Last summer we did not let a lack of time or money prevent us from having a memorable family vacation. We figured a stay in a retired fire lookout would provide affordable novelty and getting-away-from-it-all-ness. We picked the location by a simple process of elimination: I was not willing to sleep in a structure on stilts, nor did I want to drive for hours and hours. Gold Butte Lookout in the Willamette National Forest fit the bill.
Getting a reservation for Gold Butte requires the same sort of luck and dedication that buying tickets to see a massively popular band in a small venue does, but Shaun got up early a few weeks in a row and eventually secured us a three-night stay for the end of August.
The lookout's website bears this well-merited warning: "Note: The last two miles of road access is rough gravel and dirt with 10% grade, and is not maintained for low clearance vehicles."
I will say that Shaun did an admirable job of driving our minivan up that crazy, bumpy road. We were bounced and jostled enough to make it feel like we'd just barely crossed over from everyday life into adventure mode. It was the first "we are all in this together" moment of our trip, but it wasn't the last.
We had booked our trip for August in order to avoid rain. But the road was worringly muddy. And the air was ominously misty. By the time we pulled into the parking space at the trail head, it had started to rain in earnest.
Rain had not been forecast, so we had not prepared for it. Rather than arrive at the summit with soaking clothes and sleeping bags, we decided to wait out the downpour in the car, as time ticked away and daylight grew shorter. The boys had had enough car time, so they ran around in the rain for a good long while and got the ants out of their pants.
All of our family camping trips to this point would best be described as car camping. It was hard to know just how much we would need to pare down our stuff for this trip, so we didn't, really. We should have. There were wheelbarrows available for use, but we didn't need them. Shaun had modified our dolly (he calls it a hand truck, which I'd never heard before we were married) in order to more efficiently cart our things up the hill.
We lugged everything four people would need for three nights (including water) up a trail that was "about a mile." Our GPS put the distance at closer to a mile and a half, which may not sound like a big deal of a difference, but, oh, it was. Every step was uphill. The website describes the hike as "difficult," and I would not argue with that.
This is insane. Shaun was basically a human pack horse. About 20 steps into the hike we were all seriously wondering if we would make it. And I was concerned that Shaun was going to have a heart attack. In fact, when I went to bed that night I dreamed for for the first time in our thirteen years of marriage that Shaun had died. Of a heart attack, of course.
Nels lent a helping hand as best he could. At one point there was a sort of landing before the trail narrowed for the final ascent. We had to leave many of our things there, and Shaun and Nels made two trips back down to bring the rest of it up. I would not normally describe Nels as the stoic trooper sort, but he sure was in this case, and I couldn't have been prouder.
We made it! Don't you love our cheerful body language?
It was almost dark by the time Shaun and Nels made their last trip up the hill. The campers before us had left behind a bit of water, which Shaun decided to use for his one shower of the trip. He had certainly earned it. He told us that he would be stepping outside, removing his clothes, and dumping the water over his head. The boys were simultaneously alarmed and intrigued. Adventure!
I had wondered what the boys would think of our setting; would they appreciate it, or would they would think it was boring to be so isolated? I got my answer when hates-to-be-alone, never-stops-talking Willem made a beeline for this bench and sat in quiet solitude.
Remarkable. In every way.