Last week I traveled to Santa Cruz, California to visit my brother Alan. My father, from the east coast, flew out too. My brother and I have been trying to get my dad to exercise more and eat better, for many years now. So we decided to make some memories and go on a big family camping trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some good ‘ol family bonding and exercise time.
We began the trip by driving northeast for 4 hours, leaving the house at 7:30am. Alan, his girlfriend Jenn, me, my boyfriend Dave, and my dad all packed into a little grey Prius– living that California stereotype to its fullest. Our car stuffed with camping gear: backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and lots of water bottles. For food we pre-cooked chicken and peppers, tortillas and cheese, to make chicken quesadillas for dinner, lots of trail mix, canned kippered herring, rye Caraway crackers, oatmeal, powdered peanut butter (so good!) apples, and lots of oranges freshly pick from the orange tree out back.
We arrived at a quaint town, Twain Harte, just a few minutes away from the trail head in the Emigrant wilderness. The town is named after the two legendary authors Mark Twain and Brett Harte. They were apparently friends, and roommates in this town. We had our last formal meal of sandwiches and burgers before heading out.
My dad said he hadn’t been camping since he was a Boy Scout. He wore a nice striped button down dress shirt, because I think those are the only shirts that he owns. And we gave him some pants to hike in because he only had jeans.
We hiked about 5 miles in, or should I say up. Averaging about 1 mile an hour. Honestly, this was actually the first time I’d ever seen my dad out of breath. Its crazy because I’m a fitness instructor, and it’s literally my job to get out of breath multiple times a day. (And I can also say, thank god I do that for a living because it made this hike so much easier!) When we would reach a steep climb, and I felt it was difficult for me, I knew my dad was feeling it. There were moments where my instructor-self kicked in and I’d say to my dad, “The cool thing about this hike is you’re only getting stronger.” Or, “When you reach a steep part, just know that there is a plateau at the end, so if you just push yourself a little bit harder in these moments, you can catch your breath and recover at that plateau.” And it worked! It was truly inspirational to see my 63 year old father pushing himself through his doubts, through some steep rocks, and only gaining more strength and confidence as the day went on. I won’t tell you how many times in the beginning of the hike (about 1 mile in) my dad said, “Hey this little clearing looks nice, why don’t we just stop here and set up camp?” Nice try Dad.
When we reached the top, at about 9,000 feet, we saw some dark ominous clouds heading our way. And then it started to snow. We are all wearing shorts and T-shirts (except for Dad) and its 60 degrees out, and its snowing. I think everyone had a look of panic on their faces and we quickly decided to pick our campsite for the night, and put our tents up before the weather got too bad. We picked a great spot, a nice dirt clearing amongst some huge granite rocks. There was plenty of dry wood and pine cones for the fire. And we really lucked out because about an hour later the clouds cleared and we got to watch the most spectacular sunset. Watching the colors of the snow topped mountains change colors from purple to pink and orange.
We built a big fire and cooked our dinner — Chicken quesadillas and beans. We set up a hammock right next to the fire, passed around some whiskey in a flask, and of course my dad initiated some Sea Chanty singalongs. He was in his element. As the stars came out Dad told us about the constellations and the difference between the northern and southern hemisphere stars. He also admitted that he was bullshitting a lot of the information, which I respected.
I awoke in the morning to the sound of a babbling stream nearby, and some loud frogs that were never seen, only heard. As I open my tent I see the sun rising to my left, warming the rocks and everything in between. Man, it felt good to be there.
The hike back was fast! We got back in almost half the time it took us to get to our site. That’s what happens when you go down hill. About one hour away from our car, the sound of thunder rolls in and then very quickly we start getting pelted by a hail storm! This was my first encounter with hail, and it was no joke. It was like being a part of an involuntary snowball fight with little squirrels — you just can’t win. We raced to the car, jumped in wet, a little bruised, and so happy. On the car ride home we began planning our next camping trip. Adventure is easier to find than you think.