Wet weekend wanderings: the camping trip that wasn’t

Happy Monday, maniacs! I hope everybody’s week is shaping up to be super! I tried to start the week strong with my typical swim this morning.


Tragically, when I entered the University of Washington gym I was informed that my membership has expired because SOMEBODY forgot to register himself as a PhD student for summer quarter.

I don’t know WHO would do something as moronic as that!

Luckily I was able to purchase a temporary access pass to get my mer-man on. You can imagine how THRILLED I was to shell out five bucks for pool privileges that I am accustomed to being granted gratis.

I’m overjoyed.

In a way, my morning misadventures, and beauraucratic bumblings are consistent with my entire weekend. On Saturday, Alli, Other-Sam, Katie, Catherine, and I tried REALLY hard to go camping.

We tried, we REALLY tried

Have you ever had the perfect vacation? Have you experienced one of those elusive excursions where absolutely everything proceeds without a hitch, every aspect of your agenda falling perfectly into place, as though St. Christopher himself has been moonlighting as your personal travel agent?

St. Chris has got yo’ BACK

This weekend’s camping trip was the exact opposite of that. I’m not sure what we did to piss off the Patron Saint of Travelers, but Christopher did NOT have our back on this weekends’ expedition. We must have accidentally directed our devotions to St. Genevieve, because our jolly journey devolved into a disaster.

Not quite three-mile island level disaster...but certainly not anyone's best effort
Not quite three-mile island level disaster…but certainly not anyone’s best effort
Maybe I lit the wrong candle? Or the Virgin Mary doesn't like my hair?
Maybe I lit the wrong candle? Or the Virgin Mary doesn’t like my hair?

Even though our camping trip was a disaster, we managed to have a great time! We went on a fun hike, we saw some beautiful scenery, Porter got to roll around in the snow. I will never complain about an afternoon spent in the woods with my closest friends! However, the amount of actual camping that we completed this weekend, if you strictly define camping as “sleeping in a tent and cooking food outdoors” amounted to approximately zero minutes.

How can you be mad when you experienced this?

We tried REALLY hard to go camping. We packed our car full of camping gear, and left Seattle Saturday morning, bright eyed and bushy-tailed.

Porter was ESPECIALLY bushy tailed
Porter was ESPECIALLY bushy tailed

We applied accelerator to asphalt and made our way to Mineral Lake, two hours south of Seattle, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier.

Can you find it on this map? We couldn't either...
Can you find it on this map? We couldn’t either…

Mineral Lake’s hilariously out of date official tourism website declares this happy hamlet to be “The Hidden Gem of the Northwest.” The jury’s still out on whether or not “gem” is an accurate adjective for this quiet community, but we truly appreciated its “hidden” qualities. We missed the turn-off leading to the town. When we found the town, we overlooked the off-ramp that lead to our campground. Twice. Five over-educated adults with functional iPhones managed to get lost on paved roads with clearly delineated signage, which precisely predicted how we would spend the majority of our afternoon. Eventually we bumbled our way into base camp, set up our shelters, and attenuated our appetites with some good old american PB&Js. We were ready for action!

Tent sweet tent
Tent sweet tent

After satiating our starving stomachs, we piled back into our internal-combustion covered-wagon and traipsed off to the trailhead. We hoped to hike High Rock, which promises some of Washington’s most spectacular panoramas. Our morning meanderings faithfully foretold our (mis)fortunes in finding our intended trailhead. We took a delightful and extended back and forth driving tour of some of Washington’s most scenic forest service roads, before deciding to abandon our attempts at finding High Rock. We were still determined to have an outdoor excursion: any hike is better than no hike at all! We pulled over at the nearest labeled trail, looked it up in our guidebook, and made a split second decision to attempt to access Cora Lake instead.

In our defense, what kind of map has a compass rose with North pointing DOWN
In our defense, what kind of map has a compass rose with North pointing DOWN?

The hike was beautiful. June is rainy in Washington (we call it June-uary), all of the foliage was lush, and verdant.


The moisture meant that the fungus was out in full force.

Jelly Fungus!

The mists and the mosses lent a magical aura to the forest.


We even encountered snow-fields, in the middle of June! Porter was thrilled!


Our frigid feet were a little less thrilled about crossing the wet snow, but it was still a fun adventure


Unfortunately, the same whimsical weather that confers lends the pacific northwest its supernatural splendor managed to soak each and every member of our merry expedition right through to the bone. After several hours of exploring we were unable to locate the lake. Our clothes told a different story: we could not have been more drenched if we had found the lake, dove in, and performed a synchronized swimming routine.

As the day progressed and the mercury fell, our moist and merry band of misfits decided it would be disadvantageous to our career goals to pursue cases of hypothermia. We returned to our chariot, bedraggled, yet buoyant from our wanderings in the woods.

