Sometimes brilliant ideas are so brilliant that everyone thinks of them at once. My husband and I had one of those ideas last night.
Like half of the population of the northern United States, we were sitting at the dinner table, talking about the chance of seeing the aurora borealis last night.
So, I came up with the brilliant suggestion—why could go camping! Find a place, pitch the tent, go to bed, and wait for the munchkin to wake us up at midnight or 3 a.m. He’s quite good at that, so we might get a couple chances to venture out and see what we could see. We could even take the leftover pancake mix from our August camping trip to make breakfast before coming home.
After a ten-minute discussion and a quick check to find a campground, we decided on a plan. If we hurried, we might make it out before it got too dark, so—yes, camping trip; yes, northern lights (we hoped); and no, pancakes.
That last part was just as well, because I was only thinking about the pancake mix. I hadn’t made it as far as remembering the skillet, peanut butter, syrup, or jams, much less plates, forks, knives, and napkins. Or even a mixing bowl…
We didn’t have two sleeping bags, so we planned to take a couple of quilts instead. We had the car packed, the baby in pajamas, and were out the door about forty minutes from the time we first floated the idea. We also forgot the second quilt.
Of course, night always comes a little faster than you expect, and you never get out the door quite as fast as you expect. We were only halfway to the campground before night caught up with us. As we left the highway and headed uphill to find a site, we could only see the road ahead of us in the darkness. We went on, though, past the main parking lot and along the windy logging road until we reached the entrance…
…and found the campground was full. We drove the loop anyway, but the sign at the entrance was correct—no room here.
Now we had to come up with Plan B.
We didn’t have a map, but we knew we could find a couple lookout points along the route back into town. With that in mind, we decided to head back and stop the first place we found something promising. Maybe we wouldn’t camp, but we could at least hang out and watch the stars.
Perhaps we should have thought better of that plan when we found the traffic backed up over a mile from our destination.
The cars were creeping up the steep hill, all of them waiting to turn the same direction.
We joined the line, though, and eventually reached our turn. Past that point, the traffic was moving pretty quickly, so we went on, scanning the dark shoulders for a sign. The drive took a bit longer than we expect, but soon enough we passed what we were waiting to see—lookout point, one quarter mile.
The lines of parked cars started just after that. By then, we knew the parking lot would be packed, so we pulled off into the first empty spot we could find on the shoulder.
Our plan was pretty simple by this point—let’s see what happens. So, we loaded up the baby backpack with a water bottle, a tarp, and a blanket, tucked the baby into a front pack, and grabbed our pillows.
We saw a few other stragglers headed down the road to the lookout, but as we approached the entrance, we met a tangle of cars—those still hoping to get in, as well as those who had given up and were headed out. The backup worked in our favor here, and we made it across the road in one piece, only to meet a larger crowd of people gathering on the hillside below the parking lot.
At this point, the adventure was about to lose its charm.
Fortunately, we had visited this place about a year ago. On that trip, we discovered a secret trail that looped along the hill below the main lookout area. Now, we headed down it, expecting to meet another crowd at any moment.
This time, the plan worked. When we got to the place we remembered, a flat stretch of trail overlooking the river, no one else was around. We had an area wide enough to spread out tarp with a little extra room, and we had a gorgeous view of the sky—everything we could ask for.
Somewhere on the hillside above us, a laser beam swung back and forth across the sky. Down in our little nook, the munchkin stared around fascinated for a few minutes, fussed around for a few more minutes, and then settled down to sleep.
The wind was blowing hard all the while, but we settled under our quilt and watch the sky. The quietness last for half an hour, maybe an hour.
Then other people began wandering down our secret path. The rest of the trip didn’t last very long after that. We moved to another section for a short time, but the wind was still blowing steady, even though it wasn’t too cold. Plus, the moon had come up, and our slim chance of seeing the aurora borealis had faded. It was just time to head home.
So, we gathered up our stuff and trekked back up the hill. The parking lot had quieted down somewhat, but it was still packed—think about fifty cars trying to fit into a place meant for twenty. It was 11 p.m. by the time we reached our car and packed up, but more cars were still driving up. When we reached the turn back down the hill, the line had doubled from what it was before, and we were just as glad to be heading home.
We didn’t see the lights after all, but as they say—fun was had by all.