Saturday, August 18, 2012

Grown-up Pony Camp

I've just returned from three days of horse camping near Mt. Hood with my riding buddy, Gayle and her mare, Ruby.

 Since this was my first horse camping experience, I took Peanut because she's little and easy. Gayle and I both agree - she's graduated from pony to first-class horse! There wasn't anything we did all weekend that Peanut wasn't interested in trying. Well, ok, she did think Timothy Lake contained a horse-eating monster and wasn't about to endanger her life by doing something so stupid as wade around or, heaven forbid, swim in the lake, but she was enough of a survivalist to drink out of it.

The frightening Timothy Lake with Mt. Hood looming.

The trails in the area, most of which are part of or connect to, the Pacific Crest Trail, are just lovely. Almost all shaded, hardly any rocks and no scary steep bits. We shared the trails with hikers, mountain bikers and other riders and everyone had a smile. Except for one hard-core looking hiker. Maybe he was one of those wilderness junkies who think multi-use is a swear word. There were many peaceful miles of pure enjoyment at being out on the trail with friends.

Heading to Little Crater Lake with Gayle and Joy, a friend who joined us for a day.

Clackamas Meadow

We stayed at Clackamas Lake Campground, a site in the Mt. Hood National Forest that allows horses as well as regular people. Big trees provide ample shade and privacy and it was a serene place.

Peanut in her spiffy camp digs.

Gayle, Joy and Gayle's dog, Elle.

Ready to hit the trail!

Serene that is until Thursday, when Portland began to heat up and the urban jungle hit the national forest. Thankfully we had to endure just one night of kids screaming, dogs howling, horses whinnying and our adjacent campsite neighbors arriving around 11:30 pm and blowing up what seemed like dozens of airbeds.

Most of us can cope with a night of irritations when the morning brings cool quiet and the promise of another adventure. Mornings were my favorite time. I'd wake up early, struggle into several layers of clothes and stride briskly down the road to the long drop. The horses were waiting for their breakfast, so I'd toss them some hay on the ground to keep them quiet while I filled their hay nets with a bigger feed. Then I'd put on my little jet-boil billy for a cup of tea and get the fire going. Sitting beside a crackling fire, holding a warm mug and reading devotions...doesn't get much better.

Little Crater Lake. Really little, and really cold.

It truly is cold! 34 degrees. My feet were numb in seconds.

Now, I'll admit my enthusiasm must seem a bit corny to those of you who've grown up camping or who are so adept that you can decide to go at the spur of the moment. I like to think I have a refreshing naivety about the whole camping culture. I love that it reduces your world to what you have with you and what's in the immediate vicinity to explore. I love that it fills the senses and be recaptured with little effort.

That sweet and serene recall is handy when part of the experience is very bad. We were nearly home when a car turned right out of an intersection into our path. Gayle swerved to avoid it - generally a hazardous thing to do when towing a trailer - but in this case it saved the lives of our horses. The car hit the back wheels of Gayle's truck but she regained control and was able to pull over safely. We exited the truck howling like banshees at the poor elderly woman who hit us, at the cars that weren't slowing down as they passed and at the universe in general. When we realized the horses weren't hurt, the other driver wasn't hurt and Gayle's truck was driveable, we calmed down enough to thank God for the angels we'd prayed for at the start of our journey. It could have been so much worse.

I've returned to real life thinking this camping gig is ok. I'm starting my camp box today, and am looking forward to more quiet mornings, winding trails and dinner by the fire.