I should’ve called it something else. “The Bohrer Multi-Sport Weekend,” or maybe “The Ultimate Fun Weekend.” Instead, I started calling it “The Bohrer Epic Weekend,” which turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My kids look forward to a winter camping trip each year. But as this meager winter turned to spring and our weekends filled with other things, we resigned ourselves to moving on to warm weather activities. Then a couple of powerful winter storms brought our snowpack back to life. I called my friends, Markell and Alan, and we made plans to take our families to an easy car-camping location on a pass about an hour from our homes.
Although winter camping sounded great, warming valley temperatures tempted us to trade skis for climbing gear. Then I had a thought: Why not stop on the way home for the first climbing session of the year? It seemed like a perfect plan. Abby and I could ski a little backcountry while Caleb and Seth played with friends. Jennie would bring the little girls up Saturday for climbing and picnicking. And, if everything went well, Jennie and I could do our first trail run of the year in the evening. When I called it the “epic” weekend, I meant in the sense of great, superb, memorable.
The first hitch in the plan came before we even got on the road. I was loading gear into the truck while little Grace played outside. I came out with a load to find her screaming, looking like a vampire. Not the pale, dreamy kind that teenage girls swoon over, but the kind with blood running from her mouth and dripping off her chin She had tried (and failed) to ride a Disney Princess scooter. I always knew those Princesses were trouble. I got her cleaned up and made sure all her teeth were intact.
Things went smoothly for the next few hours. We arrived at our camping spot roughly on schedule, and all the kids went sledding while Abby and I skinned up the ridge across the road. Snow conditions weren’t great, but the late-afternoon views of the Tetons were spectacular. Abby was having a great time, despite the fact that her plastic climbing skins had almost no grip on the hard snow. She got her revenge on the descent. With my 50 pounds of additional weight, I punched through the crust while she glided along laughing at my spectacular crashes.
When we got back to camp I found Seth sitting in the back of the truck, asking to go home. He was sick. The kind of sick that is most unpleasant when you’re camping with a girl from your third-grade class and there’s no bathroom. I left the other kids in good hands with my friends and met Jennie for an exchange halfway home. Abby volunteered to set up camp while I was gone. Not far down the road, I realized that I’d forgotten to pack the pole for my Megamid tent. I called Alan to relay a message to Abby that she could still set it up with a ski and that I would have Jennie bring the pole from home. Alan casually mentioned that Caleb had crashed his sled and gotten a bit banged up, but he was fine. What next?
By the time I got back to camp it was dark and everyone was getting ready for bed. I took one look at Caleb’s face and my jaw fell open. As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, the sledding hill got harder and icier. Caleb had wiped out at high speed and he looked like he slid the rest of the way down on his face. In a casual, understated way, he told me how they’d reconstructed the crash by following the blood trail back up the hill to where they found his smashed glasses. Luckily, those glasses apparently saved him from a direct blow to his orbital ridge, which probably would’ve meant a trip to the doctor for stitches.
Topping it all off, Abby didn’t know I’d planned to use our skis and poles to stake out the tent so our gear was still in stuff sacks. At least that problem was easily solved when Alan invited us into their tent. I called it the Taj Mahal of winter camping. He brought the roof portion of his wall tent and covered it with a giant tarp. A propane heater glowed as we rolled out pads and snuggled into bags inside the biggest tent I’ve ever slept in.
As I slowly relaxed in the dark silence, I felt like a parental failure. Three children, three mini-crises, and I wasn’t there to do anything to stop them. But I began to recognize that I may try too hard to shield my kids from negative experiences. Often our fondest memories and greatest growth come from the most challenging times. Caleb had to deal with the consequences of his crash relying on his own inner strength rather than on Dad to pick him up and comfort him. Seth too dug deep inside and found strength to endure. I’m not sure Grace learned anything, she fell off a chair the next day and broke open her lip again. When we take away opportunities to fail or possibly get hurt, we also take away the satisfaction our children get from succeeding on their own.
Many of us still seek that satisfaction in the outdoors. Redpointing a climbing route, skiing a difficult line, or staying on the bike all the way up a technical climb. These accomplishments usually happen only after a lot of falls and occasionally some blood. We draw from those successes and failures to get us through life’s everyday challenges. I’m convinced our kids can do the same.
Saturday turned out to be an epic-free day. Spring sunshine quickly warmed our group as we packed up camp in the morning. I called Jennie to arrange a meeting time and place. From the tone of her voice, I hung up anticipating an epic night alone in the backyard. Grace fussed and cried half the night with her busted lip, but at least Seth was feeling much better. We arranged to meet at roadside crag where we climbed in almost-warm sunshine. The cold breeze and small crowd couldn’t dampen the joy of exposure and warm stone under tender fingertips.
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