My friend Joyce has a llama farm. She breeds pack llamas, trains them to pack, and takes them out on camping trips — and she invited my family to go out with her sometime.
Last weekend that opportunity arose, and the kids and I headed out for a weekend adventure at the coast.
It looked like the perfect weekend to go, because temperatures were supposed to reach 100 degrees at home, but would hover around a gentle 80 on the coast. Joyce and her housemate Don go out to a place called Bayocean Spit every year, so they know the area and have the actual mechanics of the camping down to a science. This was great for us, because I am a total novice. Even better, Joyce said she would manage the food for the group, and just ask people to chip in for their share. This meant that for the first time, we stayed in a tent without needing to subsist on hot dogs and nutella. (The kids still ate a lot of nutella.)
The llamas are not simply invited along on this adventure for companionship — they are pack animals, and carried all our stuff. In one case I know that one of them was carrying eighty pounds, so they are no lightweights. This meant that we could have luxuries like a table, propane stoves to cook on, and avocados to eat without needing to carry it all on our backs.
This is not to say that the weekend was completely without difficulties. Ryan had a little trouble with the length of our walk in; clearly we need to do more hiking as a family. (Mica had no trouble because she could ride on me.) And once we arrived at the campsite, I quickly discovered that I’d made a beginner’s mistake: I hadn’t adequately checked my tent. I had the poles, the stakes, and the rain fly, but no actual tent.
This looked bad. We were camping on the bay side of the spit, without the wind off the ocean. This meant that there were a fair number of mosquitoes around, and the prospect of sleeping tent-less did not excite me. But as it turned out, this was the best mistake I made all weekend. One of Don and Joyce’s friends, Kate, had come with us (with two llamas of her own), and had met some of her family who came by canoe. They had a campsite by the water, much less buggy and with a campfire, that they shared with us. So we went to sleep that first night listening to the waves and watching the stars come out above us.
The next day we packed up just a couple of llamas with supplies for lunch and headed off to the ocean on the other side of the spit. The walk was beautiful even before we saw a harbor seal watching us from the water, and at the end was paradise. Truly, there is nothing at all like the ocean, and this spot included a long sandy beach, dunes, and great piles of driftwood for the kids to play among. Even when Mica took a header into the surf and got soaked, she needed only a minute to be back up and running.
We stayed all day and when we left the kids were still not really ready to go. (Except Mica, who fell asleep in the backpack.) Sometimes I dream of spending the summer hopping from camp to camp, from forest to stream to beach, letting the kids explore each area to the fullest before moving somewhere different. Ryan, who’d been initially struggling with all the walking that this camping trip entailed, started asking me if we could print out pictures from our trip and put them on the wall where he could see them. (Answer: yes!)
But inevitably it was time to go back and think about dinner — and bed. It had been cloudy all day, and the local weather was predicting a chance of rain the next morning, which meant that we had a choice to make: did we squeeze into Don and Joyce’s big tent with them? Sleep in the open again and hope for the best? Try to rig up our rain fly?
I put the question to the kids and, somewhat to my surprise, Nathan opted immediately for trying to make it on our own. So with the loan of some cording from Joyce, we went back to our campsite and rigged up our rain fly as some sort of shelter. There was just enough time to figure that out, eat, and brush teeth before night descended. The three children snuggled down into the double sleeping bag with me right beside them. They were all asleep within ten minutes. I lay awake for a little while savoring the sense of having an adventure with my family.
And we made it through the tiny bit of rain just fine. After breakfast and packing, we hiked back out to the parking lot and headed back to Portland. Days later, I still can’t quite get over how awesome the whole experience was.