WHEN I MET MIMI during college, I was 23 and Mimi was 18 years old. I was just back from my first trip to India and my year long journey around the Mediterranean Sea. She walked into the house that my roommate and I rented. I think there was a game of twister going on. I knew I had to find out who she was before she got out of there so I asked her to join us in our crazy game. We would do introductions later. She joined us and I clearly remember that every time our skin touched sparks would fly! We both felt the sparks and began spending a lot of time together.
I would woo her with my travel stories and I loved telling her all about the fascinating places that I’d seen. As long as it meant being with her, I’d tell stories as long as she seemed interested and probably sometimes when she wasn’t. We rode our mountain bikes all over Starkville and all around Noxubee Wildlife Refuge where we both fell in love with the blood red Sumacs that are there in abundance. To this day Mimi will stop her car at a ditch bank to dig some up to transplant towards the back of our property so we can reminisce this time of year while their red is at its boldest.
We had a special hideout in the refuge where we talked for hours. There was an abandoned fire tower with no locks on it so we claimed it as ours. From up there we could see forever. We would stay up there until it got too chilly or too late. To get to the fire tower we had to go through a Timber Bamboo grove that was the biggest grove of bamboo I’ve ever seen. The bamboo was giant. Each cane was around six inches in diameter and they were spread out just enough to walk through. The floor was covered in their dried fallen leaves that turn white as they decay. The scene was very surreal as we remember it so we plan to go back up there to revisit the refuge to see if anything is as we remember it. Those were fun times with few cares.
Mimi got the travel bug and decided that she wanted to have a solo adventure of her own. She began saving and preparing her parents for a summer long trip to Wyoming. Her parents were supportive of her idea although they were sad to see her go. They were happy to see her have an adventure. They even drove out there to visit her once she got settled. She totally winged it, driving out there and finding a place to rent while she worked at an art studio in Jackson Hole. She came home very excited about what she saw out in Wyoming. She got in some great hiking and took some rock climbing courses. She had a wonderful summer. We knew we wanted to get there together one day to see the Tetons.
Life happened and it wasn’t until we had gotten married and had our two children that we finally planned the perfect trip. Mia was eight years old and Max was five. They had already been on some pretty cool trips to Colorado, Yosemite and most summers in Big Sur, California. This would be our first big backpacking trip that we would be in the back country for seven nights. We had decided to hike the Teton Crest Trail. It would take some careful planning to keep four people fed and warm for that long. I knew physically they would make it. That would mean 24 breakfasts, 24 lunches and 24 dinners with extra for the voracious amount of snacking that comes along with long hikes through the mountains. That would mean enough warmth to be comfortable in below freezing temperatures that come along high in altitude at night.
I was really beginning to wonder more about mine and Mimi’s ability physically to carry that much weight. My pack approached 75 pounds and Mimi’s was close to that. We knew we would be going way slower and way fewer miles daily than usual so we should be able to pull this off. We really wanted their first big backpacking trip to be a great one so we were determined.
WE LANDED IN Jackson Hole and had a hotel booked for the first night so we could have a day of gathering provisions that we weren’t able to fly with like camp stove cooking gas and bear spray. The bears had us worried as usual. Someone handed one of the kids a pamphlet about what to do when you encounter a bear. It said to GET BIG. We had a good laugh with that as we all four practiced at GETTING BIG. We are not very big people. I think a bear would wonder why he got the short end of the snack stick when he saw us not being enough for a meal.
We did keep those bear bells ringing when we saw bends in the trail ahead so we didn’t surprise a mama bear and her cubs. We each had a can of bear spray attached to our backpack belts like it was going to help. It is hard to spray a bear right between the eyes when you are busy GETTING BIG, and running at the same time! A good, false sense of security is what those things are but we needed one. I remember one of the nights Max asked why they don’t put back doors on tents so when a bear comes snuffling around the door of your tent you could bolt out the back. I thought that was a pretty good idea. They do have tents like that now and we each have one. They are really made with a door on both sides so you won’t have to crawl over your tent mate if you have to get up in the night but you better believe they may come in handy one day.
