relax and go to bed in the tent I noticed the cranky kids and parents in neighboring camps. Friends of campers drove in to say "hi" or drink beer. SUVs, trucks pulling boats and regular passenger cars cruised the circular drive of the campground. I don't know what it was but I reached a point where I just had to leave for a bit or I might lose it. I told April I'd be back and apologized for having to leave all of a sudden. Pedaling away I felt I just had to get to that meadow. It was near sundown again and sure enough -- the meadow was vacant. No one was out pedaling the trails; the field was all mine. I laid my bike in the tall grass and walked straight for the oldest, most secure object in the near distance -- an ancient oak tree with an inviting canopy. I marched through the prairie vegetation, dodging nettles, through deer beds and wildflowers. It was only a couple hundred yards and there I stood beneath the gnarled branches of that mighty old tree. I touched its bark in a sense to ground myself. It was inviting. In the sphere of shade it cast grew lush tufts of softer grasses. Not a bad place to bivouac or escape the midday heat, and the plants had done just that. I spoke with the tree a little, although I had to raise my voice over the din of cars speeding by on the highway a hundred feet to the west. I knew the tree was so much older than that road and had known a time well before its locale could have been considered a second-tier suburb. I pined for that time as if I could be the tree remembering. I wished that cars were slower. I shouted at a few; I cursed the drivers for their laziness. Why couldn't they shut off their engines, walk away from their death boxes and take it in? I coveted quietness and real solitude and they were wrecking it. But I calmed down and recognized the futility of my fury. Instead, I blocked out the noise and listened closely to the tree for a few minutes and I was better. I said goodbye, highstepped across the prairie again and picked up my bike. Mounting it, I glided through the chilly evening air at sunset and coasted into camp.

My spirits were much better. I'm used to the backcountry (I don't say wilderness because that is a misnomer these days). Car camping is tough enough for me. Camping in a civilized campground with a few hundred imbiciles is another matter entirely. But I had connected with the tree and I knew that I could sit back and relax, split some wood, stoke the fire and enjoy the opportunity with my family. Sylvia enjoyed her time around the fire and even threw a few sticks in herself. It reminded me so poignantly of my Dad teaching me about fire and allowing me to get close enough to learn. We spend so much time sheltering kids that I fear we scare them away. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying parents should allow kids to hurt themselves, but we should allow them the space to learn and discover. And another big thing I'm learning is that children emulate. If you want them to build good practices and form positive habits, model them yourself.

The rest of the night was uneventful. We had another helping of s'mores and went to bed. It was a peaceful night.

The most amusing thing about our final morning in camp was the vast difference between our routine and the routines going on with the car campers around us. They were all so frantic. They struggled against everything -- gear they rarely used and couldn't remember how to pack up, rusted hitches on camper trailers, kids rebelling against forced routines after a weekend of freedom. I built up the fire as usual and kept it going. We made breakfast and I banked wood to the side and set leftovers on the back edge of the grate. That way they cooked slowly while I leisurely packed up the camp. April and Sylvia played. I didn't mind doing the work of packing since I am so used to it and I like things done my way. I was able to wash the camp dishes before packing them up; shake out the tent and dry the bags; organize the ditty bags and group everything for packing into the trailer and onto the bike. About noon we ate a decent lunch. We chucked the re-used pie plates and set off from our temporary home.
April has since told the story of our trip to many friends. My favorite part is when she mentions how a normal camping trip begins and ends with stuffing everything into the car and then driving -- usually a long time -- to begin (or end) your "vacation." With bike camping, your vacation begins as soon as you roll away from your front door (headed to), or away from camp (headed home). We had another adventure ahead of us riding back. I carried the camera in my jersey pocket so I could capture spontaneous shots. I got April riding across my favorite meadow and another of her behind me on the paved trail. As we were winding around a curve about a half mile from the intersection with the LRT trail I heard a sound, not a scream exactly, but defintely not a positive sound from behind. I turned my head to see April falling over rather inexplicably. She hadn't hit anything and I was really confused as to why this might be happening. (The shot below was taken just before the mishap.)
It turned out that April had readjusted the quick realease on the BOB hitch to accommodate the Burley. She had inadvertently loosened the quick release, however, and had not retightened it. Under load, the BOB had crept forward and driven her rear wheel into the chainstays of her bike, creating a sudden and irreversable braking action. She lost momentum and fell over. Needless to say, after I issued a terse, but intense, lecture on the dangers of not minding your quick releases ("What if we had been descending a hill at 25 miles per hour?!") we remounted the trailer and got back underway.

Cruising the LRT trail was better than the trip out to Carver since we now had a tailwind. However, we now had to contend with the crowds of weekend warriors and general socialite riff-raff blocking egress of such noble a path. I took deep breaths but also had to tell a couple parties as we passed to clear the trail. I mean, a Starbucks or Caribou is never more than a stone's throw away. Get off the path if you want to gab.
The crowds necessitated another stop, which was fortunate since we discovered one of the gems of our trip ... a little known side park. The name escapes me now, but even if I remembered it, I wouldn't tell you. I want to keep it a secret so all the yahoos riding by don't begin dumping their empty beers and used condoms there.
If you find it, good for you. That means you need the respite from the crowds as well. Save a few rounds in your Glock by getting off the trail if you feel homicidal. But I digress ... We ended our trip at a coffee shop in Uptown. It was hot, we were tired and the kid was restless. But, I can certainly attest that it is all worth it when you see the look in your child's eyes. When you listen to her talk about all the bugs you looked at and the fire and the tent and the whole trip ... and not one single solitary word has to do with an automobile.

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