Brenna’s mom is out of town. You know what that calls for! Camping. Since she’ll have the Jeep, we’ll make due with campground camping we can reach with the baby hippo car. I’ve always liked the look of a few spots above Arrowrock Reservoir so we set our heading accordingly. Engage!
“Maybe,” Hunter said when I asked if he’d like to go camping. It had the sound of almost-definitely-not.
“Are you coming, Hunter?” Brenna asked a short time later, reluctantly since she was hoping for a strictly daddy-daughter trip.
“No, you go ahead, bub,” Hunter answered with a bit too much enthusiasm. It would be Hunter’s first night home alone and I could just imagine a night-long marathon of candy and games.
After thirty-seven miles of the usual “how much farther” and “are we there yet,” Brenna and I pull into Willow Creek Campground and select one of two sites by the river here at the head of Arrowrock Reservoir.
It is an experience well known to parents (at least to me): cringe inducing behavior we prepare to condemn then realize our child is acting just like we do. With Brenna, it’s her inability to cope with circumstances that deviate from her expectations. Her response lately is stink eyes and rude refusals.
She cancelled our camping trip because we weren’t leaving at the time she expected. It took a while to talk through that. Now she hates our campsite because it isn’t laid out the way she likes. She wants to go home.
Sad to say, I know how she feels — not about the campsite but about expectations generally. A tantrum happens inside my head when my plans are changed.
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon …”
I am glad to see I should have some help with this attitude event. A girl Brenna’s size is walking to the restroom from the only other waterfront site. I wave and she waves back.
“Hey Brenna,” I call. “Why don’t you turn and wave? There’s a girl who I think is your age.”
Soon the dad saunters over, beer in hand. “I’m Patrick,” he says. He’s also up here for the night while his wife is on a trip. We begin the typical guy-exchange.
“What do you do,” my answer then, “and how ‘about you?”
“I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for the last few years,” he explains. My brain stumbles and presents a retirement concept to my awareness and I want to say, “awesome.” But no, two young kids at home is anything but retired.
“You get to camp a lot then?” I ask weakly, aware I over-thought that.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “a lot!” then resumes his occupation answer. “I’ve started into real estate lately.” He knows my employer, St. Luke’s, has begun a project with CH2M HILL and mentions some work he’s recently done with them.¹
The hoped-for attitude help has come through. The girls are running wild to the tune of screeches and giggles, little brother in tow. I think Brenna will permit us to camp here.
Patrick and I wade across channels slowly turning a river bar into an island where the girls would set up a camp away from camp.
Patrick failed to mention pyrotechnics skills and a couple other things during our earlier introduction. From a few years ago ...
Patrick is an outstanding adventure athlete with extensive experience in extreme whitewater paddling and cross-country ski racing. He built his first kayak at the age of ten and has spent virtually his entire life cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, hiking, ultra-running, kayaking, climbing, biking, and rafting. He was the top U.S. Junior cross-country skier for three years and competed at the world cup level. Patrick has guided and taught kayaking, skiing and rafting for over seventeen years. In 2000, he was the head navigator for Team Tactel Ispira in the Raid Gauloises, Team OOBE in the Eco-Challenge, and Team Wigwam in the Southern Traverse. The 2001–2002 Adventure Racing season saw Team Montrail place third in the Discovery Channel World Championships, fourth in the Eco Challenge, NZ, second at the Subaru Primal Quest and first at the Raid The North Extreme. In his relatively short career as an adventure racer, Patrick has quickly become one of the top navigators and racers in the world.¹
Mothers are notably absent as the kids’ fire building receives more encouragement than admonition.
“He’s peeing in our fire,” we hear the girls scream.
“Ben,” Patrick says with an accusatory but also amused elongation of his son’s name.
“Boys,” I say. These girls know what it’s like to have a brother. They brush it off and resume spreading fire.
“Have you ever used a glowing stick to draw lines in the air,” I ask. The other kids seem unsure so Brenna steps in to demonstrate.
We stay on the island playing with fire until almost dark then Patrick and I gather up the kids and carry them across the water so they don’t have wet feet before bed.
Deep and hollow, sound of rocks shifting underwater and the quick, double-splash of jumping fish — “I don’t like those noises,” Brenna declares sheepishly.
“It’s just stuff in the water,” I assure her before we turn in for the night.
“Can we get up?” Brenna asks. I could sleep a little longer but I hear our campsite neighbors moving around and figure Brenna doesn’t want to miss any play time.
“Okay,” I answer. “Just let me stretch a second.”
Our neighbors, though, are on their way to the airport to pick up mom. “Good meeting you,” Patrick calls, then they’re off.
Now it’s just Brenna and I. I work on the fire and coffee while she sits at the water’s edge watching life on the river.
I am sipping coffee by the fire, writing notes on the back of a plate between glances across the water when Brenna approaches.
“What are you doing?” she wonders.
“I’m writing the story of our adventure,” I tell her.
“Can you read it to me?”
“Sure.” She loves the part about Ben peeing in the fire.
“Is that all?” she asks.
“That’s all I’ve written but these are just notes,” I explain. I don’t warn her that we’re dangerously close to an infinitely recursive conversation but I think it.
“Can I have a pen?” Brenna asks. She decides story writing is a good idea.
Wind is picking up and the sky is threatening rain. I let Brenna know we can go exploring but afterwards we’ll have to leave. She had been vying for three nights of camping.
“Why did you take a picture of that?” Brenna asks when I stoop to photograph a rock.
“I think it’s beautiful,” I answer.
“It’s a rock,” she reminds me. “I don’t think it’s beautiful.”
“I love this sand!” Brenna tells me as we follow the river’s edge. “Take a picture.”
“I like that tree,” Brenna declares. “Do you see it?”
“Take my picture on it.”
“I’ll carry you back over,” I tell Brenna.
“That isn’t fair,” she worries. “Your feet will get cold.”
“Well, my feet will get cold either way,” I explain. “I might as well carry you.”
Rain is falling now. Brenna reclines and closes her eyes as we wind around the reservoir.
This road claims a few lives each year as cars plunge over the steep bank into deep water. I would be glad to know if my loved ones drive here, they do so carefully. That’s what I remind myself while following half-speed vehicles around the dam. Not everyone has an Aveo.
Next up, if plans prevail, will be camping well away from any campground. But for an overnight with my little daughter, this was perfect.