We will never forget wandering back to our hotel after finding all the things we needed around town. A one hundred dollar bill flew right up to Max’s boots. I thought it was Mardi Gras the way he stamped on that thing so it wouldn’t get away. We all suggested to him that this would be a great night for him to take us all out to dinner before we hit the trail in the morning. He thought we were right and we had some giant “something” burgers before heading in for our last bed sleep for a while.
We had one more thing to work out before we could get on the trail the next morning. We could walk to the trailhead in town but we needed a ride back when it was over since it wasn’t a loop hike. We would be 40 miles out of town when we finished. We went to the lobby of the hotel to try to figure that one out. The hotel owner could see we were trying to figure something out and asked if he could help us.
We both knew each other was from the south when we introduced ourselves. It turned out that he and his wife were from Hattiesburg. They were happy to make arrangements to meet us in seven days at the end of the Crest trail. Long after they helped us out we kept in touch with them and when they came home for a visit they came to Garden Works to visit us. We have been back to stay at their hotel on another Teton trip and Max stayed there when he passed through there on a journey. Most of our best memories about trips taken are about the people we meet along the way. These folks were especially kind.
USUALLY A HIKE STARTS off low and meanders higher over the first couple days. This one was unique because we actually started by getting on the ski lift to the top where the trail starts at 10,000 ft. We loved starting that high and staying around that altitude and a little higher. Our first day was a pretty short distance to Lake Miriam. The lake was cobalt blue and had lots of fun exploring to offer. We got camp set up so we could spend what daylight hours we had left for some hiking around without the heavy weight of our packs. We weren’t seeing many other people around so we had the place to ourselves.
The temperatures dropped quickly as sunset was coming down. That was our sign to get on back to camp so we could heat up some delicious, rehydrated camping food. I’m kidding. It’s really not that delicious. You have to really use your imagination to make the taste of the dehydrated food match up anywhere close to the fancy and tempting names and flavors they put on the packaging. It’s not bad at all but they get a little crazy when it comes to naming that stuff. “Beef Stroganoff with English Peas and Steamed Golden Potatoes” and so on and so forth.
We joked after our meals at night that we can just picture the guys at the camping food factory board room sitting around making up tantalizing names for these bags of powdered food. They probably had some fun because at the end of a hiking day in the mountains a hiker is as hungry as a bear and will fall for anything. Every night everyone got to pick out which meal they wanted to imagine tasted anything like what the name and picture on the package looked like. We cooked and ate our meals a certain distance from our camp and when we would finish our meals we would take our dishes a certain distance from our camp to wash them with the water that we had filtered earlier while setting up camp. We used the filtered water because we were being careful not to have anyone have to deal with Giardia, a parasite that is in water seemingly untouched by humans or animal and crystal-clear lake or river water. I don’t know if any water, no matter how high country you are, is without parasites. When they find their way into a camper’s food or toothbrush or on your lips while washing your face in a river after about two days, depending on the severity of the case that person’s trip is usually over. Giardia upsets the stomach, produces fever and weakness. That person has to take it easy for a couple of days and even then it’s hard to get back on your feet to finish a tough hike.
After the dishes are cleaned and teeth are brushed, we have special bags that all things smellable, including the clothes that you ate in, go in (no midnight snacking). We carry those bags a certain distance from our camp and hang them in trees high enough that bears and other varmints can’t smell them or reach them. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s just different and kind of exciting knowing that getting that stuff wrong could invite a bear into your camp in the middle of the night. They will tear into a tent if they smell anything that turns them on.
After we got all the have-tos done we could relax. Mine and Mimi’s tent was bigger than the kid’s tent so we would all meet in our tent for countless games of spades or any other card games that we knew how to play under our solar charged tent lights until we just couldn’t stay awake any longer. Getting in those warm, goose down sleeping bags after those kind of days is probably one of the best feelings that we know of.
