While other folks planned to grill meat products, drink alcohol products, and light off gunpowder products for 4th of July, we packed up the car with our camping gear and headed for the woods. If you don’t live in Portland or Oregon, you might not realize that summer 2010 has not yet arrived. When I booked our campsite way back in JANUARY, I figured it would be sunny and warm at the beginning of July. But, no. Clouds. Lows in the 40s. Rain all day Friday. Perfect camping weather.
Camp Creek is, without a doubt, my favorite “local” campground. This was our third trip to Camp Creek in a year (other trips here and here). It’s an easy hour drive up Route 26. It’s not far off the highway, but the sites are right on top of Camp Creek, (last year, I mistakenly thought it was the Zigzag River, and that just led to an hour of futile googling and wikipeding) so all you hear is the babbling brook and wind in the trees. The campground feels decidedly “in the woods.” All of the sites are private and well spaced. It does not feel like “camping in a parking lot,” as we have experienced in other places. I fricken love Camp Creek.
Rain, remember? It had been raining all day. It was forecast to clear up, but I was just resigned being damp. Damp is the opposite of a lovely word. Damp is unpleasant. Damp is damp. But it was all part of being rustic and outdoorsy and adventurous. It was raining when we arrived and began unpacking the car. We set up our big, awkward, semi-broken canopy over the picnic table. I began unfolding our tent in the rain and I heard Dave ask a question that made my stomach sink.
“Where are the tent poles?”
Um. I did not pack them. He didn’t remember packing them either. Everything is so thrown together, how could we bring the tent, without the poles? Right? They had to be in the car somewhere. But we had a sinking feeling. We looked in all the bags and boxes. No tent poles.
It was raining. We had just driven in rush hour traffic to get out of town. It would take an hour to go home. An hour to get back.
And by the way, WOW, how dumb could we be? We’re usually pretty smug about how smart we think we are, and for the most part, it is well justified. But forgetting the poles to our tent? Wicked dumb. We were too dumbfounded to even blame each other. Wow. Dumb. Standing in the rain, with our mouths hanging open. Der.
I figured maybe one of the little stores on 26 would have tents, and if not, I could drive 20 miles back to Sandy. I left Dave to get a fire started and prep dinner. There is no cell service in the woods, so I couldn’t let him know if I was going to be 15 minutes or an hour. It was still raining.
I hopped in the car and started driving back down the hill. After three miles or so, I stopped at a little market off route 26. It had groceries, a wall of DVDs to rent, and a small nook with fishing and camping supplies. And they had tents! What luck! Just a small dome tent, and absurdly overpriced, but I was not in a position to be choosy. They also had patch kits for air mattresses, something that big giant Fred’s didn’t have. Mom and Pop mountain shop saved the damn day.
I turned around and headed back to camp. I stopped in and chatted with the camp host. I shared my little tent story, because if there is anything I’m good at, it’s sharing my embarrassments. I bought some firewood from her and pulled back into our campsite. We set up our new little tent. It was tiny. It claimed to be a three person tent, but I’d have to say any three people would have to be ‘awfully familiar” to share this little tent. Our full sized air mattress took all the floor space, and we couldn’t stand up in it. But you know what? It had fricken poles.
Still raining. We made ourselves a roaring fire and cooked stuffed onions and potatoes in the dutch oven. It was damn good. After eating and cleaning up, we put almost everything back in the car. We positioned our canopy over our little tent as extra protection against the rain. And it rained all night. We heard it tapping away on the canopy. It wasn’t a bad sound to fall asleep to.
Camping is super fun, but camping in the rain is questionable. We are still in the woods, and we still don’t have electricity, so no computers and no phones. We still get to cook food and poke at the fire. We still get to sleep outside next to a river. But I won’t lie: Rain makes camping a pain in the ass. This trip made us think harder about outdoorsy alternatives. Getting a Westy. Or a trailer. Or buying a cabin. We are thinking hard about all of these options.
By the time morning arrived, the rain had stopped. We have a hard time sleeping late when when the sun comes up. And when you have to trek a few hundred yards to get to the pit toilet (another reason to get a cabin). We were up at 6:30 am. We had three cups of coffee each, and a breakfast of ham, eggs, fried potatoes (left over from the night before) and biscuits baked in the dutch oven. It was about twice the amount of food we’d eat at home. But we ate every morsel. I figured we were burning calories by shivering, right?
For this trip, we wanted to see if Lolo Pass was open. Lolo Pass is a remote fire road that winds by the mountain on the west side. We had wanted to try this road last time we camped near Mt Hood, but the pass was washed out and maybe still snowy.
This time, we figured we’d go as far as we could. If we could make it all the way to Hood River, we’d get lunch.
The road wended under high tension wires that buzzed and crackled. Because we are smart, we figured the electricity was coming from the gorge, and that meant we were going in the right direction. This road was very remote. We passed maybe two cars over the course of our drive. It was mostly one lane, with some steep drops and patched washouts. It eventually turned to gravel and we crept along at 20 miles per hour.
It was still mostly cloudy, but it got brighter as we headed north and east. I kept craning my neck to see glimpses of Mt Hood, which Dave enjoyed on our treacherous road.
Eventually, the road dumped out onto a smooth state road. It was bright and sunny. We drove through Hood River Valley, which is gorgeous, and parked the car in downtown Hood River.
Now it was blazingly sunny. We walked around downtown Hood River in our layers of smudged and smoky camp clothes. Other people were tanned and showered and wearing shorts. A crowd of people sat at an outdoor cafe showing the Spain v Paraguay game. There was a Saturday Market with a live band. Wind surfers oscillated in the breeze on the river below. Seriously, Hood River is a breezy, sunny, beautiful fairy wonderland.
Saturday Market, below.
Fricken adorable alpacas at the Saturday market.
Look at these guys! They were sweet and gentle and had big brown eyes and they don’t care about their giant heads and ridiculous haircuts. They just want love, man.
LOOK AT THEM!
We got lunch at Full Sail Brewing. It was good. We walked around town for a bit and enjoyed the sunshine and warmth. We wondered again why we bother to camp west of the Cascades. We got back in the car, got some gas and some groceries, then headed back over Lolo Pass. From this distance, Mt Hood was above the clouds in the full sun. We hoped to get some photos as we got closer. But as we entered the foothills, the clouds socked in like a shroud at the base of the mountain. The temperature dropped 25 degrees. I felt like swamp people retreating back to our lair.
At least it wasn’t raining. And we got a few patches of sun.
This was where we spent most of our time.
Even with the rain, it’s still pretty worth it.
We relaxed for a bit and drank some wine in front of the fire while our homemade chili bubbled away in the dutch oven. The campground was full, but we didn’t really notice. There was an acre of space between us and our nearest neighbor. You’d never know it was 4th of July weekend. I slept the sleep of the righteous that night.
Dave had to work on Monday. And we can really only go two days in the woods without showering. We followed our usual routine and packed up camp. But not before a mighty camp breakfast.
RRRAAAWR! Look at that! The most amazing camp breakfast ever! It was goddamned American! The best 4th of July ever!
We’ll all just forget about that whole “forgetting the tent poles” thing.