Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Hammock Camping With Aidan

This past weekend, I was able to bring to completion some plans long held.  Looooong held.

With this being the first weekend after the completion of the Spring soccer season, I found on my hands a rare substance — free time.  Saturday morning I woke early, grabbed my hiking pack, and headed out to the Uwharrie National Forest.  I picked a trailhead that I'd visited once before (for just long enough to eat a granola bar and before making the return hike) but had never started at.  From the Tot Hill Farm Trailhead, I marched south on the Birkhead Mountain Trail toward Hannah's Creek.  But I made a last-minute decision to veer off and take a loop side-trail which was marked only as "Camp 3".  I'd not hiked this segment before.

It was a pleasant hike on a clearly less-traveled trail, but the most interesting bit for me was actually finding the camp site(s, plural, as there were two).  One particular site stood out immediately as the perfect spot for a hammock camping stay.  It featured a nice-sized clearing with an established fire pit just yards away from a natural creek (water means fire safety!) and with several mature trees perfectly spaced for at least six hammocks.  I popped up my own hammock and enjoyed the breezy day for a while before continuing my hike.  When it was all told, I'd hiked over 7 miles and felt like I'd found the hammock camping spot for which I'd been searching since Fall 2021.

And that's (at least in part) what I mean by "plans long held".  Nine months ago, my son Aidan and I started talking about camping somewhere with hammocks.  We bought the gear we needed and started scoping out locations.  But life got super busy with Fall soccer.  Then life got super chilly with Winter.  Then Spring soccer, and now AJ has his first job, and the world is rushing to fill everyone's time as an over-response to a slow pandemic year, and....  So the story of over-committed lives seems to go.  We had the gear and the inclination, but no time.

After Saturday's hike, I came home with a renewed sense of possibility.  Sunday was Father's Day, and I had intended to drive out to Denver, NC to hang out with my own dad after church.  But my girls both tested positive for COVID-19, which meant that it wasn't such a good idea to interact in person with my parents.  I enjoyed a 3-mile light local hike immediately after church with a friend.  But the timing seemed right (my company gave me Monday off in recognition of the Juneteenth holiday) and the weather was great, so I asked Aidan if he'd be okay with trying the hammock camping thing that evening.  And to my surprise, he was all in.

We packed up our gear and by 6pm were parked at the Tot Hill Farm Trailhead.  We repeated the hike I'd made the day prior, except we went clockwise around the camp loop instead of counter-clockwise.  By 7:15pm we'd reached the site (which I was thrilled to find empty) and started setting up camp — hanging the hammocks, gathering firewood, etc.  To my wonder, my fire started effortlessly, and as darkness started to close around us we sat by the fire and talked about a variety of things.  One feature of the site I'd noticed the previous day was that there was zero cellphone signal availability.  So in an age where we are constantly interrupted by technology, we found ourselves truly alone together.

It was about 10:30pm when we doused our fire and climbed into our hammocks.  We learned first-hand how challenging it is to wrestle with sleeping bags when trying to sleep on a curved surface.  (There's probably some trick to it; we just didn't know it!)  We learned how exposed one can feel sleeping in a hammock versus inside a tent — how you can hear absolutely everything yet see almost nothing.  We were super grateful for the built-in bug nets our hammocks offered.  We were amazed at how incredibly bright fireflies appear in the dark woods.  And eventually, we drifted off to sleep despite being hyper-aware and over-stimulated.

We woke early (as tends to happen outdoors), having each stirred multiple times through the night to adjust a sleeping bag or shift positions.  The sun had not yet lighted on our location when we climbed out of our packs, munched on Pop-Tarts and reflected on the evening.  But as we started packing things up again, the daylight intensified and aided visibility.  We hit the trail again around 6:30am, and arrived back at the trailhead around 8am, having successfully completed the mission we'd set for ourselves some nine months prior.

Long held plans.  But longer still for me.  This weekend brought parity that I needed to assuage a bit of parenting guilt.  You see, I'd taken AJ's older brother camping at Pilot Mountain a decade prior, and ever since that time it had bothered me that I wasn't able to offer the same one-on-one experience with Aidan.  This year — on Father's Day even — the combination of a lovely day, available time, a global pandemic, and an adventurous son resulted in some personal achievement, imbalances balanced, and valuable memories made.