Sunday, August 16, 2009


I am sitting in a hotel room in San Rafael, CA, surrounded by open suitcases with about five loads of dirty laundry poking out or thrown on the floor beside them. I have been camping for two nights. Now, let me say from the beginning that tent camping with four children is one big exercise block. Only my most intrepid daughter, Rose, my youngest, was brave enough to go with me, so we were two adults with four kids, ages 10, 9, 7 and 4.

We chose to camp in the far north region of California in Panther Flat Campground, which is run
(very nicely) by the USDA Forest Service. I am very glad that it is not a State of California campground or it would be threatened with closure as a result of the current California budget crisis. The campground is small and intimate with lovely trees, but also with some open sunny campsites. Down one side of it runs the Smith River, one of the most beautiful, untouched wild rivers remaining in the Continental U.S.

Because I recall the days when you had to show up early to get a prime campsite, I ignored the fact that that we had reserved a site on the internet, and left the hotel for the two hour drive north from Arcata at 6:30 AM. Of course, when we arrived our campsite was still occupied, so we parked down on the flat by the river and started to look around on foot. My daughter and the grandkids went running up a steep trail toward the campsite and I overcame my resistance to walking uphill, and followed slowly behind. I was was quite proud of myself at first, for although I had to catch my breath a little at each switchback, I was making good progress until I caught the tip of my running shoe on a tree root, and took a nasty fall on a rock beside the trail. In case you haven't given this any thought, fat people fall harder than thin people do. I was shaken and scared.

But thanks to my excellent bone health (the dexa scan my thorough internist ordered affirmed my assessment that fat people like me people who grow up on dairy farms wrestling hay bales and fifty pound sacks of grain and who claim cheese as their favorite food, have thick bones), I was bruised but fine. I retreated to the car to examine the damage, and stayed there until my daughter returned saying we could check in.

Setting up camp and making sandwiches for lunch was a snap, except for the yellow jackets we attracted. After our first meal, we put on our swimsuits and headed to the river. To reach my favorite swimming hole, we had to enter the river from a rocky trail head and float downstream over many slippery rocks. The river was icy cold, but as clear as if it has been filled with Dasani. We could see fish swimming beneath us. The younger kids wore life jackets and floated down behind Rose and me, shivering and squealing in a combination of glee and hypothermia. We arrived at a small beach, beyond which the river deepened to form a natural pool. The opposite bank of the river was a rocky cliff with many small ledges, from which the young and agile among us, including my intrepid Rose, jumped into the deep water. We swam and lay in the sand in silence. I reminded my oldest grandsons who had been there before with me, that this is where I want my ashes spread (please do not report this to USDA).

Making our way back upstream dragging the little ones was quite a workout, but I was up to it because of all my lap swimming and water walking. We ate heartily that night and sat around the campfire eating smores, as I told my grandchildren the "Moon Stories" my father made-up. We slept comfortably on air mattresses in our two tents, and didn't wake until 8:00 AM!

The next day we repeated these activities and I felt relaxed and happy until the third morning when we had to break camp and attempt to stuff all our gear into the suitcases from whence it had come. We rolled, folded, swept off dirt, and crammed for four hours until all six of us were exhausted. Kenny, age 10, and Lawrence, age 9, were indispensible. Exhausted we climbed into our packed car and happily sped off to the comfort of the hotel, where we all took very long showers.

I feel exhilarated but exhausted. Tomorrow I am looking forward to stretching on the carpet and water walking in the hotel pool.

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