In a tent down by the river

Months ago Cristina and I decided to go backpacking over Memorial Day weekend.  We figured that we would have plenty of places to choose from by then, sadly that wasn’t the case. When Memorial Day weekend finally rolled around the snow we had gotten over the winter was still preventing us from getting to our favorite backpacking spots. The plan then shifted to car camping, a weekend full of campfires, playing in a river and s’mores. This also proved to be challenging, finding a car camping spot the week before Memorial Day is not an easy task.  I first checked the national parks and found all their were all fully booked, I then checked the state parks and found the same. It was beginning to seem like we may have to try our luck at snagging a walk in spot when I discovered that King County has a campground, which still had a couple spots available. I never would have guessed that King County had a campground. They were “hike in” spots, with the “hike” being a very flat half a mile long. Although, a hike without an elevation gain is just a stroll in the woods as far as I’m concerned. I booked the site and began digging out  my camping gear for the first time in almost a year. While it wasn’t the backpacking trip we hoped for it would allow me to to test out a few things in preparation for the PCT.

Friday afternoon we drove out to the Tolt MacDonald Campground  on the Snoqualmie River just outside of Carnation.  All the standard sites that did not require a hike to get to looked miserable, very close together with no shade and very little privacy, luckily our site was on the other side of a really cool old suspension bridge away from the crowds.  Since we had fully ditched the idea of “roughing it” in favor of the comforts of car camping we packed a wheelbarrow full of gear, food and firewood and started to make our way to the site.  After crossing the bridge we were greeted by a sign that read “Attention: Frequent bear signings.  I got very excited, I’ve always wanted to meet a bear, but not in the “Grizzly Man” kind of way.

As we “hiked” down the trail, dragging the wheelbarrow behind me I started to wonder why I felt the need to invest in ultralight gear for the PCT when I could just bring a wheelbarrow. Who needs a $300 backpack when you can pick up a wheelbarrow for $50? I already have a tarp to keep everything dry.

Once we arrived at our site we discovered that not only was our site much more shaded and secluded than the sites on the the other side of the bridge. The other 3 campsites in the areas were vacant for the night with campers arriving on Saturday, which was a nice surprise. We set up my not so light my 3 person tent, blew up the air mattress and got settled in. After a bit of exploring, finding the best spot to access the river, we started a fire and made some dinner. Later that evening I proceeded to eat 10,000 s’mores and discovered that s’mores and beards don’t play well together.

The next morning, after it became very clear during the middle of the night that I had forgotten my throw out the air mattress due to the fact that it did not actually hold air, I decided that I needed to invest in a good sleeping pad for the PCT because the ground can be very cold.  Luckily, we did have sleeping pads just in case something like with this happened.  After coffee and breakfast we spent the day doing the typical camping things like relaxing all over the place, playing in the river and reading.  I was reminded how nice it is to disconnect and enjoyed every minute of it.

Later in the day the other campers in the area showed up, the most notable being two families with a total of six small children and one very large Great Dane. Sitting next to the fire we watched as one of the guys made frequent trips up and down the trail hauling wheelbarrows full of stuff and setting up giant tents. The kids took full advantage of the fact that their parents were overwhelmed with getting everything set up, running amok and harassing each other, luckily the crying was minimal. Maybe that’s why I liked camping so much as a kid, my brother and I could get away with much more than normal because our parents were busy managing all the logistics involved in camping with two small boys.  They two families were still working on getting set up as the sun began to set, the air pump was constantly being ran to fill up what seemed like 20 air mattresses. Cristina and I made a game out of counting the number of times the air pump would run and betting on if they were done or not. I think it was completely dark by the time they were finally done.

One of the things I put to the test is wearing what I would wear while hiking the PCT.  This consisted of shorts, a hiking t-shirt and a pair of trail runners. I also had a pair of merino wool leggings and a merino wool hooded shirt for when it got cold at night. While these did a good job of keeping me warm I was reminded that I still needed a puffy jacket, luckily the fire made up for the fact that I didn’t have one. Another thing I put to the test was the claim that merino wool resists odors by wearing the same clothes for the duration of the weekend, luckily for Cristina this claim was in fact true. That night I once again ate 10,000 s’mores.

On Sunday I spent some time exploring the trails in the park a bit. They weren’t anything special but it was nice to get out and stretch my legs a bit. After exploring I spent time relaxing and finally getting around to reading that PCT book I mentioned in my first post.  We considered making the drive to an actual trail to do some hiking but decided we’d rather just  spend the time relaxing, especially considering how busy the trails would be on a holiday weekend.  Later in the day after making a run for firewood, ice and beer we ran into the guy that was making all the trips with the wheelbarrow the night before, he was now making frequent trips in the opposite direction. It seemed that they were defeated by their kids in just one night. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote from Varsity Blues. “I don’t want your life.”

After our final night I felt better about a few things I’ll have to deal with while on the PCT. My merino wool clothing kept me warm and didn’t end up smelling after wearing them for days straight, bathing in a river is refreshing, VIA kept me fully caffeinated, I can still sleep on a pad without rolling off of it and I can fuel myself with s’mores.  Ok, I probably wont be making many s’mores on the PCT but snickers bars will be a staple in my diet, my body knows what to do with sugar.  So while it wasn’t the backpacking trip we had hoped for it ended up being really nice to just take a few days to relax together and have a few extra comforts that we wouldn’t have had while backpacking, like s’mores (ok, we could have had s’mores while backpacking).

On our way home we decided to stop by Snoqualmie falls which did not disappoint.  It was however full of people which made me feel a little better about taking the weekend off from hiking. In fact I later read a trip report where a hiker counted 200 cars near a trail head that weekend.  Sometimes it’s best to avoid the crowds, disconnect and relax.