Over the Memorial Day weekend, our friends Mike and Wendy took their girls camping. We were curious to find out how Kate and Erin had done, since we’ve talked about our families going camping together ever since Kate and Gus became friends in kindergarten. Taking the boys camping is something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time.
Believe it or not, camping, hiking and even backpacking were all regular activities for Kelly and me before the boys came along. We’ve backpacked over the Continental Divide and hiked through the ancient redwoods. We’ve marched through scorching sun, pouring rain and even driving snow. Pretty butch, huh?
We’ve seen some amazing sights and had some unbelievable experiences. Now that our boys are older, we want to share those things with them as well. So we’ve decided to go hiking every weekend, and eventually do a short camping trip.
Last weekend we took our first hike of the season. We started off slow, nothing too strenuous; a pretty simple, level trail in Little Cottonwood Canyon. We had a great time too, until we ran into the tree leeches.
One of the coolest aspects about hiking is seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. Seeing a wild animal can really make your trip, but it can also be scary stuff. And maybe being out of your comfort zone amplifies that fear.
Once, when we were backpacking in Glacier National Park, I had a near-death experience. At least I thought it was going to be a near-death experience. Actually, I was pretty sure it would be.
We were at Cracker Lake, an absolutely phenomenal turquoise-blue lake nestled at just over 10,000 feet. I was just starting to fall asleep when all of a sudden an animal scratched at the tent – mere inches from my head. It had to be a bear. And not the hot, hairy, gay kind either! No, this was ursus arctos horribilis – the grizzly bear. I just knew it!
Well, at least my altitude-loopy, frozen brain knew it. I shook Kelly telling him that something was outside our tent; something that no doubt wanted to eat me. He grabbed the flashlight and aimed the beam at the wall of our tent. That’s when I saw the ground squirrel scrounging for treats. But it was too late. I’d already told Kelly I was terrified. Butch, huh?
But back to hiking with the boys. There we were, hiking through a wooded area. It was a perfect day – not too hot, a slight breeze.
We marched along, minding our own business, occasionally; Kelly seemed to bat a spider web out of his face. No biggee. Then, all of a sudden, he let out a shriek! The boys froze in their tracks.
Kelly started to wave his arms frantically and yelled, “They’re all over me!”
What, I thought, what was all over him?
That’s when the boys started in. Gus was jumping up and down shouting, “Get them off of me, get them off of me!” While Niko froze, tears welling in his eyes as he declared, “They’re all over me!”
What was? What were they all talking about?
Then Kelly said it, “Tree leeches!”
I quickly scanned the horizon looking for the source of these mysterious tree leeches. Kelly fought his way to a clearing, while Gus continued to dance around waving his arms wildly. Niko, just stood there frozen. Between his tears he mumbled, “They’re all over me.”
During all the commotion, I kept thinking one thing: Tree leeches? What the hell is a tree leech?
That’s when I came face-to-face with one. Only to the rest of the world, “tree leeches” are called caterpillars.
The poor little things were just trying to shimmy up their silk to form cocoons when our family attacked, arms waving. With the kids still freaking out, my voice echoed through the forest, “They’re just caterpillars!”
Within a couple of minutes, calm had been restored. Two little boys, who moments earlier were desperately trying to brush the creatures off of them, were now happy to have the future butterflies inch across their hands.
That seemed to do the trick. The boys are already talking about what creatures they might find on next weekend’s hike.
Maybe that’s the best part about being in the great outdoors: no matter how traumatizing your experience may be, you want to keep going back. That’s a good lesson for the boys to learn. Besides, their first experience could have been worse: they could have been attacked by a brain-eating squirrel.