This is Porter's road...everyone else is just passing through
This is Porter’s road…everyone else is just passing through

Scientists love it when a result repeats. We got lost four times on our way back to the campsite. We may be incompetent, but we are SHOCKINGLY consistent. When we finally made it back to our tents, we discovered that the rain’s ravages had not spared our cheery chalet. We changed out of our wet clothes into….damp clothes and huddled down to watch water slowly seep into our sleeping bags.

Plotted: Likelihood of getting lost in the morning (gray bars), likelihood of getting lost in the afternoon (white bars), likelihood of getting dry (black bars)
Plotted: Likelihood of getting lost in the morning (gray bars), likelihood of getting lost in the afternoon (white bars), likelihood of getting dry (black bars)

Every grand epic has a momentous moment when the hero is faced with a difficult decision. Should Frodo and Samwise press on to the gates of Mordor? Should our heros stick it out, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner in our tent, and try to keep warm by snuggling with Porter? Could we look ourselves in the mirror the next morning if we packed it all in at 8pm and drove ourselves back to our nice warm beds in Seattle? What would people THINK of us? How late is the Thai food place open? We had a spirited and deep debate lasting all of five minutes before deciding to decamp. We sped north on interstate five with our tails planted firmly between our legs.

Sometimes retreating is the bravest choice

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that a little bit of rain turned this plucky PhD candidate into a pathetic poseur of a weekend warrior, who didn’t even last an entire weekend.  I’ve been on a week-long river trip where HAIL the first night didn’t dampen my spirits313631_968967983298_4499577_n

I’ve slept through thunderstorms while backpacking. I’ve wiped my ass with a leaf.

Look for these plants. They are VERY soft
These are the leaves you want. They’re really soft

I think it comes down to a question of mindset: if you are in the middle of nowhere and you have nowhere to be, a little extreme weather adds an aspect of excitement to the whole trip! However, if you are soggy and damp in a cut-rate campground two hours away from your own shower and bed, when you have a full docket of figures make and Immunoprecipitations to attend to the next day, the decision to cut and run doesn’t cut very deeply at all.

"This is nature calling, you're still a wuss"
“This is nature calling, you’re still a wuss”

I decided to mentally reframe our “camping trip” as a “day hiking trip…featuring tents,” which means that returning to Seattle the very same day could have been part of the plan all-along. I’m not proud that we cut-and-ran, but I had a GREAT time, regardless. Any time spent outdoors is worthwhile time. I love hanging out with my friends, even when we are all damp and cranky. Finally, I AM proud of the heroic amount of yardwork I accomplished on Sunday afternoon. I might not have proved my perseverance, but I pruned the HELL out of my grape vines.

Nature may have defeated us, but I defeated my grape vines!
Nature may have defeated us, but I am MASTER of my yard

My motto is: if at first you don’t succeed, keep on suckin’ till you do succeed. Our day-hike-with-tents was merely a preview of future forest frolics! I’m GLAD everything that could go wrong did: it gives us opportunities to improve. The summer is just beginning, I cant wait to go camping with these kids (and that dog) again!



Have you ever had a totally disastrous vacation?

Have you ever just totally abandoned your intended plans?

9 thoughts on “Wet weekend wanderings: the camping trip that wasn’t

Add yours

    1. Thanks Liz! If I can’t succeed at camping, maybe I can say funny things about it on my blog! I’ve got the ring, a mithril….er camel hair…coat, a good attitude, and google maps, Sauron doesn’t stand a CHANCE… :) too nerdy?

      Sent from my iPhone



  1. The most epic camping fail I remember was actually the end of one of the greatest trips we took: when we went with Shanti into the western part of Rocky Mountain NP. That was such a great trip with waterfalls and moose abounding. But on the third or fourth night, the lightning and the buckets and buckets of rain–not to mention the failed attempt at hydrodynamics to rout the flood around the no-longer-waterproof tents–were just too much. Abandoning ship (literally leaving the tents behind for me to come back and pack up the next day), was the right call, even if we did see rainbows (and more moose) on the way down into Grand Lake.


    1. I was telling everybody that story as we packed up our soggy tents! I have such great memories from that trip! The frantic trench-digging to try and diver the flow of water, eating smoked gouda and piling all of our stuff in the center of the tent to try and avoid the water creeping in from all sides (despite the trenches), and the frantic moonlit dash down the trail after we finally decided to throw in the towel.

      That was one of my favorite experiences growing up, disaster and all!


  2. Mer-Man!! I am SO excited to hear someone make a Zoolander reference. I keep recommending this movie, and everyone thinks I am crazy. Now you are on my radar as not just “the coolest” but “ABSOLUTELY the coolest.”

    As for balance of the epic adventure — very fun to tag along as a gentle reader. Thanks for sharing.


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