We stumbled into our camping trip, a little under-prepared
Up until the moment we left, part of us suspected it wouldn’t happen at all.
We shut down early in this state. We took it seriously when the novel coronavirus hit our shores. First, professional sports canceled their multi-billion dollar seasons. Then schools scrapped in-person classes and high school sports and then, with reluctance, traditional graduation ceremonies.
Shutting down bought us time to learn, understand and adapt. People in our area look out for one another and made hard choices that likely saved lives.
In our house we were looking forward to a busy March — spring basketball and the start of track season — but it all came to a halt. We looked forward to a summer of showing cows and riding horses in the Silver Buckle series, as well as the Wahkiakum County Fair. Canceled, cancelled and all canceled. The replacements were innovative adaptations, but still poor substitutes for our expectations.
We learned the hazards of looking forward.
Habits and expectations are troublesome things. We humans like patterns to reassure us — to light the path of our movement through the seasons. We like to look forward to the next, we abhor uncertainty.
This year has been nothing but uncertainty. I have no doubt it will scar us.
This is the year that it was canceled. This is the shortened season, the asterisk.
The year we couldn’t go.
We do our best to adapt and we are not the first to have done so. I remember the gas shortages of the 1970s. My wife, Amy, remembers turning around when it was unclear whether there would be a gas station open to get home. Parents and grandparents remember blackout curtains and ration cards in World War II. We have sacrificed, adapted and survived in the past and we can do so again.
We have been lucky that this challenge comes at a time when the internet is mature enough to allow us to see each other even in quarantine and to have anything delivered to our door. Pixels are poor substitutes for a hug or handshake, but should be appreciated all the same.
Safe covid-time outdoor recreation
Still, we long to get away from our screens and go outside.
So we steal a summer day to paddle up Skamokawa Creek, finding the moving waters reassuring in the summer sunlight. We busy ourselves with landscape projects and home improvement.
This summer has seen an increase in outdoor activities — hiking, camping and kayaking. We are blessed to live where nature is right outside our door. Meanwhile, less fortunate city folk are launching themselves into the outdoors like coiled springs.
Retailers in the Pacific Northwest have reported increases in people buying outdoor recreation gear that will allow hunker-downers to get out and have fun while staying six feet apart and outside. It is boon for the $21.6 billion recreation economy in this asterisk year, and hopefully a salve on our stressed and disrupted lives.
Out on a hiking trail or around a campfire, it is easier to keep your distance. On a hiking trail or on the water you can see a friend and still keep a healthy six feet between you. Outside activities have been shown to be less risky for transmission than indoor spaces. Kayak and bike sales have seen sharp increases as families find ways to enjoy the summer days.
As Marc Berejka, director of community and government affairs at REI told the Seattle PI recently, “As we all work our way through the pandemic, it’s clear Washington is a state of people who love to spend time outside.”
Our little family has been getting outside for years.
Amy and I camped on our honeymoon. Camping, hiking, kayaking and riding bikes and horses have filled our summers as the girls have grown.
Huckleberry Haj 2020
Huckleberry picking on Mount Adams is an annual pilgrimage that marks the turning of summer. It has become something akin to a ritual — a journey outward and inward — a late summer renewal in a quiet forest before the start of the school year.
In the days leading up to this year’s edition of what I call the Huckleberry Haj, I’d been anxious. I found myself clinging to that journey more than I realized. So much has been canceled this year, so many of our family traditions erased. I found myself yearning for it to happen and at the same time secretly telling myself that it too would be canceled somehow, preparing myself for disappointment.
We started our annual huckleberry trips when Grace was still in diapers. Now she is old enough to drive. Over and over again we have found healing in the silence of the mountain.
Bright sunlight, sun-washed Mount Adams and the snap and skitter sounds abound as we find ourselves exploring off forest trails in search of the huckleberry. We talk as we pick. We call “Marco — Polo” when we lose sight of each other in the brush.
We find each other as a family. We find ourselves in the woods. We store up summer to get us through whatever winter holds in the dark days ahead.
This has been a year of disappointments, the year of cancellation.
For the most part, we have taken it well, for we have stored up our memories — packed them away like summer gratitudes in the freezer and pantry to be savored on a rainy day. Much-needed nourishment for our souls.
Yet, we are human and we know the world around us is fragile and in clumsy hands.
We have a plan but the plan can change. We have been lucky and careful and grateful and kind, but we know that as the tension turns ever tighter on this string — it can snap as easily as it can sing.
So we prepared for camping and yet didn’t prepare. A broken trailer jack and a missing tool had us arriving at our campground at the cusp of darkness, undaunted. We rested our heads on the mountain’s shoulders and tried to dream of the time before.
We picked berries in a place where no cell phone has a signal. We dipped our toes in the Klickitat River and took a family photo on our favorite rock — another family tradition unbroken for near 20 years.
We climbed Sleeping Beauty Peak — a 4,900 foot mountain with a four-mountain view overlooking Indian Heaven Wilderness. The trail curls through dark wood until the last, steep hundred-foot elevation gain where bright sunlight opens to a view to tomorrow.
No picture does it justice.
You have to get outside, to see it for yourself.
After all we’ve been through this year, it is still there waiting.
Ed Hunt, who became a dedicated registered nurse after a career in journalism, lives and writes in Rosburg in Western Wahkiakum County.