Sunday, August 30, 2009

Setting Up Camp, or Another Milestone

It does a man good to do for himself. Since May, others have been helping me with my needs. From being wheelchaired around Spain by Mrs Elliott, from being driven everywhere, from having meals brought to me in bed while recovering from surgeries, to having my laundry done for me, and more, to getting help wrapping garbage bags and cling-wrap to water-proof dressings and casts before I could even take a shower, my failed, repaired, then repaired again, and now (hopefully) healing ankle has limited my ability to do many things for myself.

But on Friday I drove alone from Bend to a lovely little secluded campsite on the bank of a river -- a site I won't name because that's what I promised the person who told me about it -- and when I got there, I set up camp: I leveled our little 1984 VW Westfalia camper, I popped the pop-top and unzippered the mesh windows in the canvas to let out the afternoon heat, I opened up the kitchen area and sucked on the sink spigot to prime the freshwater pump, I turned on the propane for the stove top, I unloaded the camping gear, I put out the solar panels and ran the charging cable to them, and I set up an aluminum and nylon folding camp chair with a small camp table next to it. From the refrigerator I brought a cold can of Abbot Ale and a pint glass to the table and set them on it. I rolled myself over to the camp chair, transferred myself into it, and I picked up the can of beer and opened it and poured it into the pint glass.

And I raised that pint glass of cold ale to my lips and drank it.

For the doctor had said that my blood tests told him that my liver was out of the woods after being stressed by a month of strong medication, and that a beer or two would not harm it and might in fact be good for my spirits.

For the PICC line -- all 26 centimeters of it -- had been slid silently out of my arm by a nurse the day before and 40 days of twice-a-day iv antibiotics were behind me.

For my heart felt immensely lifted by the beauty around me: the river rushing quietly at my feet, the firs and grasses along its narrow banks, the sharply rising backdrop of dark basalt cliffs on the opposite bank, stone which had taken the lead-gray color of the clouds passing overhead when I arrived, but were now warmed by the amber cast of late afternoon as sunlight sleeted across the stone face, casting the contours of the cliffs in sharp relief and flashing each drop of a brief rain shower in jewel-like brilliance before they peppered the surface of the dark green river water with white splashes and a hissing sound; and as the shower passed a mighty rainbow arched in the east to remind the sun that there's more to light than than just sundial precise and bright.

For that moment and for my reward I drank that cold ale...and it tasted really, really good.

I hadn't climbed a mountain or hiked the PCT, I hadn't paddled across a lake and set up a tiny camp on the shore, nor even hauled a load of firewood across the backyard. I'm not there yet.

But I also couldn't have set up camp a month ago, couldn't even imagine that it could be possible until last weekend when Mrs Elliott and I went camping at Little Cultus Lake -- and then I started to see that it might be doable if I was careful and creative.

I had to figure out alternate ways of doing things. Tasks which formerly took moments sometimes took several minutes. I tried, but was unable to lift the weight of the pop-top without two strong legs, but after some thought I saw how, with a crutch and the tabletop in the van to brace it against, the roof could be lifted with only one leg to stand on. I learned that getting up from the ground after reaching under the van to turn on the propane was possible as long as I had something fixed like a door handle to haul myself up with.

Of course, I'm not foolish enough to spend an entire camping trip by myself : I had no assurance that I could get the camper set up well enough for sleeping, and a fall caused by too much enthusiasm or an unseen branch in the dark could set me back weeks. So a little later that evening, my son joined me in camp and we drank some freshly-ground drip coffee (beans by Simply Organic) and sat quietly as the sky darkened.

Jim Elliott. My son.

I was happy that I had been able to set up camp before he got there. We spent two nights on the shore of that river, and I slept in until 8 on both mornings, which felt luxurious and restful. I seldom sleep past 6 or 6:30, so this was indeed an occasion. I musta been doing something right.

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