Sunday, April 22, 2012

Remembering Dad

My dad died a little over a year ago. April 15th was his birthday; never had a problem remembering his birthday, it fell on tax day every year.

Dad and Lou and I made a habit of getting together once a year when dad started getting a little older. We wanted to have fun together, and add to our collection of shared experiences. Boy, do we have some good memories.

Well, true confessions. Dad had to get both his knees replaced. We blew 'em out in Colorado. Hadn't planned on it, but that's what happened. If you're gonna blow your knees out, do it in Colorado - no better place for it.

Anyway, it was the summer of 1990. I met Dad and Lou at Stapleton International Airport (it was still Stapleton back then) with all their backpack gear. We rented a car, drove to a little flea-bag motel in Glenwood Springs, planning to hit the trail the next day.

"What's that?" I said, pointing to a coffee pot sitting in Lou's stuff on the bed in the motel. We had all our gear out, loading up the packs. Dad never knew it, but Lou and I managed to keep most of the weight out of Dad's pack. After all, he was 67 years old; Lou and I were just a couple of young bucks.

"It's a coffee pot," Lou said, emphasizing it like, duh, can't you see?

"Yeah, and it's not goin'. Too much weight. I've got instant coffee," I replied. I considered myself the backpacking expert, which was a little preposterous, since Lou was the one who taught me how.

"It's goin'."

"No, it's not, Lou. Too much weight!" I insisted.

Lou looked up from his packing, fixed his eyes on mine, and said quietly, "If it doesn't go, I don't go. And not only that, this pound of coffee's going, too. I'm not drinking that stuff," he said, pointing at my little bag of instant. Well, Lou didn't say, 'stuff', he's got a different lexicon, but you got the picture.

I know my big brother. And I knew with that quiet, calm, comment he just made, this was a battle I wasn't going to win. Okay, Lou.

Since we're talking about coffee (how did we get on this subject?), let me say a word about the dive we stayed in that night. They offered continental breakfast. Yeah, right. It amounted to a banana and a cup of coffee, and the serving area was slightly smaller than a phone booth.

Wait, that's an anachronism, isn't it? If you're under thirty, you probably don't even know what a phone booth is. Hmm, what's a similar size? Okay: the serving area had about the same square footage as a porta-potty, and roughly the same appeal.

Anyway, I poured myself a cup of coffee in one of those little styrofoam cups, and when it was full, I could still see down to the bottom of the cup. Think water with a drop of brown food coloring.

We ate at MacDonalds.

So on to the trailhead in the Flattops Wilderness Area. We could not wait to hit the trail.

Dad needed a little help getting mounted up. He was no neophyte. He'd done a great deal of camping, including from horseback. But it took him a bit to get used to his pack.

This is my big brother. We were ready for a great trip. He was carrying the coffee pot. And the real coffee. And the sugar.

I had my little ziplock of Instant. Could have saved myself the weight. Never did use that instant coffee. Haven't since. Can't abide by the stuff.

Guess I learned a little bit more about backpacking from Lou: there's some weight that doesn't count--you just bring it. Amen, bro!

We weren't lost. You don't get lost walking up to Marvine Lakes from the trailhead. If you do, you'd better just stay home.

Reminds me of a little story. Was recruiting a group of fathers and sons for a backpack trip. Used to take folks on "backpacking Bible studies" in the Rockies. Anyway, I was giving the group my bona fides, and explaining my experience, how many hundreds of trail miles I had under my boots. Voice from the back of the room piped up, "shoulda been half that; he keeps getting lost!"

Thank you, Dave Linebaugh. Dave should know. Went on every trip I led. Dear brother in Christ. Great friend. Prone to saying embarrassing things about me, though.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. We weren't lost. Just having a little, ah, map discussion.

Here's dad. Want to guess what he's saying?

Wait  . . .  wait . . . are you ready for it?

"Chris, are we almost there yet?"

No, Dad, we've got some streams to cross, and a few miles to go. We wound up camping at a spot halfway to the lakes. Don't want to shoot our whole wad in one day.

