Friday, January 18, 2013

Packing Providence

All I can say is, God must have wanted us to live.

Haverkamp family vacations are never traditional, never tame, but this one takes the cake for good old-fashioned, trauma-inducing adventure.

Here’s the scoop: It all started last summer. After realizing that our annual summer backpacking trip was not going to happen because of conflicting family member schedules, we decided that we would take a trip over Christmas, when everyone would be home. We’ll go south, we said excitedly, where it’s warm in the winter. This time we will hike in a desert! As we said this, we envisioned warm days of sunshine and mildly chilly, but refreshing nights. We even packed sunscreen in our meager backpacking equipment; and we take nothing extra…ounces add up to pounds…and pounds add up to misery. We thought the sunscreen necessary. Ha.

On the day before Christmas, we hopped in our car and made our way to Lee’s Summit, MO, where we met “Ira” at the RV rental place. Ira looked something like this:

Except he was wearing a seed corn hat and looked angrier. And he left in the middle of our "orientation" and drove to the nearest convenience store and bought a flashlight (which he threw in our box of RV essentials).

After we escaped from Ira, we drove our older, rented, slightly dirty 30 foot RV from Missouri to Kansas to Oklahoma to Texas to New Mexico to Arizona and stayed in stylin' RV parks along the way.  We stopped at cool sites--like the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest--and ate at local diners en-route. When we got to Arizona, we stayed at a KOA park that had little cabins. Brent and I decided to stay in one of the them and let the savages kids spread out in the RV.  What we didn't know was that the cabins were unheated save for a space heater the size of a Kleenex box. Oh, and did I tell you it was cold in Arizona?  So we snuggled into our separate down-filled sleeping bags and slept until we got a call from Cole that Tess was puking in the tiny RV bathroom. (Luckily, the illness passed quickly and most of us were immune--having had it before we left on our trip.)  In the morning, to help Tess recover, we put her in the very back of the RV in a queen size bed (that also functioned as a bouncy house attraction while we were on the road) and let her watch an action packed movie while we traveled on a bumpy highway.  It seemed to do the trick as she didn't throw up again. Still in Arizona, we drove farther south to Mesa and stayed in Lost Dutchman State Park.  At Lost Dutchman, four family members did a hand-over-foot, grappling-with-fingertips day hike to the top of Flat Iron Butte. I, of course, didn't go, as I stayed back with the sickie, but they told me it was very safe and quite benign. We chose to stay three nights at the park so that everyone was fully functional for our three-day backpacking tour (kind of like the three-hour tour that made Gilligan's Island famous...) in the nearby Superstition Mountains.

And we're off!  To reach the trail head where we would start our hike, we needed to drive about 25 miles down a mountain on what had been called an “all-weather US Highway” (which we soon learned was code for treacherous mountain dirt jeep trail). Hairpin turns and no guard rails made for a very slow and very tense trip. Take a look at this video:  (and to clarify, I was neither sleeping nor crying.  I was hyperventilating.  You think I kid.)

Only by God's grace, we finally arrived at the gravel path that led up to the trail head, and after going a short distance, decided not to take the RV in any further.  Parking it off the road a ways, and praying that it wouldn't get towed away or ransacked, we piled out and started spiraling our way on foot up the mountain; ever see the movies where there is a castle hidden in the clouds, and a little tiny road encircles the mountain on which it sits, all the way to the top? Yeah. It was like that.  

Day one started off well.  Spirits were high and the temperatures were balmy enough for shirt sleeves.  Packs were not especially heavy since we didn't bring anything extra--like warm clothes.  Here is a picture of the kids near the trail head:

The day got progressively cooler as we climbed up and up and up, and we put on jackets and hats and gloves.  We ended our hike by staying at an old abandoned ranch (Reavis Ranch) that had remnants of corrals, a house foundation, and some farm-type equipment.  Luke even found an abandoned lawn chair in the bushes (which he let me sit in when I was nearing hypothermia).  As we were setting up our three tiny tents, we noticed the wind picking up, so we quickly got some brush together and started a fire before it got dark.  Also, as we ate our Ramen noodles for supper, I said, "hmmm. I think it might be snowing."  And guess what, it was.  We went to bed early, trying to stay warm in our sleeping bags, (and believe me, the bathroom break  I took at 4 am was exhilarating) and woke up to six inches of the white stuff in the morning.

Realizing our quandary at daybreak, and still unwilling to get out of our sleeping bags, Brent finally emerged to boil some water to make some oatmeal.  He delivered this meal to each tent with the instructions to stay in sleeping bags inside tents until further notice. After doing just that, we finally decided to send two scouts out to see if the trail was hike-able under all the snow.  Tess and I discovered that the snow actually highlighted the trail since it lay in a nice white line where the grass was missing.  We then returned to camp and told everyone to put on all of their clothes, pack up their tent and get ready to go.  