Mimi and I had made up our minds that we were going to slow way down so the kids could enjoy their time in this giant playground. We had no set time to wake up in the morning. We could all enjoy waking up in the chilly morning and lay in our sleeping bags as long as we felt like it and sip on some hot chocolate or, in mine and Mimi’s case, some good ole camp coffee. When everyone got up and dressed I would stoke the fire and get some oatmeal going so our bellies would be full until our next rest stop. Next it would be time to repack our backpacks and throw them over our sore backs. My back usually would stay a little sore for the first couple of days a long hike then the soreness kind of goes away once my bones readjusted to suddenly having about 75 extra pounds on them.
WE GAVE THE KIDS the amount of weight that we thought they could handle and still enjoy the hike. Mia carried most of her own stuff and half their tent. Max, being five years old, carried the other half of their tent and a little more. I’m not sure he ever changed his clothes the whole time. He had on his Indian costume pants and shirt which were leather with fringes down the legs and arms. After he would shed his polar fleece and warm stuff from the morning chill, he would hike with these clothes either with his shirt on or off. That was the only adjustment he would make with his wardrobe. He always was a very light packer and I always tend to over do the packing so I’ve learned a lot from him about cutting down on the amount of stuff I pack on any trip. It’s so much easier.
I remember towards the last days of this hike not being able to take the smell and the sight of his crusty, little self any more. We came across a very cold water fall. I told him it was time for him to have a little cat bath to get some of that camping dust and funk off of him. He felt the water and said there was no way he could get under that water it was so cold. I told him that there was no way I could take the smell wafting off of him. We were about to have a showdown so as he was sluffing off layers of clothes down to his shorts I gave him one more chance to make it happen on his own. He said there was no way. I told him there was a way so I showed him the way. I picked him up at arms length and held him under the frigid waterfall with him swinging and hollering. I’ve never seen him so mad at me. It wasn’t over yet. I soaped him up and held him under the falling mountain water to rinse off. This time one of his swings connected with me but at least he smelled a little better. I didn’t blame him for being mad at me for a little while. That water was just this side of ice. He had a cup of hot black tea and dried in the intense sun while he sipped on it. I know Mia was relieved that she wouldn’t be sleeping with mister bear bait any more. She was considering hanging up with the bear bags at night so she wouldn’t have any uninvited guests coming around their tent at night.
Mimi and I were loving going their pace and realized that this pace is a great way to backpack. Waking up as late as we want and meandering instead of hiking as fast as we could go in order to get in as many miles as we could in a day was great. On this trip we would make it to our next campsite by around 3:00 in the afternoon, leisurely get camp set up, get our water filtered for that night’s meal and enough water for breakfast and the next day’s drinking water. After all that there would still be enough daylight left for a climb up a nearby ridge or whatever grabbed our attention. That is our new way of hiking. It’s so much more enjoyable. I think now when the kids go on their own backpacking trips they are into the faster pace like we were before we met them. We hope they will introduce their kids to the backpacking world and find this slower pace one day. We even took a few moonlit walks when the moon was full. Everything felt different under the moonlight. Even the sounds were different as the night animals came to life. After that, back to a lit tent for more card games until we got sleepy enough to pass out.
I AM OUT OF SPACE for this week’s article so next week I want to tell more about the details of our days on this hike. It is still one of our favorite family trips that we took. We loved it so much that we went back to do the Teton Crest Trail with the kids again when they were big enough to carry all of their own stuff. This time we doubled the length of it and doubled back on a loop that brought us back to the beginning. In the meantime I hope your Thanksgiving goes great, everyone gets along, and the turkey doesn’t come out like Clark Griswold’s turkey on the Christmas special National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation! Seriously though, don’t forget to get your Christmas tree picked out and delivery set up. I really feel like trees are going to go fast this year. I know of quite a few people who normally sell Christmas trees that aren’t going to do it this year so don’t miss out.