I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. Camping without running water or facilities? In a remote location in the mountains without other people for miles? I am no Cheryl Strayed; who chose to walk the Pacific Crest Trail solo for long stretches of time.
I dragged my feet hoping it would go away. Normally I enjoy travel and sightseeing; especially long road trips. As Memorial Day nears, each year, I itch to see the center lines blur on worn highways; headed to places near and far. I am thankful my family of five endure my excursions, my need to explore. Most people assume our trips are my husband’s idea. But it is usually I that chooses the location and works out the logistics. July 2016 is already booked.
This time it was out-of-my hands.
My father-in-law (FIL) has always had the prospector mentality within, since his early twenties. When my husband and his sister were young, their family of four went on month long vacations into the wilderness with a trailer purchased in 1974 to pan for gold. The years flew by as work and life took precedence. But it has always been my FIL’s desire to live “off grid” and mine for gold. In retirement he chose to demolish and upgrade their trailer from years past. Late last fall he arrived at our family business with a deed in-hand. He was the official owner of a mining claim.
We knew it was coming, the hubs and his sister, as winter turned to spring. It was my FIL’s desire to camp in the wilderness for a family vacation. It is back-breaking work and manual labor; to mine for gold. Our nephew took his turn in aiding his grandparents in late spring. This time it was ours. We met at our rendezvous point ten hours away from our homes. And then we followed the trailer as it slowly ascended into the mountains. The rear tire of the trailer was punctured as the FIL navigated his way down towards the creek. The guys pushed boulders out of the dirt road’s path and used chainsaws to clear tree branches. How are they going to get out of here?
Upon arrival the hubs carried away the portable toilet. My in-laws graciously allowed me access to their trailer bathroom but the boys enjoyed being in the great outdoors; particularly the hubs. It was a beautiful setting and very remote. What better place to commune with our natural environment? I shuddered as I snapped the shot. The Repel spray with 40% DEET was a prized commodity and the parfum of choice to ward away the mosquitoes.
The idea was to get away. To unplug. To do. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.
It all sounds good, the idea of disappearing into the wilderness and letting nature have its way. Our sons tried not to look bored and I quickly realized that most of our camping excursions are in national or state parks with many scenic hiking trails and famous landmarks. Our site consisted of a small creek with lots of trees. It took five minutes, each way, for our sons to explore the creek banks. They truly had nothing to do. The teenagers disappeared into tents, instead; to sleep in the middle of the day. The FIL and hubs worked on repairing the punctured tire. They chopped wood for our fire with chainsaws and axes. They carried equipment down to the creek bed: winches, chains, shovels, buckets, the Keene dredge, sluice box, motor and various filters. When Grandma suggested the boys explore the culvert (large drainage pipe) I sent them off with my camera. They quickly returned and told me to come with them. With hand-held CBs, off we went to explore the larger pool beyond.
It was as I stood on a rock in the pond beyond the culvert, with a shivering dog, that my mind finally accepted where I was. The teens explored along the banks and I gazed at the trees overhead. I could continue to be an observer of my surroundings or I could consciously choose to be a participant in the untamed natural beauty around me. I watched the clear water turn cloudy with ochre dust; the sounds of mining from upstream mixing gravel and silt. I needed to embrace it.
My mind cleared as the water clouded; just as it did when I recently participated in a mud run. I laughed out loud and the boys looked at me questioningly. Has Mom finally lost her mind? My bodily-kinesthetic/ADD tendencies make it hard for me to do nothing. Shivering in the cold water I knew what I was going to do.
I, too, would learn to mine for gold and burn calories during the process.
Eventually all the boys joined their Dad and Grandfather over the next few days. They shoveled, they dumped and sorted rocks. They carried buckets and placed shovels full of gravel and sand into the dredge. It was a lot of physical work and, surprisingly, we weren’t bothered by it. At the end of our four days I was sad to leave my in-laws; who remain for another week. We departed from their gold mining site on their 49th wedding anniversary. The punctured tire was fixed and on the trailer with enough patches to get them back to a town, thirty miles away.
The manual labor in the cold water actually brought warmth to my core. But most importantly, it brought warmth to a more vital place: the heart. It was a gift, for the only child with deceased parents, to see the ties that bind continue to strengthen amongst three generations of males. Would any of my boys or hubs choose to do this on their own? No. Probably not.
It was a labor of love; the most important lesson of life. More priceless than the elusive gold.
I place a check-in-the-box.