The sun had already started its long midsummer descent, and we still needed a place to camp. We arrived with the dusk at a campsite, relieved to see two other people there. Maybe they would rush to my aid if I screamed in the night!
We set up the tent, found the tiny burbling puddle indicated on our map as the only nearby water source, filled our bottles and added the purifying, metallic tasting, iodine pills. Damp wood thwarted Erik’s efforts to build a fire in the stone lined pit. Our backpacks carried a small stove, but my anxious surveillance of the encroaching darkness prompted his continued attempts. Finally, flames soared and we sat in a small pool of light. At least now I could see what was coming to get me! We dined on cheese and fruit, and chili warmed in and eaten from the cans. Then all food was stowed in a bag and hung on the tall metal post provided to keep it safe from bears. As we walked to our two person tent, I wondered if I would be as safe as the food.
Erik and I settled into our sleeping bags, in closer proximity than we had been since he was a small boy. We talked a little, and then I fell asleep despite knowing that only a thin nylon wall stood between me and whatever crept beyond. Each time I turned over in the night Erik startled awake with a tense “Mom, you OK?!” He would later reveal that he kept dreaming I was outside the tent walking around. My cub was obviously already a protector himself.
Next morning, still in one piece, we retrieved our food, also still in one piece, from the bear pole, and hiked on. The day steamed despite the shield of dense leaves overhead. We fell into a comfortable mix of silence and occasional exchanges as we walked. This hike was longer than I was accustomed to, and at mid day fatigue suddenly poured over me like concrete. I sank onto a nearby tree trunk and Erik gently encouraged me to keep drinking, even after my thirst had been quenched. Fifteen minutes and two bottles of water later, energy eased back into my limbs. It appeared that the beast of dehydration had come stalking this time.
I had imagined this adventure, the first with my adult son, would be filled with conversations – about him, about me, about life. Instead his quiet patience, support and concern expressed more – about him, about me, and about life – than I ever expected. I not only made it through the night in the darkness of the woods, but did so knowing bears could be lurking outside our tent! And, knowing Erik was by my side, slept in relative peace. I had hiked thirteen miles in the company of my son and not only faced lifelong fears, but discovered unexpected courage within my own heart – along with the depth of generosity and love in his.