Lou and I fixed supper while dad got some fishing in. Interesting role reversal. We told Dad what time to be back, and told him not to be late. We both remembered times camping in New Mexico in the late fifties early sixties when Dad was saying that to us.

Louie wound up having to go hunt him down. He was having too much fun fishing.

We had coffee that night. Real coffee. They were very kind, and shared it with me. You've not had a cup of coffee till you're sitting on a log at 8000 feet elevation, with coyotes crooning down the valley, the air at a snappy 45 degrees, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and under a sky of diamonds in black velvet, moon rising over a ridge to the east. Oh, my.

Next day we mounted up and resumed our little stroll in the woods.

Have you ever forded a stream fed by snow melt? You've got to be real careful, because when you first step in it, after about a minute in the ice water it feels like someone's clobbering your shins with a club. You endure a few minutes where your legs feel ready to collapse.

Here's what I do. Take your pack off, and put your fording shoes on. Step in the stream and stay put until the pain is too much to bear. Step back out (and if you're smart, you've already picked some nice spot to sit down, because you will sit down, like it or not). Wait until the pain has subsided, then mount up and cross the stream. You'll be fine. If you don't do this, you could wind up going down mid-stream. Then you're going to be really cold. Not to mention wet.

Finally we arrive at the lower end of Marvine lakes. Dad is like a cat watching a bird through a screen window. He's even making some of the same noises. Just can't wait to get a line in the water. Well, brother Lou and I know Dad. If we cut him loose, there are gonna be trout for dinner.

You go fish, dad, we'll set up camp.

Sure enough. Dad comes back with a limit. He's happy. We're happy. What a special time this is! What a special memory!

When we first arrived there was a horse camp several hundred yards away, but they pulled out, and we had the lakes to ourselves. We've got a very cosy camp.

Dad snores. I mean, like, over the 100 decibel range. I was afraid he'd call a bunch of grizzlies right out of Montana.  Come to think of it, I wonder if that's why those horse-campers left? Maybe that's why we had the place to ourselves the rest of the week. Just too much racket at night. Probably spooked the horses.

I don't remember if we drew straws, or my very intelligent brother simply planned it this way. But dad was my tarp-mate. Strong coffee at night with a partner that snores is not a winning formula for a good night's sleep. Not sure if I did get any sleep. Probably by the third night or so, out of sheer exhaustion.

All too soon it was time to go. Okay, it wasn't too soon. We ran out of coffee. And none of us wanted to touch that instant stuff. By the last day or so we were reusing grounds over and over again. Our coffee was starting to look like the Flea-Bag Motel coffee. It was, therefore, time to go. Besides, Dad's got to leave some of these trout for someone else. Wouldn't be right if he caught 'em all.

So, we mount up, our sights on a shower, a massive steak, and a warm bed. And a good cup of coffee. Actually, those were our long term sights. Lou and Dad had hid a beer for themselves in the stream down at the trailhead by the car; I hid a can of pepsi. That's what our immediate thoughts were on. The steak would come later. Later, today, that is.

Was a year later or so that Dad's knees gave out. But he would not have traded that time for the whole wide world.

Love you, Dad. Love you, Lou. I'll never forget that trip. And they never let me forget that coffee!


  1. Chris, what special memories! Remember when we ran into Pat Morita, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, at that steak place? --Lou

  2. I do. That was a fabulous steak house. It was neat seeing Mr. Miyagi.

  3. that picture of dad, bare-armed in a fishing vest, intently threading a lure (or something) onto the line, brought tears to my eyes. what a great shot.

  4. Chris, thanks for that little trip down memory lane! It reminded me of so many of our camping trips when we were kids, love your big sis, Georgia

  5. I know what you mean, Elizabeth. I love that pix of dad tying on a fly.

    And thanks, Georgia. It was a lot of fun sorting through these photos of that trip, trying to decide what to include. Dor scanned 'em for me, and the account just sort of wrote itself.