** I’ve been so busy heading out onto the trails, lakes, and rivers this summer that I haven’t taken time to write about them. As the summer heats up and I’m keeping my little guys indoors more, I can finally sit down and tell some tales.**
I started this in the last blog, but our 20-mile float began with just a little overnight drop camping. Momma and Bogie wanted to sleep in their own beds, so Saturday found us just playing and swimming in the river right there at the Woolum access. I brought my big cast-iron skillet and we cooked brats on a campfire, soaked in just enough water to keep ‘em from burning. Then we cooked turkey burgers in what can only be described as “brat gravy.” Afterwards, the boys toasted marshmallows while we dug out the graham crackers. I’d already left the chocolate bars out in the sun so that each little package now is full of melted Hershey bar. Use the scissors on your Leatherman to snip the corner off and you have a backpacker’s piping bag of gooey chocolate. I ain’t no girl scout, but that’s how we do smores in my wilderness bistro. (When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll flip the cast-iron skillet over and toast the graham crackers on the bottom while the fire cleans out the inside.)
Sunday morning, we woke up and waved good-bye to Kat’s wife and youngest. Hauled the canoes down to the river and set off. This was Bear Bait’s first serious float. A couple of years back he sat in the middle of a canoe while Momma and I took him down a gentle creek. Now, though, he sat in the front – paddle in hand – all swole up with the pride and importance leading the canoe. His buddy, Kit, was sharing a canoe with his daddy, Kat, and his grandmother . . . oh, let’s calls her Harley. Her story isn’t mine to tell, but that is one amazing woman. Was her first time joining us on an excursion, but I hope not the last. From Bear Bait’s perspective, see, only grown-ups sat at the front and back of the canoe. To his credit, he didn’t hold that over his little buddy. (Nor did it seem that Kit particularly wanted to swap roles with Bear Bait.)
The first day was nice and easy. The river was very low, the temperature very hot. I saw more snakes than I expected, but the boys were real careful and on the look-out. Good Daddy protocol dictated that we stop at every swimming hole and jumping rock we could find. You’d think that would slow us down, but Kat and I paddle like we hike so it wasn’t so much a float trip as it was a paddle furiously & swim trip. Somewhere about a mile or two shy of Baker’s Ford we broke away from any other canoes and felt like we had the whole river just to ourselves. The boys were getting hungry for second-lunch when I glimpsed what looked like a clearing behind some thick brush choking a rock bar. We pulled the canoes up and let Harley watch the boys swim while we explored a bit. Sure enough, just past a concealing tangle of summer growth was a wide-open area. Enough big trees in a semi-circle to accommodate all the hammocks! It was an area that looked to spend a good part of the year underwater – so the floor was nothing but smooth stones clear of undergrowth. We were maybe 20-30 yards from the river. The day was still early, but we were concerned about going too far that first day and running out of river before we ran out of vacation. It was a pretty easy decision to call it a day at 2:00.
Didn’t take long to unload the canoes and string up the hammocks. The boys immediately found thousands of tiny shells butterflied open and scattered amidst the rocks. By the time we called them over to reapply sunscreen, each one of them had stuffed their swimsuit pockets with shells so that they bulged out and crunched when they walked. Because they were afraid to lose their treasures, I ended up giving each one a zip-lock bag to hold the shells while they swam.
The next five hours were spent swimming, splashing, and hurling laughing boys into the deeper parts of the water. Our swimming area was a wide, nearly still section that was maybe 2-3’ deep for the first half and a sudden drop-off to at least 6’ deep on the far end. We played like we were trying to fit all summer in a day. When we tired of swimming, we taught the boys how to skip rocks and had contests that ended in raucous celebrations and my daddy can beat your daddy challenges of manliness. When we tired of skipping rocks, we waded out to try and find the perfect skippers now resting on the bottom of the river. How can anything in life be better than that?
When we finally pulled ourselves away to eat, the boys scarfed down hot dogs and fist-sized marshmallows (sometimes even pausing long enough to cook them first). We then took one last swim before drying them off and getting them into pajamas. To get those boys to settle down and go to sleep, Kat told stories from his days in the military and I offered a few sanitized escapades from my own youth. We talked about some of our first experiences out in the wilderness – which for both of us was in early adulthood. The boys were so intent on hearing us tell stories that we had the opposite of our intended effect. It took them about an hour, but eventually they eased into that groggy half-sleep of children caught between the reluctance to let go of the day and excitement for what tomorrow will bring. With all of us swaying in the hammocks and the sun reluctantly easing down for the night, little did I know that the real fun was only getting started.