I'm not swooping down buff, buttery Colorado singletrack. I'm not running along a pristine wilderness creek to the foot of a 13,000-foot peak. I'm not teaching my daughters how to slack line at a base camp beneath ponderosa pines, or taking my five-year-old on her first mountain bike ride.
No, this weekend I'm staying home.
We had big plans for the weekend: a multi-family gathering in Crested Butte that would bring together several friends and a total of eight kids. We would ride and run, hang out in camp, and bike to town for pizza on Elk Ave. As Rocky Mountain base camps go, CB has its rivals beat: miles of trails, free camping, creeks, trout, big peaks, and an unpretentious, laid-back bike culture that inspires even the youngest riders to hit the trail. A weekend in the Butte is guaranteed summertime bliss.
But sometimes the best—and toughest—call when you're raising active, outdoor families is knowing when to stay put. In our case, we were fried from a summer of travel. We'd gotten home last week from a month in Canada, only to turn around two days later for a quick 48-hour adventure mission to Durango, to meet my brother and his family at the tail end of their epic western road trip. We'd barely landed in the desert and readjusted to mountain time, and there we were stuffing the car with camping gear and tearing out of town. I wanted nothing more than to hunker down for the weekend, but fresh off a month of family love at the lake, I knew how much my daughters would want to see their cousins. So we rallied.
Here's the thing about camping with kids: Even if you camp every weekend all season long and have all your gear labeled and organized and your systems dialed and your rippers brainwashed to the joys of sleeping outside, camping with children is always an adventure. Your kids may have slept through the night in the tent from infancy. This is no guarantee that they will not, when they've reached the seemingly mature age of five, spend one whole night wailing from an earache, making such an unbearable racket that in the morning you will need to slink out of the campground before your neighbors emerge from their tent and give you the evil eye.
Your job, as adventure parents, when the shit hits the fan, is to ride it out, stay the course. Unless there's a true emergency, avoid bailing in the middle of the night at all costs. This sets a dangerous precedent, not for your kids, but for you. The only thing more miserable to a sleepless night in a tent is trying to pack up that tent in the middle of the night.
But while it's important to stay the course while you're out there, it's just as important to know when not to go out in the first place. Like this weekend. We got home from Durango sleep deprived and cranky. I could see then that our long-awaited Crested Butte idyll was in grave danger, but I was grouchy, and in denial. We are an outdoors family. We go camping, dammit! We would go to Crested Butte and have fun even if packing up again and driving six hours north was the last thing any of us felt like doing.
Steve was the sensible one. "You could go to CB by yourself," he offered that night. "I'll stay here with the kids." A sweet offer, but I didn't want to hear it. Never mind all the delicious singletrack I might be able to ride if I were solo—if I had to listen to our friends' kids crying all night long in their tents, I might as well listen to ours. It wouldn't be as much fun without my gang.
I wanted to want to go to Crested Butte, but the fact is, I didn't want to go to Crested Butte. I wanted to stay home and do regular things that didn't require packing gear or planning ahead. I wanted to lay low and regroup as a family, relearn how to live together under the same roof, in a house with four walls, in the usual, normal-people way that we do when we're not crammed together in a tent. I wanted to go to the pool and play tennis and buy green chile at the farmer's market, and maybe sneak out for a mountain run with my husband.
So we called it off.
My friend Elizabeth headed out for the East Coast last week with her four sons and husband, an 1,800-mile drive from St. Paul to Greenwich, Connecticut, to visit family and swim in the ocean. They got as far as Chicago, realized they didn't want to spend the next 12 hours cooped up in a car, and turned around. "I may not even tell anyone we're home," she confessed as they began the drive back to Minnesota. "I just feel like hanging out, without plans." I knew what she meant.
That’s not to say I’m entirely happy about our decision. I miss the mountains, trails, the chaos of camping with a herd of half-feral kids who insist on riding bikes through mud puddles and don't sleep through the night. I miss the tawny alpine meadows and the ramshackle cruiser bikes stacked four deep on people's front porches and my daughter's first ride on the Lower Loop. Pippa starts kindergarten next week, and soon it may be harder to get out of town. But sometimes you have to make the hard call, so you can put gas in the tank for next time. And there will be a next time.
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