I love camping.
My parents went on a camping trip for their honeymoon. They toted us kids along on their adventures from day one, and their love for nature rubbed off on us. As a baby, I hung out in a playpen on the banks of various rivers and lakes while my folks caught dinner. I spent much of my childhood exploring the great outdoors, barefoot and getting dirty. I slept in tents or trailers all over the country, snuggled into my sleeping bag. The smell of a campfire comforts me. The gurgle of a creek, preferably accompanied by crickets, is my favorite lullaby. And nothing beats waking up to the smell of a hearty camp breakfast already in the works.
John is something of a mountain man. He splits wood with an ax just like my Dad (flexing and all), and makes an awesome campfire (teepee then log cabin). He enjoys the process of setting up a perfect camp space, tending the fire, grilling food to perfection. He can spend hours fishing on the river. He strums the guitar by firelight and points out different stars. He loves camping, too. Which is one of the reasons I love him.
Warmer weather is finally here to stay, and we’d been excitedly anticipating our first trip of the year in Betty. Being Cholula’s first camp experience, we thought two nights somewhere close to home would be perfect. John pulled out the map books and located a few options within 2 hours’ drive. We spent the week giving the trailer a spring cleaning, dusting off winter’s gloom, stocking the pantry, checking the tires. We were ready.
(As a quick side note, sometimes having a puppy really feels like having a toddler. The amount of STUFF we packed for Cholula equaled or surpassed what we brought for ourselves. We took the Boy Scout motto of ‘always be prepared’ to a new level.)
We had a brief moment of fear that Cholula would hate camping. Then we saw this.
And away we went.
Cholula is only 6 months old, and very much still a baby. That said, she’s upwards of 45 pounds. That’s a lot of ‘baby’ to handle. We set her up in the back seat and that worked well, for about ten minutes.
We were a tad early for camping at 8000 feet, but the aspens were starting to get green and the weather was ideal. Reggae on the stereo, John singing along, 45 pounds of puppy in my lap- it was a lovely drive.
We crossed our fingers that the campgrounds would be open. They weren’t. Mill Hollow, Wolf Creek, Aspen Grove, Iron Mine- gated and locked. We were too early for established sites to be open for the season. But we had the comfort of Betty, no matter where we landed, so we searched for a good spot to settle in for the next two nights. We found it near a campground called Hades. (I told myself that was NOT foreshadowing.)
We’ve spent a lot of time in this 13-foot cottage on wheels. I joke that extended periods of time with your significant other in a space so tiny is either going to make or break your relationship. Luckily, John and I travel well together and make a great team. We have a system that has evolved over time to set up camp. We pour a drink and cheers each other. Then I take care of the inside, setting up our living space with all of our creature comforts.
John takes care of the outside, which includes the camp, fire, coolers (our food and beverage fridge), water jugs.
Cholula discovered her version of Heaven.
With home base all set, we took advantage of the remaining daylight and took a walk to the river. John threw a few casts with his fly rod while Cholula learned she is part fish. There was nothing but quiet around us, aside from the sound of the river or a frog’s ‘ribbit’ here and there.
Tummies growling, we headed back to camp. We were treated to a fantastic light show in the sky as the sun slowly bid us adieu for the day.
If there’s something John and I do well on the road, it’s FOOD. We both love to eat. We both love to cook. We don’t do the basic can of chili or burritos or pre-made burgers that are standard camp food. We eat just as well as when we’re home- sometimes better. This trip, we opted to keep it pretty simple: John’s gourmet cheeseburgers one night and a tortellini pasta dish with fresh veggies and grilled sausages the next. Cholula supervised while John got the fire going.
Some parts of the process intrigued her more than others.
I prepped the burger fixings and salad by the light of a mini lantern, then sat toasty and content near the fire while dinner cooked.
Our first night of camping a happy success, we adjourned for a good night’s sleep. Cholula slept on the floor in the trailer for most of the night, but rest assured that when 7am rolled around, her ears popped up as if to say, “Hi, guys! It’s ME! Time for morning cuddles!” Up she came onto the bed for this routine.
We slept late, taking advantage of the cloudy morning and extra furball providing warmth. French-pressed coffee is one of the great joys of camping for me. I sat in the sun, soaking in the view and playing ball with my happy hound, while John created something magical in the tiny kitchen.
Cholula’s bacon radar went off and I was abandoned. Brunch was served: frittata sandwiches with bacon, cheddar and avocado.
We spent the day lazily exploring, more fishing, reading in the sunshine, enjoying the good time Cholula was having in this new world. Happy hour snacks came early, dinner by candlelight was tasty. The bed beckoned, outfitted with a featherbed, cushioned mattress cover, jersey sheets and freshly cleaned sleeping bags. Our attempt to convince Cholula to sleep on the floor again failed, so we all snuggled in and ended another fantastic day.
On Saturday, we packed up quickly, knowing our time at Camp Hades was ending. We were quiet on the drive home, thinking of our perfect two days, puppy in lap, music filling the cab. I thought about Betty, who was brand new in 1966 but has probably housed the exact same scenario for the last 46 years. Back then, someone prepped dinner on that table. Someone fried up deliciousness on that stove. Someone happily devoured a meal by candlelight, cheers-ing their loved one after a day in the mountains. Something about that idea- multiple generations enjoying a weekend just like mine in my trailer- makes me love Betty even more.
Home is always a welcome sight after being away. But the snippet of summer fun we experienced was planted in our memories, and we started talking about our next trip that night.
If this was a preview of what’s to come, we’ve got quite a summer ahead!