Up until my early 30s, vacations for this Southern-bred woman meant sipping mint juleps in a New Orleans courtyard, lounging poolside at one of Florida's posh resorts, or exploring the historic treasures of Williamsburg.
My one experience with the great outdoors and camping had netted poison ivy misery from head to toe, accompanied by a scratching pain that only subsided when my grandfather soaked me in Clorox water. My biggest mountain adventure came from driving the gentle back of the Blue Ridge and Appalachians.
Loved changed all that.
Thanks to a new life with a mountain-man husband, three adventurous stepchildren and the soaring backdrop of the High Sierras, vacations now mean two weeks above 10,000 feet...frost on sleeping bags...alpine meadows...frigid cascades and frozen lakes...beef jerky and granola... shooting stars, simplicity and solitude.
We've circled the headwaters of the Kern, climbed Mt. Whitney, scuttled across fallen timber to cross swollen creeks, and sautéed wild onions to flavor the rainbow, golden and cut-throat trout Bill catches so effortlessly.
Effortless. Easy. Hah! When a delicate gardenia like me hooked up with this family of Ponderosa pines (including stature), there ain't anything that's easy.
The argyles and fuchsia knee-highs were dumped along with jogging shoes that carried me into my first foray into Mineral King. Blisters on top of blisters forced the acquisition of the world's ugliest (and thickest) woolen socks. By the end of a day's march, dirt fills the top ridges of these beauties and heat rash rises from where under-liner sock and wool never meet. Of course, by the time you've added two weeks worth of hair to your legs that are accustomed to DAILY visits with a razor, romance is definitely NOT in the air.
And then there are "the rules", instituted, proclaimed, engraved on the lips, and uttered ad naseum by Bill and his brood.
"Bears never go above 10,000 feet".
"So like they read? And how do you explain the hungry duo hiking out yesterday from 11,000 feet BECAUSE bears ate their food." All I get are shrugs, sighs, and comments about the literacy level of omnivores.
"Bears can be scared away with sudden noise".
"Oh yeah! Then how come the ranger who caught up with us and warned about the mother and two cubs looked at me like I was a deranged idiot when I brightly perked up and said we'd just bang on our pots!" All I get is a shake of the head and a caution to keep my eyesight glasses close to my sleeping bag. I sleep with my glasses on.
"Ants go to bed at 8:00 p.m."
"Sez who? How come we watched a column of those mighty mights take off with a piece of pita bread by moonlight?" No answer. They ask if I was wearing my glasses.
"Suffering is good for the soul."
"Now I went to Catholic school and figure that 12 years in non air-conditioned Florida classrooms has given me my share of you-know-what. Who needs more suffering?" The middle child bends down, pats my head, and trudges off in ten-league boots across a boulder-strewn field while I gingerly plant my size five foot and puny ankles into whatever toe hold I can find.
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