Day 1 of a three-week camping trip in the Rockies – okay, technically Day 3 since it’s taken two to drive from Vancouver to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta – but, since we stayed in overpriced motels along the way, the fun starts now – and the family is stoked.
Because I thought walk-in camping (read: away from glampers and their ostentatious RV land yachts) would be a more adventurous way to kick off the trip, we have to park in a paved lot that’s roughly 150-feet from our campsite, which isn’t really that far – unless you have to haul gear for a group of, say, four people.
I start with the stuff on the roof rack because the tent needs to go up stat: it’s sweltering and partner Suzy has to feed our six-month-old daughter, Dylan, who is voicing displeasure, no doubt because she’s been sitting in a rear-facing car seat for an entire time zone.
And she’s hungry.
My eight-year-old son, London, is keen to assist – but only as director: “Put the tent here, daddy,” he says, moments before deciding he’d rather be a rock collector.
By the time the tent’s up, Suzy has retreated with baby to the relative comfort of the now-idling, air-conditioned car, and London is playing hide-and-seek with the park’s marauding Columbian ground squirrels. “They’re going into each other’s holes!” he shouts.
I laugh because I’m lightheaded from manually inflating three sleeping pads. Also, I’m drinking warm beer.
Reminder: get ice.
I sort mats, sleeping bags and pillows inside the tent, mesh doors zipped tight to keep out mosquitoes, temperature hovering somewhere between sauna and surface of the sun.
Sleeping quarters ready, I trudge back to the car, peel off my drenched T-shirt and continue unloading the rest of our supplies.
Unfortunately, the board game Scrabble, which I’d inexplicably perched on the summit of Mount Everything earlier in the day, is now wedged vertically between the bags and hatchback, so when I open the door, it spills onto the ground, scattering letter tiles everywhere.
I require just four letters to voice my displeasure.
We’re in bear country so all food must be properly stored. I’ve stashed our dry food in a locker, because said cache is closer to the campsite than the car. But I still have to make two more trips for, respectively, the cooler and barbecue.
By now my son has worked up a belly-rumbling appetite. That’s when I discover the grill’s ignition-button has disappeared, presumably somewhere between my house and the picnic table. I grab a lighter from the car and call off the search.
On the menu: chicken kebabs, grilled vegetables and a few cobs of corn.
London, no fan of vegetables, just eats chicken.
Suzy, no fan of meat, just eats veggies.
Dylan, no fan of sleep, lies in a portable playpen, eating her fist.
Dad, no fan of dirty dishes, has to do them anyway – but what I think is the grey-water tap closest to our site isn’t working, and our friendly American neighbours aren’t sure if there’s a dish-station, so I scrape food scraps into the garbage before slinking into the washroom to quickly clean our plates. This scrubterfuge is frowned upon. Thankfully, no one busts me – still, I feel shame.
The mosquitoes are in blitz formation now so Suzy seeks shelter in the tent and attempts to put baby to bed. Baby does not approve, and voices displeasure. An hour later, baby and Suzy are voicing displeasure.
London meanders to the river to drop large rocks from a pedestrian bridge while I make multiple trips to the car securing dishes, cooler and barbecue, before returning dry food to storage. I also disinfect the picnic table, then dump our recycling and garbage in bear-proof bins.
I shotgun a beer while there, to save a trip.
Upon returning to the tent, I realize that I still haven’t prepared a packed lunch for the next morning’s planned hike; I spend the next hour doing that and organizing required water, snacks and gear into my backpack, tasks that require another half-dozen trips between picnic table, car and cache.
Exhausted, I finally go to bed – at 9 p.m.
All is quiet, that silence only experienced while snug amid big trees under a starry sky. London sleeps soundly on my left; Suzy and baby to my right. I relish one of life’s enduring pleasures: the family, blissfully together. I drift off to the sound of steady breathing and the lake lapping the shore. Or is it the river running over rocks? No matter …
“I have to pee.”
“It’s the middle of the night, buddy. Just go in the trees.”
“I’m too scared.”
“Okay. Put your sandals on. I’ll meet you outside.”
I can’t find my runners. I’ve also left my headlamp in a hiking bag secured in the car, which is farther than the toilet; so I use my phone’s flashlight to lead London to the facilities. En route, my bare foot goes into a ground squirrel’s hole.
Reminder: get ice.
Story originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.