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Camping with My Brother

by | Jan 12, 2022 | TALES FROM THE TRAILS | 0 comments

Opportunity Knocks – Family Hiking Adventures

The first time I went camping with my brother, Ed, was when I visited him in Boulder, CO after I graduated from high school. That was about 30 years ago. To clarify, I really enjoyed being outdoors and I didn’t mind “roughing it,” but I did not seek out camping on my own.

Backpacking with trekking poles

I learned Ed camped regularly for many years with his college buddy, each taking their two daughters along. Ed’s goal is to instill in his daughters a love of nature and to encourage their independence and perseverance. 

 A couple of years ago, Ed’s usual camping companions were no longer interested? turns out his friend showed his then 8-year-old daughter the bottom of a vault toilet. I feel for that young girl’s gross-out moment, but that incident gave me the chance to insert myself into Ed’s camping trips. This was a perfect way to spend more time with my brother and his daughters, Isa and Camila.

My first camping trip with my brother and the girls was to the West Fork Trail Camp in the Los Angeles National Forest in July 2019. Sadly, the campsite burned down in the Bobcat fire (but will reopen). The campsite is near a stream, where we would have a supply of water.

After agreeing to go, Ed casually announced that the trip could pose some difficulty. To rephrase it, we would have to hike 5 miles to the campsite. Also, he was interested in backpacking, not just car camping.

Certainly, I was a little intimidated, but the greater part of me welcomed the challenge. Am I still strong enough to carry 40 or more pounds on my back for 5 miles? I needed to know.

A Series of Unfortunate Delays

The plan had been to start hiking around noon on a Friday to ensure we would arrive while there was daylight to set up camp and make dinner. As it often happens, things do not always go according to plan. Ed had taken the day off but had to take a meeting at noon. As a result, he would not pick me up in West LA until 2:00 PM.

110 freeway traffic
110 Freeway cuts through downtown Los Angeles and is never without traffic

Once in his car, we were supposed to drive to Arcadia, pick up a parking pass at the park office (which closes at 4:30 PM), buy food, briefly stop for our last city meal and get to the parking lot where we could start our 5-mile hike. 

Not according to plan, my nieces were at their grandmother’s, who lives in Claremont. This meant traveling further east to pick them up and then driving back to Arcadia.

In our family, we tend to go with the flow of things, expected or unexpected. Our excursion was for leisure so no harm was done if things do not go precisely as planned.  

It was 3:30 PM and time ticked forward, but our car on the I-110 near downtown LA did not, we did become worried. Though we were close, we did not make it to the ranger office by 4:30 PM. We learned, however, that you can get a parking pass at any local gas station mart. Phew.

Around 5:00 PM, we had got our parking passes and headed off to REI for the last-minute supplies. Now we were off to get my nieces in Claremont. No sooner had we reached the I-10 than we again, found ourselves in major traffic with no alternative route. Oh, man.

It was 6:00 PM? then 7:00 PM, as we made our way back to Arcadia with girls in tow. At this point, skipping groceries or a meal was not an option. But we were expeditious in completing our last tasks. At last, we are off. 

Well, not quite. The drive to the trailhead was longer than I had imagined. I never did look at the information Ed sent me about the camp’s location and other information. It was now past 8:30 PM as we wound up the road and the day’s light faded.

Driving up to the trail head for unexpected nighttime backpacking in the Los Angeles National Forest

I finally verbalized what I had wondered for a while: Are we still hiking?? Yeah. What else are we going to do?? OK.’ I thought to myself, I guess we’re having a true adventure. When we parked at the trailhead, it was pitch black. We put our headlamps on; numerous specks of dust and bugs in the air became visible.

I quickly closed my mouth. This is how people eat bugs every year. What was the number 12″ 20? We secured our bbackpacks, extended our hiking poles, and got on our way. It was now 10:00 PM! I knew Ed was carrying bear spray and I just hoped that all the nighttime wildlife would be more afraid of us than the other way around.

Midnight Hike, Anyone?