And go we did.  Hiking in the mountains in the desert in just downright wrong when you are trudging through a half-foot of snow...which is why we had to stop and rub down Shay's nearly frozen feet and replace her socks on this morning.  It is also wrong to see millions of cacti weighed down by ice. Speaking of ice, we, with our packs on our backs, had to navigate more than a few frozen rivers and slippery rocks on our journey that morning. Luke even slipped on a rock and got his foot wet, but somehow managed to keep his toes--losing none to hypothermia.  Brent kept trying to encourage the family saying, "when we get to the desert floor, it will be 70 degrees and sunny."  This is a picture of the children on the snowy morning ( I know I posted this earlier, but it is a classic):

As we trudged on, chasing the unseen and elusive warm sunshine, stomping our feet and clapping our hands to fight the cold, Luke said, "Why do we always hate our hiking trips?", and no one knew why, but we all laughed because we could do nothing else.  We stopped for lunch on a bunch of wet rocks and tried to rip open tuna packets with frozen fingers and Brent made Tess put on his coat because she had the glassy look in her eyes that said she was a little too chilly.  Needing to move to stay warm, we continued on, but felt uneasy about the amount of time it was taking us to reach our next turn.  Just as Brent was saying that he thought we had missed a trail sign, and just as I was praying for Divine intervention (I did that a lot on this trip), we met a very robust looking hiker with a .38 strapped to his hip and a shivering dog who told us that we were about a mile past our turn.  He told us that he would walk us back to the correct spot, since he was going that way, and we gladly accepted his assistance, seeing he had a gun and all.  We called him the angel with the .38 after that.  

The afternoon found us descending into the canyon along narrow paths and sheer cliffs--and occasionally seeing our friend, Mr. Sunshine, but never encountering anything near 70 degrees.  We stopped in the late afternoon, finally getting out of the snow, and stayed in Angel Basin (a coincidence?  I think not).  It was still light, which gave us a chance to explore the nearby Salado Indian Dwellings, which are 600 year old cave dwellings, and make a roaring fire and eat a supper of chili and corn chips.  While warming herself by the fire that night, Tess melted one of her shoe inserts because she got too close.

Thinking that we were now in the basin, not on the mountain, we hoped for a warmer night.  But it was not to be, and the temps fell into the low 20's as we slept existed.  The girls, who had older, not-as-warm sleeping bags, snuggled together, and tried to withstand the chill.  Both Brent and Shay got up several times during the night to boil water to put in a Nalgene. We then put socks on these and put them in the girls' sleeping bags to create some heat.  One of these times, some water spilled on Shay's sleeping bag, forcing her to sleep down deep in her bag, crunched up, to avoid freezing to the fabric. (Really, I am not a bad mom. I tried--to no avail--to offer my warmer sleeping bag to either of them several times throughout the night). Cole, however, took Brent's advice to "keep the furnace burning" by eating multiple times during during the wee hours of the morning, and consuming two Snicker's bars before 9 a.m.

Needing to stay warm, we rose with the sun (a very welcome sight) and got on our way quickly.  Quick is easy when you are wearing all of your clothes and you never take them off.  We knew we had a big day ahead of us, as we had to cover at least 12 miles to make it back to civilization and our RV.  Our angel had told us that hiking out of the canyon was "a beast" and that it was filled with prickly pear cacti.  Much of the path was also covered with thick thorn-covered trees which whacked the person following, in the face.  In fact, most things, we learned, were covered with needles and thorns--just another perk of hiking in the desert. We had several battle wounds when we were done.  Following a morning of breathless, uphill climbing, we ate lunch and picked up our pace, knowing that we needed to reach our destination before dark so we could drive the aforementioned "all-weather US Highway" without falling off the mountain...again.  

Well, we did it.  And we made it.  And we are alive and well today.  We even went to a warm motel that night with hot showers and soft beds and we polished off three extra large pizzas in no time flat.  Our bodies had worked so hard to stay warm on our hike that we were all hungry hungry Haverkamps (cute, huh?).

And now, having survived our Siberian-like adventure, we keep talking about it, and laughing, like it was no big deal, knowing that we were tough because we had to be, but feeling like we are blessed, because we were in it together.  And, now that we are warm, we think it was a really great trip.

And an even better story.

Bet you wish you were there.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;

    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;

    I will be with him in trouble,

    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
    and show him my salvation."

Psalm 91:14-16


  1. Have the Haverkamps ever considered lying on a beach somewhere for vacation? Probably too boring I suppose. Thanks for sharing - always entertaining and what great family memories!!!

  2. Now that I've heard about and read about this trip and remember hearing about a serious wound in Alaska and a sprained ankle on another trip, I'm wondering if I should reconsider my desire to be a "backpacking family" like the Haverkamps.