"Are we going camping today?" my five year old, Aiden, asks, his eyes still foggy with sleep. "As soon as your Dad wakes up,” I answer. Immediately, all sign of sleepiness disappears as he shoots back up the stairs to what I imagine will be a rude awakening for Andrej. "Serves him right," I think, smiling inwardly. I've showered, eaten, packed, had my coffee and have been chomping at the bit to leave since I woke up. I dislike waiting on people especially when my favorite pastime is on the line. Our last backpacking trip was slightly disastrous due to an unreliable guidebook and although we still had fun, I am anxious to end the season with a more enjoyable trip to Pyramid Lake in Northern Idaho.
Eventually we get on the road and four hours later we arrive at the trail head. I always choose trails that either have long mileage or hard passes to climb since they tend to give me the most solitude. Unfortunately, when selecting trips that Aiden is accompanying us on, I have to look more for easy hikes which usually means they draw in more people. The trail head is full of cars and I cross my fingers that they are all at one of the other destinations or just day hiking. While Andrej divvy's out the beer between our backpacks, another car drives up and a lone hiker emerges and is soon off down the trail. I see that he's carrying bear mace and all of sudden notice that the trail head is plastered with bear safety posters. My reasons for not buying bear mace seem frivolous when I'm surrounded by giant bold warnings about my impending death via grizzly. Luckily, we have the best bear-deterrent known to man: Aiden. The 2 miles to the lake is non-stop chatter about anything from boulders to counting bridges to pirates. Any nearby bear, or person for the matter, would've retreated as fast as possible to escape the onslaught.
Upon arriving at Pyramid Lake, I sigh with relief when I see we're alone. The lake is fairly picturesque, the sun is warm, and the sky is clear; couldn’t ask for anything more. After setting up our tent in a dusty, slightly overused campsite, we relax on a big rock overlooking the lake to enjoy some lunch and take in the scenery. We soon hear screaming and as I'm thinking, "I'm glad the bears chose some other victim" a horde of children come running down the trail, stripping their clothes, and leap into the lake. They spend the next few hours, swimming and screaming, and overall quashing the serenity of the lake. Cold gusts of wind eventually send them shrieking back to wherever they came from, but their departure marks the arrival of a steady stream of campers.
While searching for a cool place in the water to stash our beers, we discover the lake is infested with 5-inch long leeches that wiggle out from under rocks like vicious predators at the slightest splash. All of Aiden's hopes of swimming are dashed when he learns what leeches eat and he keeps well away from the water so he "doesn't lose any blood."
Too soon, the sun goes behind the mountains and the relentless assault of mosquitoes begins. We eat dinner, drink warm beers (the lake was too shallow to keep them cool), attempt to make cake-on-a-stick, and then retreat to our tent for the night. At some point during the night, I'm rudely awakened by a giant animal crashing through the bushes towards us and am subsequently serenaded by elk chuffs and stomps for an hour or two.
The next day we day hike to Ball Lakes, eat lunch, and return to our campsite for an uneventful evening around the campfire.
The whole weekend is a trip of firsts: first time using our new BioLite camp stove, eating dehydrated meals I dried myself, seeing leeches, being kept awake by an annoyed elk, and enjoying warmish beer.
The worst part about returning home for me is cooking dinner that first night when I'm tired, sore, sunburned, and mosquito bitten. It's one of the few times I take shortcuts and don't make anything from scratch. With little effort, I throw boxed cornbread mix into the oven, toss pre-shredded coleslaw mix with dressing, and pan-fry some pork chops coated with BBQ sauce. Viola! A post-backpacking I'm-too-exhausted-to-do-much-else meal in less than 30 minutes. To make it a square meal, I open a bottle of Beresan's 2010 Buzz, the one wine I know that's uncomplicated enough to go with anything I make. Full of plum and blackberry flavors, hints of vanilla and spice, and a light peppery finish, you'd be hard pressed to find a dish the Buzz doesn't compliment. It's a wine meant for food, friends, and lazy nights where thinking and getting off the couch are optional.
Barbequed Pork Chops
(From Sarah's I'm-Too-Exhausted-To-Do-Much-Else Repertoire)
4 Bone-in Pork Chops, 3/4-inch thick
Salt and Pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. Add the pork chops and brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate.
Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in BBQ sauce. Return the pork chops to the pan, turning to coat.
Transfer pan to oven and bake 6-10 minutes, until just the chops are just barely pink in the middle. Serve with coleslaw, cornbread, and Buzz.