We climbed downhill through a sandy, curvy path until we reached a flatter trail. We kept walking for what seemed like the longest 5 miles I have ever walked. At first, my mind was set on getting to the campsite ASAP. The girls, however, requested frequent stops.

Fitbit Versa 2 Health and Fitness Smartwatch with Heart Rate, Music, Alexa...

I have to confess that I initially felt impatient because I wanted to reach the campsite as soon as possible. However, I quickly noticed that my nieces never made a single negative comment; they asked for breaks, but never complained. I checked myself and relaxed. We will get there when we get there. It’ll be OK, I thought. 

My next obsession became estimating how far we had walked to make sure we would not miss the campsite. I had gotten a FitBit and mentally occupied myself with adding, subtracting and dividing numbers in my head. Every step, I continually checked my step count.

The girls listened to music so there was little to no chatter. Probably better to minimize noise, I thought, bear season and all. Math became more complicated as we hiked past midnight; I had not looked at the step count before my Fitbit reset to zero! Now I was really guessing, but I nevertheless continued my mental math exercises. I don’t remember being so bad at math

I remain uncertain, but I believe that we hiked at least 6 miles to the campsite. To this day, Ed’s response is: the map says 5 miles.’ Towards the end, I asked if this or that flat area was it. Could we miss the campsite if signage was scant? I should not have worried; the campsite terrain was obvious. 

We made it! It was 3:00 AM, but we made it! Now we had to put up our tents and inflate various sleep supports so we could rest. We also had to empty out all the food into a single bag and hang it from a branch. Ed and I worked fast though we were tired. The girls were exhausted, due to the long hike, and walked around like zombies (the slow kind).

A New Day

I woke up Saturday and poked my head out of the tent. Trees provided a nice shade and there was a stream nearby. Ed was already up and had filtered and collected water. Once out of the tent, I thought: Wow, we did a pretty good job setting up the tents in the dark. 

I went to find the “restroom,” an outhouse that seemed OK as I walked up. When I opened the door, I was met with a rank smell and dozens of buzzing flies. The seat and lid were unclean and I quickly closed the door. Nope, can’t do it. 

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While I am largely opposed to our disposable habits, I loved moist wipes that morning. I cleaned the seat and lid while holding my breath. I went back out and in again, holding my breath, taking care of business as fast as I could.

With further visits, fewer flies were buzzing and the smell also improved. As I saw day hikers go in and out of the outhouse during the weekend. I hoped people would be pleasantly surprised that this particular outhouse was clean.’

We have more tips on how to handle feminine hygiene when camping.

Camping Breakfast

Ed and I started breakfast; we made eggs, bacon, hash browns and pancakes. We drank coffee while the girls had chocolate. Camping nowadays is amazing. I don’t even eat like this at home.

After cleaning up, we spent the day at leisure. We had the entire campsite to ourselves. One of the advantages of hiking long distances into a campsite, Ed had said. 

The girls spent a good amount of time in the stream. When I later sank my feet in the cool water, I understood why. It was so refreshing and pleasant to walk up or down the stream, or simply sit on a large rock listening to the running water; you forget you were in the midst of the summer heat. 

During the day, we lounged in our chairs, chatted, laughed, played UNO with the girls who competed for the first spider dog or biscuit with a win. Shortly after game time was over, they collected sticks and wood for the fire pit. 

At night, we sat around the campfire. Though hot during the day, the temperature dropped at night and the warmth of the fire was welcome.

Our menu included mac and cheese, hamburgers and spider dogs along with hot chocolate or coffee. We talked about my nieces? interests, school, life.

There is no equal to having an electronics-free environment to promote conversations that get to the heart of things. Ed and I continued to chat after the girls retired.

You think of a simpler life in the woods, and you reflect on life. It was late afternoon when I was tasked with finding branches and wood. I wondered how our ancestors would live without all the equipment and food we brought to the campsite. I looked around. What would they eat? Where would they find shelter? 

