A few years back, Maile The Great and I set off on an ill-fated outing fueled by desperation to feel dirt beneath our feet and piney air in our lungs. But that Memorial Day weekend had been too early in Washington for a backpacking trip. It was just one of many attempts I've made to satiate my spring trail fever that wouldn't go at all to plan. I am really good at this. So far, total disaster has been avoided and usually, I wind up coming home early after having had my hand slapped by Nature. It’s that time of year again and my feet have trail fever.
I should know better.
But I’m in Idaho now, where the climate is drier and seemingly more stable from the lack of rainstorms. It seemed possible to satisfy my early spring need to sleep on dirt. My friend, Jess, also wanted to get out backpacking, too and her enthusiasm fueled my motivation.
I should've warned her.
After few phone calls to BLM managers and conversations with local gear shop employees, I hatched a plan for an easy season overnight in the Owyhees. It really seemed flawless.
Of course, the desert presents its own challenges. There may have been two of us eyeballing the way and we might have even had directions broken out to the tenth of a mile, but everything in the desert looks the same.
We tried the original directions. We back tracked, reset the odometer and started over again. We looked for missed possibilities and thought about just creating our own way across the barren land. The ninety-minute drive turned into four hours. We never found our destination. Navigating the unmarked roads proved impossible.
Being optimists (or rather, me being slightly neurotic and at the wheel and poor Jess stuck along for the ride), we (I) scrapped Plan 1, and went for Plan 2: the parking area pull-off recommended by a BLM manager (why I didn't start here originally, I dont know). I'd been told this parking area offered access to a hikeable terrain but that there were no actual trails.
"Just go overland until you decide to turn around," the BLM dude had told me.
"Great!," I had thought, and, "foolproof!" (I’m serious. I actually thought, Foolproof!)
The parking area was easy to find and, from it, led an old dirt road. Packs on, we set off, the dogs ecstatic to be freed from the dusty, bumpy bouncing of the truck.
Ten minutes later, the road faded into a sage bush. Ten more minutes and it reappeared fifteen feet to our left, near an old fence line. This pattern went on and on - disappearing road, reappearing road, disappearing again - for an hour or so as we circumnavigated a low hill. I figured if we walked for a while, we'd eventually find a tree or rocky area for a somewhat sheltered spot to camp.
We never found the water source the BLM manager had mentioned in the barren, sort-of-but-not-really picturesque, hills. All we had came across were old snow patches for the dogs who enthusiastically ate it, dug in it, jumped around in and barked over it.
As we continued, we turned around the hill about 270degrees from our starting point which is when we were hit in the face hard by whipping, mean, cold wind.
And like a cruel prank, off in the not-too-far distance - no, it wasnt an amazing view of awe-inspiring mountains - it was the road we drove in on. If an undulation of a hill in the foreground had been a little lower, we would’ve been able to see the sun gleamingly off the top of the truck. It didnt exactly feel like we were out in The Nature.
Now, I have camped out in some pretty uninspiring places; boggy soggy soil in a downpour, unprotected hard-packed desert in an electrical storm, the back of my truck at countless rest stops… but I have a really hard time justifying setting up my “backcountry” camp when I can see my vehicle. That the conditions also sucked inspired me even less.
Back at the truck, we reevaluated our hopes and dreams for the weekend. We settled on picking up a bottle of wine and Doritos at a convenience store in Mountain Home, and heading out to Anderson Reservoir for road-side camping.
The next morning was so cold we abandoned plans for breakfast. (Even the dogs were cold.) We took enough time to boil water for coffee while packing up before hitting the road back to the city.
The difference between this trip and that poorly executed Memorial Day one (and all those others) is that I did not stay attached to the specifics (my feet also did not, excruciatingly, lose circulation from my dog sleeping on them.). I let go. And I - me, Teresa - actually went with the flow. Mostly. (maybe i'm learning to just throw my hands up and smile at my own misguided self.)
In the end, my intentions were again overly enthusiastic, out-of-season, slightly dingbat. In the end, AGAIN it was all misplanned. But even so, in the end, we got to hike with heavy packs. I slept outside. The dogs got to frolic. I had time to lean back and take in the night sky packed so full with stars that in spots they blended into a glowing blur. I had dirt packed under my nails (a sure sign of a good weekend), we laughed a lot, and there was plenty of time in the truck for me to sing along to Trampled By Turtles and old Janet Jackson (which I had not anticipated). In the end, it was kind of great.
And, as Jessica said, "adventure with Teresa means packing for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip and going for a half day instead." I think I take that as a compliment.