Last Friday, Curt took the day off work. He accompanied the kids and I to their swimming lessons and we sat in the bleachers and watched them show off all they were learning. Each one tried to out-do the other and Alli kept catapulting herself above the pool wall and waving frantically at Curt. They got their report cards for the week and were thrilled to learn they all made improvements from the start of the week.
We came home and started the process of loading the van to go camping. Piles and piles of stuff sat in the garage. Sleeping bags. Camp chairs. Grill. Tent. Hammock. Sleeping mats. Backpacks with clothes. Coolers with food. Card table to hold miscellaneous stuff at the camp site. Dusty's bed, bowl, leash, food and chain. Big plastic bins with dry good foods and cooking equipment. Pillows. Stuffed animals. Beach towels. Enormous first aid kit. Fishing poles and tackle box. It was comical. Curt struggled for about 30 minutes and came upstairs defeated. "I don't think we can get it all in. I don't know what to do." I came down to survey the damage and had to concur. It looked like an impossible task.
We gave up the little window to see out the back and crammed beach towels in that spot. Wedged kid camp chairs behind the card table. Cut Dusty's corner of the van floor in half and put the tackle box there. Had the kids go potty and buckle up and then started piling stuff on and around them. We piled the empty spot between the captain's chairs and the sliding door with pillows, sleeping bags and back packs. When we had it filled to capacity, we'd quick slam the door shut. Curt got wedged between the way back seat and the captain's chairs and over much howling and laughter, the kids pushed him from the inside while I pulled from the outside. We managed to get him out, but only after he crushed Poogie, who was laughing and crying at the same time. As we slammed the last door, we high-fived each other. Mission accomplished.
Curt reserved camp site #44 at Gone Creek Campground on Timothy Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Gone Creek Campground was one of many on the large lake and promised outhouses and "potable" water, fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking. The forecast for the weekend was perfect: temps in the mid-80's and sunny.
We took our google.map directions and headed out of town, of course on a curvy, back road highway. You would think we would learn our lesson by now, but maps are deceiving. What appears the most direct route on a map in Oregon is not always the quickest. We wound our way through Mollalla and Estacada and got stuck behind a semi-truck hauling a load of hay. The hay was flying all over our windshield and there was no passing lane so we crept up the hill with the truck. When we turned off on the second, winding highway, we managed to escape the hay truck and had an unobstructed view of the gorgeous terrain. We started winding along the Clackamas River that was hemmed in by tree-covered foothills and also some red, rocky cliffs. We followed the river into the Mt. Hood National Forest and eventually left the river to climb through the thick forest.
After two hours, we took our third winding road, this time a National Forestry road that marked Timothy Lake as 15 miles away. NF58 was narrow and steep and much curvier than the other two highways. Our pace slowed considerably and then we had a big surprise. ANOTHER gravel road! What's up with that? According to our odometer we had seven miles left before we arrived at one of the biggest lakes and camping spots in the Mt. Hood National Forest and here we are starting on a remote gravel road? It was laughable. The road was barely wide enough to fit two cars, had a fresh load of gravel dumped on it making spinning out a much greater possibility, and can you guess what side the steep drop off of at least 40 feet was on? Oh yes. The Stilp Family's side. My hands started sweating and my heart was racing. I couldn't even see the bottom of the steep ravine over the edge of the road. One little slip on the gravel and we were all going to meet Jesus. Finally, after five very long miles, like a mirage, the road changed from gravel-death-trap to nicely paved, two-lane, heavily traveled highway. And there was Timothy Lake.
Gone Creek was the fifth campground we came to. We pulled in slowly and found our campground almost immediately. At first glance, we thought we got the worst site in camp. It was located on the corner of a Y with "roads" on two sides. We drove through the entire campground three times, looking for an open spot, but the the whole campground was full so we resigned ourselves to site 44.
We pulled up, got out and started exploring. Within seconds we realized our first impression was way off. The roads were only traveled by campers so we didn't need to worry about traffic or safety. The campsite was incredibly deep and seemed to go back into the woods forever. And where the campsite ended, the forest began, with one of the many hiking trails no more than 50 yards behind it. The only negative was that the fire pit was at the front of the site and looked straight into our neighbor's fire pit. They had kids though and within minutes, our kids were playing together. We pitched our tent in the back corner, secluded from both roads and from our neighbors in the next site. The kids frogged around in the woods behind the tent while we set up camp.
Man on man, camping is a lot of work. Prepping beforehand. Making lists. Buying food. Packing food. Unpacking food. Setting up a portable home away from home in under an hour. Once we had our campsite looking homey, we went for a walk down to the lake. And there, looming like a king on his throne, was Mt. Hood, towering over the enormous lake. Campers were frollicking in the frigid water, boating, kayaking, and fishing. It was just lovely.
We settled into a nice routine over the next two days. Made huge meals over the open fire. Washed our plastic dishes in the ice cold "potable" water from the spigot two campsites down. Learned to not mind the outhouse that varied in nasty smell depending on the time of day. Made s'mores and pudgy pies for dessert over the campfire. Went fishing. Went swimming. Helped Dusty realize that all dogs swim and that she too, was a swimming dog. Took a hike as a family on one of the multiple trails around the 13-mile lake. Slept terrible the first night and collapsed in exhaustion into deep sleep the second night.
Above all, we got dirty and smelly. The campground was covered in this red, fine dirt that got kicked up easily and stuck to anything remotely wet. We'd go swim in the lake and by the time we got back to camp, be covered in red, gooey mud. The campfire smoke permeated our hair and our clothes and we just got grungy, which was fine because everyone else was grungy too.
On Sunday morning, after another huge breakfast cooked on the campfire, we started the packing up process. Rolling up the sleeping bags. Taking down the card table. Folding up the chairs. Repacking the coolers. Stuffing blankets in the much emptier plastic food bins. Corralling kids if they ventured too far into the woods. An hour and half later, we were in the same predicament from when we left, trying to cram everything into the van. We had the kids buckle into their seats and then started piling, cramming, jamming and stuffing. Slammed the van doors closed, high-fived each other, and loaded up. Curt turned the key in the ignition and it didn't turn over. Not even a little bit. We couldn't believe it. Of all the places to break down.... We found someone who was willing to give us a jump but didn't have cables. We have cables, but they were BURIED in the bowels of the van. We unpiled, uncrammed, unstuffed and found the cables. Hooked them up and thankfully, the van started right up. Praise the Lord!
For the fourth time, we piled, crammed, stuffed, slammed the van door, high-fived, loaded up and finally headed home. This time we took the main highway. The one 98% of people going to Timothy Lake use. It added 20 miles to our overall drive and sliced off 30 minutes. We arrived safely and I think I did laundry non-stop for the next three days. A shower never felt so good! When I helped the girls get clean, I scrubbed their dirty feet three times each and it still looked like they were layered in dirt. We giggled and asked, "How dirty can you get?" And then, "When can we go again?"