I was glad that Ed was there; he knew about hanging food, filtering water and he was going to build a fire. Maybe I could do it, if I really needed to. I heard myself think: Man make fire. Good.

A Series of Unfortunate Expectations

On Sunday, we finished breakfast and cleaned up. We rationalized that leaving in mid-afternoon was wise, as we would avoid hiking during the peak of the day’s heat. We relaxed for a while perhaps too long a while. We left around 5:00 PM.

One advantage of the return trip is that backpacks are lighter. Ed had mapped out our exit through the trail and transition to the paved road. It was admittedly longer, but he did not think the curvy sandy trail would be wise. Sure, now the sandy trail seems less safe.

Relaxing in forest streams

Our hike back was uphill all the way so we were slower. I welcomed breaks though at one point we ran out of insect repellant. Because mosquitoes love my blood, I moved continuously to avoid bug landings. Camila laughed. After hours of hiking, it was now near 8:00 PM and we faced the prospect of walking in the dark again.

Sure enough, out came our headlamps. At least by then, the mosquitoes were gone. 

There was no internet connection, but I could see our location on Google Maps. Thank goodness for that setting. At first, I had no idea what I was staring at? a blue dot in a screen of green, the mountains.

I again regretted not looking at the links Ed had sent me of the trails to and from the campsite. It was one, two, three mountains we had walked around? Really, we hiked in that far?

After a while, the map made complete sense! I never told Isa I had earlier doubts, but she must have sensed my worry. I now laughed that she had repeatedly asked to look at our location, though I am sure she had no clue what she was looking at either.

Around 9:00 PM, we saw the boom barrier as our lights reflected off the white stripes?Yes, I saw the boom barrier next to the parking lot and there’s the car! Hooray! Isa and I rushed to the car (like a zombie).

What a relief! At last, we made it back! We unloaded our backpacks and were elated to sit. We hoped Ed and Camila were not too far behind.

Isa occupied herself on her iPad; I took my boots off and relaxed, glancing at the time now and then. Ed and Camila arrived an hour or so later. Dirty and tired, they unloaded and slowly climbed into the car.

We were happy to be together inside the car and we immediately hit the road. We stopped for drinks at the first gas station we saw. I earned that Gatorade. Once back in the car, Ed said: I think you’ll be home by midnight.’

It was 11:45 PM when we pulled into my building’s driveway. As we said goodbye inside, Ed and I smiled, realizing that we were both taking small steps while our bodies naturally swayed from exhaustion. After we hugged goodbye, Ed’s last words to me were: I did get you home before midnight.’ Yes, you did, bro.

Camping Epilogue

Though exhausting, I loved camping with my brother and the girls. In hindsight, I describe it as extreme backpacking; no friend of mine said they would have started a hike in the dark.

Though it was relatively brief, camping is a mental escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. And for me, completing a physically demanding trek that I had never attempted was very satisfying.

Los Angeles National Forest
Hiking in Los Angeles National Forest

I have since been on several other camping trips with my brother and his girls; not all were as strenuous, though some presented with other hiccups. One weekend, my sleeping pad deflated the first night and I hardly slept the entire weekend, another trip was winter in Yosemite. Brrr.

Oh wait, there was another long hike, but not in the dark. Nothing can beat hiking at midnight. 

No matter the expectations, or even if things go sideways, camping is fun. It is definitely work, but totally worth it. I have skills and knowledge to gain, though I have learned a lot from Ed so far.

So far, I learned, what a spider dog is and had real s’mores for the first time in my life, and how to correctly pitch a tent, where to set up tent, and other practical tasks. 

Perhaps this trip was especially sweet because we had the entire campsite to ourselves; it was peaceful and enjoyable. I have yet to start a fire, but I am confident that I could?Yeah, if I really needed to and Ed were not around, I’m sure I could do it.

What’s the most adventurous hike you’ve ever done? We are looking for more Trail Tales and would love to hear your stories. Drop a comment below and we will email you the questionnaire.

Last update on 2022-02-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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