Summer Sunday: Backpacking With Grandpa
When your 74-year old father-in-law calls to say he wants to spend some time with your kids this summer, you’re thinking the beach. Or maybe a visit back East. Possibly, Disneyland. What you’re not thinking is that he wants to shoulder a backpack and hike with them high into the backcountry for 3 nights. That he wants to brave bugs, whining, and sore shoulders alike.
But this is exactly what the ex-marine grandpa wanted to do. Bob wanted to take my older daughter, Siri, who is 9, out with her cousin, Matteo, who is 8, out into Durango’s Weminuche Wilderness. Andy, my husband, would be permitted to come along, if he could behave himself.
I wrote last year about the adventure Andy took with his dad into the Weminuche last year. They did the classic Durango-Silverton loop, riding the train to Elk Park, hiking up and exiting out Chicago Basin, only to flag the train down on its return from Silverton. They spent four incredible days hiking high onto the Continental Divide, wading through wildflowers. Then, on the return train trip, they drank margaritas, toasting their victorious trip.
Bob wanted to do the same trip (only modified) with his oldest grandkids. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing this. I want them to know how much nature means to me. And how much they mean to me.”
Bob arrived with Matteo from Cleveland a few days early to acclimatize. During the next few days, our house was transformed into something I imagine resembling Everest’s base camp. Rows of snack bars, bags of granola, and a line of tarps, sleeping bags, and pads stretched out across the living room floor like snaking lines of climbing rope.
When they were at last ready, my daughter embraced me. “I don’t know if I can even lift my pack,” she whispered.
“You’ll be fine. Just like skiing. Pick a line and stick to it. Don’t let yourself stop on the trail until you’ve reached a certain point.”
The backpacking crew returned late in the evening three days later, happy and muddy. They hadn’t gotten as far as they planned. The river was flowing bigger than it had in quite some time; the recent snow was blocking the trail.
I looked to my father-in-law, a man I’ve long admired. “Did you have fun?” I asked, tossing him a beer.
“Some of the best I’ve ever had in my life.”
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