As I have written here (fondly) and here (tangentially), for most of two decades I've looked forward to an annual camping trip with four high school buddies. This year, our 16th trip, was no exception. I love these guys and rarely see any of them more than once a year, as we live in different cities or states and have our own busy lives to attend to, but despite everyone's growing list of responsibilities, our tradition remains valued and intact. When I mention the trip and its longevity, people often tell me how they wish they had some kind of regular gathering with old friends like this. I'd recommend it.
Gradually, we've been leaving later in the season every year, which offers several advantages. Maybe older, grumpier, better-insulated men are less sensitive to cold weather? Maybe it's too cold to swim, but it's also too cold for mosquitoes, yellow jackets and hornets. I've seen a few copperhead snakes out there, but never in the colder months. I saw a black bear near our spot once, but only once in 16 years, and he was running away. It's too cold to worry about ice or ice transport, a labor-intensive detriment to this revered annual trip. I think our transition from summer to fall tradition is almost complete.
Our regular camp spot, a wide clearing between the river and the trail, is surrounded by a thick canopy of tall trees that offers some protection from sun or rain in the summer or a lovely panoramic view in the fall. Enhanced by the bare trees, wide-angle views up and down the lazy path the water carves just below the site are no longer obscured by the now vivid leaves that carpet the forest floor.
At this time of year, one can gaze along entire lengths of the newly exposed, steep, vast ridges towering above either side of the camp. Having grown accustomed to late summer visits when things were still green and not yet in decay, I was struck by the beauty of the space--the extended views, the fall colors, differing bird sounds and scents--as if it were all new to me. Plenty of firewood is always available to collect from every direction, and an exercise opportunity is provided by gathering, chopping and sorting it before we surround the pit for the nightly flames cultivated for light, heat, cooking and camaraderie.
Paddling miles down a river and camping wherever we happen to call it a day instead of staying in one spot, sans boats, is another sort of trip I enjoy but not one that I often embark upon with this group. We have done so only once in these 16 years. Though we often seem intrigued by the idea of mixing up our tradition with new adventures, ultimately we have decided (in 15 of 16 cases) to reconvene at our old favorite spot and relax in our fond, familiar forest. I guess when it comes down to deciding if we're going to branch out and try something new, the old spot's appeal is hard to deny.
If the November air is cold, the water will always be colder, so I didn't mind avoiding the boats this time. October, the latest month of the year in which I've set forth on a river trip, is also the only month in which I've ever capsized a canoe. A buddy was fishing from the front of our boat, lost some expensive tackle and with it, for a time, his sense of humor. Luckily it returned because he's a pretty funny guy.
While I love canoe camping, I love our old traditional campsite too. It's always a comforting place to return to. This year's highlights included two meals cooked over fire: spicy chipotle pepper steak fajitas and spicy chorizo sausages with Mexican rice, all sizzling irresistibly over the open flames. I know I had at least one serving of vegetables all weekend when I drank that wee can of V8, but let's face it; nobody is making salads out there. What could be better than a weekend around the fire with good food, great friends, magnificent nature and a few cold beers that require no ice? Not much if you ask me.