We hadn’t yet backpacked this summer and I was feeling the urge to get out into nature with the kids, especially with Leini being so petite and ‘packable’ at this age. So after some research, we thought that a two-night trip to Serene Lake would be perfect. Our plan was to get out early on Saturday morning and hike 4 miles to the lake and spend our two nights enjoying this beautiful, Oregon lake while the kids ran around and got dirty.
All throughout the week, we were committed to going. That is, until Friday rolled around and I was feeling lazy from two days of work (rough, I know), Leini had just gotten sick and Curt clearly just wanted to relax and drink beer. But, at 9 pm on Friday, I convinced Curt that it would only be summer for a month longer and we wouldn’t be able to do this again for another 12 months. After that reality check, we quickly began throwing things into our packs, setting aside food and forcing ourselves to pretend that we enjoyed it. Yes, we will have fun. It will all be worth it. It’ll be great.
The next morning, Leini was even worse. Her nostrils were covered with crusted green boogers, she was congested and it was obvious that the she wasn’t feeling well at all. I asked Curt, “Should we just bag it? She looks so sad.” Not being entirely convinced that he wanted to pack 50 lbs worth of camping gear, food and water on his free weekend, he replied, “Yeah, let’s just stay home.” So we went to Laird, “Hey Laird, we’re not going to go camping today. Leini is sick and isn’t feeling very well.” The smile on his face quickly disappeared. The sadness and disappointment in his eyes crushed my heart. “But I want to go camping,” his voice cracked on the verge of crying. Curt tried to get him excited, “Well, we can go camping in the back yard. It’ll be fun! We’ll still have smores. I promise, it’ll just be like real camping!” But Laird wasn’t buying it, “That isn’t camping. Camping is only when you have to hike a long ways.” I looked at Curt, “Okay, then. I guess we’re going camping.”
We pulled out of our garage at a record 9:15 am and after 5 stops to pick up various supplies from friends, the store, gas and ranger stations (where Laird did get an ice cream bar) we finally made it to the forest roads that would take us to the trailhead. By then, Laird had been told that he would know when we were close, as the road would be extremely treacherous and bumpy for the last 4.5 miles. We eventually reached that road and it was worse than we both had expected. I thought, “Really? Well, we can’t turn back now.” Curt carefully navigated around sharp rocks and deep craters while I prayed that 1) we wouldn’t get a flat and 2) that a car wouldn’t be driving out. Thankfully, after 40 minutes, we made it to the trailhead at 2:15 and were in shock. There were cars everywhere. There was nowhere to park. WTH?!!! After 8 years of backpacking, I really have no reason to be surprised that an Oregon trailhead during the summer, no less to a pristine lake, would be crowded. People love the outdoors here. That is great. It just sucks when you want a serene lake to yourself. But now we were contending with 20 other cars worth of people.
After quickly unloading and heading down the trail, Laird immediately started falling apart over a worm he had found that we didn’t want him to carry. After all, we were planning on hiking 4+ miles and there was little chance he could walk down the rocky path and attend to his worm at the pace we needed him to go. Not if we wanted to arrive that night, that is. After a quarter mile of crying, he finally calmed down and I suggested to Curt that maybe we should just check out Middle Rock Lake. A smaller lake just a mile down the trail. Curt replied, “That seems so short. We packed all this stuff for just a mile.” I quickly said, “I’m okay with it. I just wanted to get away. I don’t need to hike 10 miles.” This is what 2 kids and a 14-yeard old dog does to you. Four years ago, I, too, would’ve laughed at backpacking one mile. Why bother. But, we had two toddlers to deal with; one who was boogery and miserable, and the other who was whining and emotional. We also had Mango dog. Old, tired and on anti-depressants. It was an easy decision. And it paid off.
We discovered a beautiful, clear lake. Quiet and serene, just what we wanted. After walking the perimeter of the lake, Curt found the perfect campsite set along the lake’s edge with a bench, campfire and two entrances where Laird could wade around. It didn’t take long for Laird to find the salamanders and crayfish that call Middle Rock Lake their home. And, to my surprise, he quickly waded into the water and snatched one. This would entertain him for the remainder of our weekend. I’ve never seen him quite so content and proud of himself. He was the Salamader hunter (not really, all were safely released).
We ate our dinner by the fire and had our customary smores for dessert. Bed time was rough. As it turns out, Leini is quite the troublemaker. It happened more than once that I had to pull her from her brother after hearing Laird cry, “Leini, stop pulling my hair!” or “Leini is scratching my face! Leini, no! No, Leini!” This all occurred while Curt and I sat giggling by the fire.
The next day was beautiful. We witnessed an osprey dive into our lake and catch a trout for breakfast and hiked two miles to Serene Lake. Being it was Sunday, we passed most of the backpackers on their way out and had the lake all to ourselves. We spent a relatively quiet 4 hours basking in the sun and wading around in the water.
It was emotionally and physically tiring for Laird (and all of us, really) as we hiked back to our campsite. Gummy savers really were our lifesavers that kept him motivated and continuing to walk. Four miles of ascending and descending elevation is difficult for some adults, let alone a 3.5 year old. Laird was glad to be back, there weren’t any salamanders to catch at Serene lake. The rest of the night was a repeat of the first: Dinner, smores and a long-winded bedtime routine. I felt sorry for our neighbors across the echoey lake.
The next morning was again beautiful and peaceful. However, by this time, Leini’s cold and lack of sleep was finally catching up to her. She didn’t want to be put down and I could tell she was feeling awful. Yet somehow she and Laird managed to still have fun chasing each other around and exploring.
We packed up our camp earlier than we had initially planned and hiked the single mile back to our car. The once-full trailhead was completely deserted with just our dusty blue Honda remaining. I wasn’t looking forward to the 4-mile, Mars Rover mission to get out again. But, we made it after passing one family of 5 on their way in. They would get the whole lake to themselves.
When I reflect on if our backpacking trip was worth it, I think of a conversation I had with Laird shortly after arriving at our campsite the first day. As we sat by the water’s edge looking at the salamanders and crayfish, he asked, “Mommy, are we going to stay here?” “Yes, Laird, we’re going to camp here for two nights. Why? Do you want to stay longer?” He looked a little sad and replied, “Yes, I wish we could stay here forever.”