I grew up camping and hiking, first with my parents, then church groups, friends, and even solo. I found my love, and we honeymooned in Yosemite. Eight weeks after our son was born, we did a whirlwind trip that passed through Crater Lake NP, Yellowstone NP, Zion NP, and the Grand Canyon (and let me be the first to tell you that nursing a baby on the ground in the middle of the night in a campground not yet free of snow, while trying to avoid suffocating said baby, is not awesome…). And then, nothing. For SIX YEARS. Not even a sleepover in a tent in the backyard. We had two more babies, and a part of my soul, a vital, integral part, was buried in the chaos of early parenthood.
In May of this year, I’d reached a breaking point in my need for nature, and I wanted my city kids to see the stars, so we went to Joshua Tree for three nights. It was great. And I slipped into a deep funk on the way home. I needed more. By mid-September I was feeling pretty desperate. I looked at my calendar filling up, realized I might not have another chance to visit my parents until December, and decided, spur of the moment, to just go, me and the kids. Many times, on our way between L.A. and the Bay, we’d passed the turnoff to Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and talked about taking a detour. I was finally going to do it. But the hubs was slammed at work and wouldn’t be able to join us. I didn’t care. I was desperate enough to try it on my own. I decided on Thursday that we were going, spent Friday packing up the gear (and the food—so much food!), and left on Saturday. As we drove out of L.A., a sense of calm and happiness filled me. (Even before we got out of the L.A. traffic!) I really wanted to set up camp before dark, especially since I’d be pitching an unfamiliar-to-me tent without the helping hands of another adult, so rather than stop to see all the sights, we made a short stop at the Sentinel Tree (and its bathrooms), and then forged on in search of an open campground.
Every campsite in Sequoia was full. We crossed the boundary out of Sequoia and into national forest lands, where again, every campsite was full. The sun was setting, and I was getting anxious. Finally, we found our home away from home at the Crystal Springs campground, all the way at the Kings Canyon end of the park. There was enough light to choose a site, but I had to use the car headlights and bust out the flashlights to finish pitching the tent.
Baby Bear had fallen asleep in the car during our search for a site, and woke up howling just as I rolled out the sleeping bags, but before I’d got the pads down. I didn’t want her to wake the whole campground, so I stopped setting up and we built a fire for s’mores before we went to bed. It was NOT the most comfortable night of my life, but when I woke in the morning, I was HAPPY.
I was awash in the sounds and smells of happy childhood camping trips. The birds were calling to each other, the jays squawking. A raven’s wings creaked as he flapped over the site, and the woodpeckers were rat-a-tatting in the trees. Even the old familiar buzz of yellow jackets around the tent was soothing. The children were still asleep around me, so I lay there soaking it all in for a while. The old hymn, “It is Well With My Soul” ran through my head.
Once everyone was up, and we ventured out of the tent, it quickly became apparent that the yellow jackets were swarming to the point that cooking was not an option. So we ate a cold breakfast and then headed out to see the sights. We went first to the visitor center, where we talked to a ranger about hikes, viewed all the exhibits, stamped our National Parks Passports, and bought out half the store. We had a hot meal in the cafe to get away from the yellow jackets, then headed to Panoramic Point, where we looked out over Hume Lake to the Eastern Sierras. There was a guided star-gazing walk that night at one of the lodges down in Sequoia, so we headed that way next. It was about an hour drive, and both girls had a nap in the car, so only Brother got his picture taken under the “Sequoia National Park” sign. We reached the lodge with plenty of time to spare, had dinner in their dining room, and raided their gift shop.
We followed the naturalist down a tea-light lit trail to the back parking lot of the lodge, where there were great views of the night sky. Even though there was a fat quarter moon in the sky, I was pretty sure it would be my only chance to photograph the stars on this trip, so I put the moon at my back and shot away while the kids listened to the naturalist tell stories of how the constellations got their names.
Most of the other campers left on Sunday, so when we woke Monday morning, the campground was very quiet. Quiet enough that a family of deer had come into the campground to graze. There were two fawns, still sporting their white spots, a doe, and a young buck. I first spotted them as I came back from emptying the toddler potty just after dawn, and grabbed my camera to take some pictures, then went back to the tent and woke the children one by one to go see them.
They stuck around for several hours as we photographed them (from a respectful distance), ate a cold breakfast, made a small fire for more s’mores (and to drive away some of the yellow jackets), and played on the nearby rocks and big stump.
Now, I have camped maybe 60 times, and at least half of those trips have been plagued by yellow jackets, but I’d never been stung.
We were breaking camp, and I had changed from a long sleeve to a short sleeve shirt before collapsing the tent. I put the kids on trash patrol as I loaded up the car. And then it happened. As I gathered up our dirty dishes from the table, a wasp stung me on the tender underside of my newly bare upper arm. It felt like a tetanus shot combined with an electric shock, and seemed to go on forever. Brother ran to me and told me to stop flailing about, but I couldn’t help myself. When it was finally over, my first concern was for the kids’ safety if I had an allergic reaction. I put some lavender oil on the sting, and hustled brother over to our nearest campground neighbors. We asked them to stick around for a bit, so he could run to them for help in case I started to have a reaction. I showed them our ROAD iD bracelets, and told them our emergency contacts were there. They gave me a Benadryl, which I took as a preventative measure (I’d forgotten, in the moments after the sting, that I had Benadryl in my first aid kit for this very situation). I continued to pack up, hoping I’d be fine, and feeling a lot more skittish any time a wasp buzzed my way. My arm continued to ache a bit for several days, but that was, fortunately, the worst of it. Our campground neighbors checked on me one more time before they left, which was lovely of them. We safely finished packing up, and headed out of camp.
We were going to do the General Grant tree hike before we hit the road, but Baby Bear fell asleep in the five minutes it took to drive from our campsite to the trailhead, and I am not one to wake a sleeping baby! So we left, most of the iconic sights of the park unseen, waiting, calling us to come back another time. And we will. And hopefully Daddy Bear will get to go with us next time, but even if he can’t, this adventure mama has learned that having children in tow does not take away from the soul-reviving impact of a trip to the wild and sleeping under the stars.