Backpacking in the Uintahs

I haven’t written in some months because my life has taken on a life of its own. I went from teaching twice a week for five classes to five times a week – three full days – and two mornings. Still not full time, but I also went back to school taking on six credits. This was in addition to supposedly being a wife and mother and young women’s president. As one could imagine I wasn’t really very good at any of it. In fact, most days it was all I could do to take one day at a time.  It was survival mode at its finest and I surely don’t recommend it.

Then why did I do it? It is my hope that my spouse will be retiring in five and a half years. At that point, I will need to have benefits and a salary to get us through. While I don’t necessarily need to have additional hours at this point, now is the time work is expanding and now was the time for hiring. There will be changes in the future I am certain and perhaps it would have worked out, but I’m not usually one for chance. Even so, that only puts me at 4 days a week, but the academic calendar has expanded to include one quarter of three teachers working Fridays. This quarter was my turn. I taught storytelling and had a swim club. It was a lot of fun, but just one more thing on an already over-packed schedule.

I just finished up the first quarter of school, which means once again I have Fridays off. A four day work week will help substantially. I finish the first semester of college in December and finish the program in June. Six more months and I will have some more of my time back.

It has been rough on my family, which is my biggest concern. I’m hoping to right some of that now that I’m home a bit more.

A few months ago, I went on my first ever backpacking trip. You know, the kind of camping where one loads everything he or she will need for the next few days into a backpack and then walks off into the wilderness. My husband and oldest son have gone several times together, but I’ve never joined them because I didn’t want to be the one everyone was always waiting for. You know, that person that you secretly hope a bear sneaks up on and devours because you are annoyed that you are stopping every 20 minutes just so the person could keep up. This trip, however, included the whole family and I figured I might be able to keep up with the four-year-old.

I should probably include a few important details before I continue with this tale. The first detail is that the hike was relatively moderate – 4 miles in, 4 miles out – and the incline was fairly level except in one area where we had to go up and over the side of a peak. I should also include that the trip was scheduled for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. While that is a short time period, I should note that I had been camping since the Tuesday night prior to that. So essentially, I set up a tent Tuesday, drove home to sleep in my bed, camped Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Came home Friday mid-day, showered, unpacked, did laundry, and left on Saturday mid-day for the backpacking trip.

So on Saturday, we got to the trailhead around four o’clock. We packed our gear into bags and set off. Spirits and energy were high – for the first mile. Then just spirits were high. My backpack was designed for a 12 year-old (which I am not) and the hip strap had broken, so all the weight was on my shoulders. It wasn’t a huge deal until about midway through when we hit the peak incline. Then the weight became quite cumbersome. At that point I was carrying my little boy’s backpack so that he could keep moving. Four miles is a lot when your legs are like a foot long each.

At one point, the group ahead – which included 2/3 of my children – became separated from our group because they traveled to a different lake. I wasn’t really worried because they were with an adult who had food and water, but at the same time, I remember the stories of scouts and others disappearing in the Uintas each year and I wasn’t keen on not being in the same area as my kids. As you probably guessed from our lack of making news headlines, eventually we all met up and found a lovely spot to camp near the shores of Lake Cuberant. We proceeded to unpack, set up camp, and learn to dig a hole to bury bodily waste. I’ll just add that men are designed more for backpacking. It’s not that I couldn’t handle “going” in the woods, it’s just less convenient.

The first night was great. I slept well and woke refreshed. I had some guilt associated with willfully skipping church, but if I were to be completely honest it was rejuvenating to be away from civilization and the stresses of life and just to have time to spend with my family. We filtered some water and cooked breakfast. Some people fished. I followed a stream and found a spring. It was cold and the water was delicious. We took a few short walks that day and after a dinner of Raman Noodles, we settled in to bed. I slept well until sometime in the middle of the night when I heard “clop, clop, clop, snort.” I listened again and again heard it.

I woke my husband who said, “Do you think it’s a bear?”

“No,” I whispered, “listen to the footfalls. It clomps like a horse. I think it is a moose.”

I don’t know if it was our voices or something else out in the darkness, but suddenly the moose bolted and took off through the meadow near our camp. I listened intently as it slowed and began munching on the meadow grass. Just as I was about to drift off again, again I heard the clomping and snorting. I was terrified. I’m not saying it is rational, but all I could think was, That moose is going to come trampling through our camp. My children are in a tent 20 feet away. Is it better to stay zipped in here and not draw attention to myself or our tents, or make a racket unzipping the tent, walking through the pine needles, unzipping the kids tent and … what … We were four miles from the trailhead and the trailhead was many miles from cell phone reception/medical attention. If I were to get trampled it would be harder to haul my dead carcass out than the lighter-weight bodies of my children.

I stayed put, but didn’t sleep. Every time it would move, my senses were alerted. A munch, a snort, a step; I was exhausted and knew we had to hike back out the next day. I needed my sleep, and yet, what kind of a mother dozes while her children are in mortal peril. The situation was amplified because I also had to go to the bathroom, but didn’t want to be caught with my pants down.

For several long hours I fought irrational thought, but made very little headway. Finally, accepting the fact that there was little to be done, I made up a story in my head about Virgil the Moose. I think my stories are how I self-soothe. The story didn’t change the situation, but allowed a fresh perspective and helped me to calm down enough I eventually dozed off.

At dawn, I awoke and saw a mother moose and calf strolling through the meadow. I had to go to the bathroom, so cautiously, I unzipped the tent and first stuck just my head out. When I wasn’t immediately attacked, I grabbed my shoes and put them on inside the tent. By the time I emerged the cow and calf had wandered off into the trees, which didn’t make going to the bathroom easier because … well, when one has to use the facilities in the wilderness, the trees are as close as it gets.

The kids were less energetic on the way out. I carried the youngest’s pack the entire time and my husband carried him part of the way. My daughter was also ready to relinquish the weight she carried and whined a lot of the hike back when she was told she had to carry her own pack. At last we emerged at the trailhead. All three of the kids slept most of the way back home. That night, my husband had to work on homework and we had to get ready for another year at the county fair, but for three days everything besides enjoying the beauty and wonder of nature was forgotten.

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