Sunday, July 26, 2009
H-Monkey's first Off Map Backpack Trip
Since Hudson was six months of age, we've made one trip per month, just the two of us. Historically, our trips have been limited to day-runs. Locations we could make it to early enough to beat the crowds and home in time to tuck little ones into bed that night. We’ve done a few overnight trips, but opted to stay in public campgrounds close to the attraction and nothing too far away from amenities or emergency facilities. Backcountry trips with a little one requires a bit more planning than traditional -you and your buddies- going out to catch a couple troots. The extra effort is spent packing backup cloths, Dora The Explorer Band Aides, fruit snacks, Juice boxes(instead of beer), and favorite story time books. My minimalist mentality has pushed even further, in attempts to find ways to make my gear lighter and less to make room for the necessities listed in the previous sentence. Despite the sacrifices of personal comfort to ensure Hudson has what he needs, I couldn’t be happier to have him along.
This weekend was Hudson’s first off-map experience. Our plan was to head just north of the Hell’s Gate Wilderness made famous by one of Arizona’s most famous adventurists, Zane Grey. We would be skirting the area known as Hell’s Gate, but close enough to feel the hum of famous steps before us. The specific thread of life Hudson and I were headed to was ripe with overgrowth and well concealed to even the most seasoned of Southwestern Smallstream’ers. Remote, pristine, and packed with unbridled little brown trout, it was a perfect spot for a father and son weekend wilderness adventure.
Hudson was up and packed before the sun. His Diego backpack busting at the seams with fruit-cups, spoons, a plate, and at the very bottom of his bag a hair drier- all of his own packing. Mommy secretly replaced the contents of his backpack with his blanky and story time book before placing his gear into the car. Two hours later, Hudson was snoring in his car seat. We crested the town of Payson and the official entry point to the Mogollon Rim. The temperature had dropped from a scorching 95 degrees to a blissful 82 degrees, breezy and inviting. Pulling into the last grocery store before the final leg of our drive, I parked the car and went around to Hudson’s door. Unbuckling his seat, picking him up, and laying his head on my shoulder didn’t stir him at all. He awoke somewhere between the dairy section and isle of beer.
“It’s cold dad.” His little body shook in my arms, trying to shudder away the cold.
“Hey buddy, nice to see you back joining the living.” I kissed his head and got a nose full of Johnson and Johnson’s. “You want to walk buddy?” He was slipping down my body not waiting to reply.
“I want to hold your hand.” H reached up and cupped his whole hand inside my first three fingers.
Two isles later we had butter, a potato, an onion, carrots and tinfoil, everything we needed to make a little stream side dinner. It would be Hudson’s first taste of fish he caught himself. Also his first taste of taking life. Big items were going to be on the menu for this trip. On our way to the register isle I grabbed a 32 oz Silver bullet, figured there was room enough in my pack to squeeze one in.
I turned the car left onto a forest road, leaving paved highway behind. Hudson was on his eleveteenth rendition of Row-Row Your Boat, when I pulled over and stopped the car. Each and every time Hudson came to the word “Boat”, he would replace it with “Butt”. Ironic how funny it was every time for a guy of three. Equally amusing is how funny it was for one of thirty-three.
“We’re here buddy.” I jammed everything we needed into a 5800 cubic inch bag helped Hudson with his backpack and we marched off into the wilderness down a sand-rock strewn trail head.
Our trip would take us three miles in total off the trail head from where we parked. Hiking with Hudson has taught me that every ten minutes a break is needed and once per half an hour snack time. The frequent pit stops are fine with dad, taking the load off my back is welcome, only hard part is putting it back on after we’ve stopped. Hudson picked up a stick and we were now knights. Dragons around every corner, Hudson couldn’t be weighted down with his backpack anymore and it was handed off to me. Fully expected, I was thankful for mom’s repacking of his bag, it was much lighter then it could have been. Hudson ran ahead delivering a wide open can of whoop-ass on a fallen tree stump now serving as the King of all dragons.
A short while later we had reached the halfway mark, our campsite. A shady spot on the far side the bank carpeted with soft soil and pine needles we made camp. While dad sought after the administrative side of things, tent, fire, food etc. Hudson set up shop. No time to waste, my little guy is all about fishing. His first action was to pick out bugs. I kid you not, I had to pull him out of the stream from turning over rocks. The kid was looking for bugs. Even though he ended up choosing an Elk Hair Caddis, and was looking subsurface, he has the right idea. I figured if you have to explain to you three year old the water isn’t safe to go in without dad because he’s trying to figure out what to tie on to his line.. well let’s leave it at: I had to push back some tears. After retrieving H from the water he went to the bug box.
Hudson was chomping at the bit to get on the water so I skipped a couple things like collecting wood etc: We headed to the stream. At three feet tall stealth comes without trying. H walked up to the stream made three casts, hung up on the first two, dad came to rescue. The third, well his hook found dinner. Small streams can be tough for veteran anglers, so in efforts to help minimalist tangles and retying of tippet, I tie a loop around the reel with the line. This stops the fly line from going out more than four feet past the last guide, limiting Hudson’s reach of cast to four feet of fly line and about seven feet of leader to fly. It doesn’t stop all issues, but helps keep things moving along. Hudson learned to cast on a Fly-O so his normal cast is a pickup and lay down, no hauling or shooting line involved. We play a game to help him keep his patience and not pick up his fly and recast immediately. It’s not much, but I think it helps. I told Hudson we need to find the Fishy’s Home with the Fishy-Food. So when he casts his fly his goal is to let it float past rocks and the bubbly water where fish live. I know not much, but it allows him to focus enough attention on the fly and getting it into the right spots without ripping it off the surface before a fish can grab it.
More to come later: Hudson's first fish dinner (he caught himself) and lessons learned from a three year old.