Story Time with Sean – Backpacking

I can’t believe I let my dad convince me to do this. We’re on the third hour of this seemingly eternal drive away from civilization. Mountains and forests are all I can see for miles and miles. “We’re almost there!” my dad excitedly exclaims. He’s happy because his city boy son finally decided to brave the great outdoors with him. Backpacking. That’s what we’re up to. Even as we pull into the parking lot for the trailhead, I still cannot wrap my head around how hiking miles and miles up a mountain with a 60 pound pack on my back and spending a few nights in the forest is supposed to be fun.

Here we are though. At the foot of the mountain. It’s early. It’s cold. The ground is pretty damp from snowmelt. I haven’t got much optimism at this point. I admit, it is awfully peaceful and beautiful, but it’s not the kind of place I’d care to be for more than a few hours. But here I am, trying to make my dad happy. We strap in, and start to make our way uphill.

The backpack isn’t all that bad. 60 pounds seems like a lot, especially when just a few books in my school backpack would weigh me down like no other. But the backpack I’ve got comes with much more back support, so the 60 pounds doesn’t seem heavy at all. My fears of being unable to make it up the mountain are starting to go away. Well, until the trail just disappears off the face of the earth. My dad seems unfazed as he just starts cutting his own path up the mountain. I see a couple of other people making it up the mountain doing the exact same thing, so I guess it’s just standard practice to blaze your own trail when one fades away.

As we’re slogging our way up the slippery rocks and loose gravel that make up the side of this mountain, I hear “Is that Sean Harris?” The world is truly a small place. Coming down the mountain is three of my high school friends with their own fathers. Yes, this moment of random is really happening. We have a quick little conversation full of surprise and “what the heck are you doing here?”, and with a few parting words they’re back to heading down and we’re back to heading up. To this day, it still amazes me that I ran into some high school friends on some random mountain in the middle of nowhere more than a hundred miles away from where we all lived.

Up and up we went until the ground finally leveled out and we ended up on a trail through the forest. It really is beautiful and serene here, with the forest canopy creating almost a tunnel effect on the trail we’re on. The fresh greens of spring are bright as ever. Eventually, we reach what we’ve been looking for. The Loch Levin lakes. Picture a perfect landscape in your mind, and this view was ten times better. It’s the kind of view that I normally saw only on post cards. The lake was colored this serene shade of blue, and there was this island right smack in the middle of it covered with trees. The mountains behind the lake were covered in the deepest green layer of trees, and there was barely a cloud in the sky. If I were a nature photographer I’d be wetting my pants at this point. Maybe coming out on this trip wasn’t a bad idea at all. Me and my dad found a flat spot near the edge of the lake, and we set up camp.

The sun’s beating down pretty hard. There’s no way for me to know what time it is, but the sun directly overhead tells me that it’s time for a swim. Especially with me being all sweaty from hiking up a mountain with that backpack on. I thought it’d be refreshing, especially since I was pretty tired from the hike. I decide to let my Dad finish up setting up camp while I take a swim in the lake. I quickly get down into my swim trunks, and make my way over to the lake. I tip toe my way into the water, letting my body get used to the cold before finally letting myself fall in fully and accepting the cold in one swoop. That island out in the middle of the lake seems pretty inviting, so I start making my way out there. Arm over arm, kick kick kick. Look sideways to breathe. Swimming just like how I learned. I start feeling fatigued much quicker than I thought I would. I look up and the island is still at least 50 feet away. I could barely hold myself above water at this point, and my muscles weren’t paying attention to me at all anymore. They’re burning so badly that the cold of the water means nothing at all to them. I realized then that I wasn’t going to make it to the island. I gave up.

Hitting the bottom of the lake happened much faster than I thought it would. My head had just barely gotten swallowed by the surface of the lake. Maybe I’m not in as much trouble as I think I am. I hop up off the bottom of the lake and there I am above water again. This looks like it’ll work. A couple leaps forward and that island is looking closer and closer. Finally, I can stand on the bottom of the lake with my head above water. Drowning avoided by blind luck. I’ll take it. The island feels like paradise. It even has a tiny little beach to it. I lie down in the sand and relax and let sleep come and get me. I wake up who knows how long later to the sound of my dads muffled yells from shore. Can’t have slept too long. The sun looks like it’s in the same spot I left it before. At least now I feel refreshed and ready to take on the lake once more. Not taking any chances this time around, I walk my way out to the farthest point I can, then swim my way back to shore. No problems at all this time. I decide to keep my near drowning experience a secret from my Dad, because why make him worry.

The rest of the day is spent doing a little more hiking up the mountains, exploring the rest of the lake, and reading a book under the setting sun. Night comes and brings clouds along with it. Rain comes soon after, and the constant tapping of water drops on the outside of our tent let me know that it’s here to stay all night. It’s pretty easy to fall asleep with the sound of rain all around.

“Ahh fuck”. My Dad’s exclamation is the first thing I hear that morning. I sit up from bed and hear water splash around. Wait, why is there water splashing? It takes my brain a second to figure out what’s happening. We’re flooded. There must have been a leak in the bottom of our tent, because I’ve apparently woken up in about 2 inches of water. Our sleeping bags kept us dry all night, so nobody noticed until my Dad woke up. Yeah, we can’t do this another night. Everything but ourselves is soaked through. No way we can stay here, especially when it looks like more clouds are getting ready to start rolling in. So we pack up and wring out whatever water we can from our belongings. The trek back is even scarier going downhill. Everything is slick as ice. We do as much sliding downhill as we do walking. Finally, the parking lot shows itself in the distance.

We made it back.



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