On the Trail: Never forget the bug juice
July 11, 2005
“I wish I was an alien so the mosquitoes wouldn’t want to drink my blood.”Those were the words of my 6-year-old son, some 18 hours into his first backpacking trip last weekend. Daddy had forgotten the bug repellent, so despite nearly everything going our way – good weather, panoramic views, a variety of wildflowers, solitary camp on an alpine lake – this trip will likely linger in Billy’s fragile mind as an epic battle (to an itchy stalemate?) against the bloodsuckers.When we left the house, I thought I really had it together. On the advice of a friend I saw at the grocery store, I’d brought a bag of jellybeans to help ensure my son’s forward progress. I’d made a list of all the forgettable essentials and pored over it multiple times.Never mind that we left the house after 1 p.m., never mind that the first raindrops hit the windshield before we’d even reached Ruedi Reservoir – at least the novice would be happy in camp. There’s nothing worse than a backcountry novice who doesn’t have everything he needs in camp.Of course, Billy found a few things to complain about before we’d traveled the 4.5 miles and 2,200 or so vertical feet to Josephine Lake.The gentle rain, believe it or not, didn’t bother him. It kept him cool and he liked the impromptu waterfalls and mud puddles. But the waist strap on his pack pushed his pants down and our progress, of course, seemed painfully slow:”Dad, when are we gonna be there?””Ten hours. Exactly 10 hours.””DAAAD! Stop it!””OK, I don’t know. Just enjoy the walk. Hey – look at that pterodactyl!””[Long sigh] Can I have another jellybean?”In the end, it took us three and a half hours. Not bad for a first-time backpacker and his sarcastic old man. We had the lake to ourselves and enjoyed hot chocolate at sunset.The next morning, we hiked a nearby peak and enjoyed spectacular views of the entire Elk Range. The brisk wind up on the ridges was actually a bonus, since it drove the mosquitoes into hiding.Oh, yeah. Did I leave out the part about the mosquitoes? They were relentless. Ate us alive. Poked us full of holes and left us scratching like victims of some all-body rash out of the “X Files.” It was a bloodbath.But I’m hoping Billy will just remember the good stuff. So never, ever remind my kid that his daddy forgot the bug juice on his first backpacking trip.