Columnist Chris Erskine hikes eight miles into the wilderness with his… (Los Angeles Times )
My backpack is the size of a Honda Fit. It has 54 pockets, 27 zippers and a functioning spleen. It weighs as much as a 9-by-12 rug with a dead Soprano rolled up inside. To shed it at the end of a long hike is the sweetest thing imaginable.
We have backpacked eight miles into the wilderness, no world record but nothing to sneeze at either, eight miles straight up a broken escalator. Eight miles from the nearest bucket of ice or cheeseburger, medium rare. Me, I get too far from cheeseburgers and I start to panic a little, my breath coming in short, troubled bursts.
This isn't a vacation, it's a John Denver song.
I hate John Denver.
And now we're at this remote campsite, the most perfect spot you could ever imagine.
The ponderosa pine? God's whiskers. The trout in a nearby stream? So wild, so refreshingly stupid, they'll almost jump in your pocket.
I was just asking myself, "Could this possibly get any better?" when it starts to rain. Hello, front desk? Please send up a hotel room.
Oh, and then I find out I have to dig my own latrine.
But after the first day, we see no one, and when isn't that a blessing? Time slows. Smartphones go dumb. We chop firewood. Burn firewood. Chop some more.
Chopping wood warms you twice, someone once said. When you cut it, again when it burns.
Love this time of year. The way beer caps ting around my pants pockets with the car keys. The way dusk goes on and on and on.
And this backpacking trip is summer amplified, a five-hour hike straight up into the sky near June Lake, north of Mammoth.
By the time we arrive, there is a heat in my hips that I have never experienced, and my hamstrings are barking to go out.
And then I get to set up the two-person rental tent.
To see me set up a two-person rental tent for the first time is to witness a type of performance art rarely experienced outside New York or London. It's like watching a drunk get kicking mad at his $7 beach chair.
"There, that's it," I finally say.
"Dad, don't think so," says my son.
I try again. This time, a pirate ship.
Fortunately, there are only 400 possible combinations of tent stakes and Chinese nylon. Eventually, I assemble something resembling a two-man tent. It's a gift, really.
As is this three-day backpacking trip — my older son's idea.
After we pulled into the parking lot earlier in the day, he took off down Rush Creek Trail like a fighter jet. I followed, zigzagging up the side of this granite and slate Matterhorn with a 40-pound pack on my sweaty shoulders. Hey wait, hey wait. ...
My son supplies the route, packs the bear canister full of freeze-dried food.
Let me tell you, nothing enhances the flavor in food like freeze-drying it. The beef stew I have for dinner tastes like warm, shredded Levi's.
And determined to pack light, we forgo certain delicacies: morning coffee, an evening cigar. We also wish we'd brought a book or two. And a couple of beers to plop in the remaining patches of snow.
But it is the fireside cigar I miss most on this little trip. Normally a rich man's endeavor, smoking a cigar while fishing or camping is one of life's great small joys, two great flavors of braided smoke.
"Wish I had a cigar," I say.
"Dad, I think your shoe's burning," says my son.
Turns out chopping wood warms you thrice.
As darkness rolls in, so do thoughts of what's out there. Is the bear canister far enough away? Who left those carbine cartridges under a nearby rock? Is that a mule deer crashing through the shrubs or something more menacing?"
I shake my flashlight at the shadows. It's the kind of flashlight that you have to rattle a few times to get to work ... shake, shake, shake. What's with that? Shake, shake, shake. We can take the gluten out of a potato chip, the caffeine out of coffee, but we still can't make a flashlight with a light in it.
What a mother, nature.
Who needs it, right?
We all do.
Next week: Ex-paratrooper tackles coyote to save his cat. Really.