The Mountain. {Part 4}

Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story  and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons.  Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.

To read the preface, click here.

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

To read Part 3, click here.

A family vacation on the mountain.

As Parker and Ed and I huddled together under a tree on our mountain, the Colorado summer sky offered us quite a show. Just like the stars are more brilliant on the mountaintop, so is the lightening. As the minutes stretched well past an hour, I became chatty to keep Parker occupied. But in the back of my mind, I was trying to figure out what we should do if it turned dark and Mr. Mom still hadn’t appeared.

Fortunately, my weak contingency plan wasn’t needed. As night drew near, Parker and I finally heard a truck in the distance. My heart skipped a beat but I finally calmed, and within minutes everyone appeared along with all our gear. What a sight for sore eyes!

As our crew unloaded the trucks, Jack threw our punctured tire in the bed of his truck. He had graciously agreed to drive our tire to Pueblo for repair and to return it to us on the mountain.

The last time we went camping on the mountain, Mr. Mom had set up the tent. I am mechanically challenged and am pretty unhelpful with anything requiring assembly. This trip we had three tents to set up, two for Sandy’s family and one for ours. My friend Sandy could have been a four-star general – so good is she at organizing logistics and commanding troops. She announced the game-plan, noted we only had a few remaining minutes before sunset, and got everybody moving on the most essential tasks. Jack wanted to get down the mountain before dark so he said goodbye and told us he’d be back in a few days.

Sandy and Jeff were making good progress on their first tent but Mr. Mom and I were lagging on ours – mostly because I’m helpless at these kinds of things. The wind had really picked up and our stuff kept blowing all over the meadow. Suddenly, a large clap of thunder announced the wall of rain that was about to hit and, before we knew it, the sky opened up.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was nearly dark, very chilly, I’d been up for 32 hours, and now it was raining sideways on us in the middle of tent assembly. I had packed four sets of rain gear for just such an occasion but, in the chaos, it was anybody’s guess where they were. Sandy yelled at all the kids to take cover in the pickup and ordered the adults to work together to finish her largest tent. A quick thinker, she pulled four lawn-size garbage bags out of her tote bag, ripped three small holes in each one with her teeth, and handed each adult a make-shift poncho.

Thanks to Sandy’s direction, the four of us managed to get her largest tent assembled pretty quickly, despite what felt like hurricane-force rain. (It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but we had to shout at each other to be heard over the wind and rain.) Enough time has passed that now — when I conjure the sight of the four of us assembling a tent while wearing trash bags in a thunderstorm with driving rain as our kids huddled in our nearby truck, the littlest ones crying loudly — I can chuckle. On that day, I would have been furious if I wasn’t so frightened and exhausted.

Once we got the first tent up, we quickly stashed most the gear inside of it to prevent any further soaking. By this time, it was dark, so Mr. Mom turned on the truck lights to partially illuminate our campsite. As we assembled Sandy’s smaller tent in the dark and the rain, I wondered why we hadn’t simply rented a hotel room for the night and started fresh in the morning. (I didn’t realize at that moment if we’d stayed below, it would have been impossible for us to get up our wet mountain road the next day.) Eventually, we finished up by assembling my family’s small tent. Because Sandy’s second tent was wider than our tent, she offered it to us for the night. It was still pouring and the wind was howling, so we rushed our kids from the pickup to our tents.

Once inside, we sat mute for a few minutes, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Mr. Mom and I were soaked and cold, and the kids were scared. The storm outside was noisy and it was whipping the sides of our tent pretty good. We huddled in the pitch blackness, unable to see past our noses except for the split seconds when lightening lit up our tent.  Mr. Mom eventually found a flashlight and we began the difficult (and chilly!) process of changing into dry clothes in a tent so small we couldn’t stand upright. We were all starving, but our ice chest was still in the bed of the pickup and exhaustion ruled the day.  Kate complained she wasn’t feeling well and when I reached to brush her bangs off her forehead, I realized she was running a fever. A moment of panic overcame me as I pondered how we would treat an ill child while stuck on a mountaintop. I found our first-aid kit and gave her some Ibuprofen, then the kids and I crawled into our sleeping bags while wishing we were in a dry and comfortable hotel room anywhere closer to civilization. Mr. Mom, an experienced outdoorsman who wasn’t a bit annoyed or deterred by a little rain or a fever, told us all happy stories of the mountain until we fell asleep.

The next day dawned bright and dry. Mr. Mom chopped wood for a fire (and made coffee!), Jeff improvised a clothesline to dry all our wet items, and Sandy and I set up our camp kitchen and organized our tents. As I prepared to carry our gear from Sandy’s small tent to our tent, I discovered our family’s tent was soaking wet inside. In fact, it had standing water on the nylon floor. Upon closer inspection, Mr. Mom determined the roof seams had given way and our tent was a goner. While our tent was more spacious than Sandy’s (and tall enough for Mr. Mom and I to stand up inside), we were grateful that Sandy had brought an extra tent. Otherwise, it would have been a very wet week.

Mr. Mom chopping wood during a pause in the rain.

With a fire, a hearty breakfast in our bellies, and a proper campsite, we finally settled into the trip we had imagined. We even placed our “sun shower” in a sunny spot so we could all take showers later. (A sun shower, for benefit of any non-camping readers, is a three-gallon vinyl bag with a plastic hose and spigot that you fill with water and place in the sun until the water heats up. Then you hang the bag in a tree, or a shower tent — like the tall, narrow tent behind Mr. Mom in the photo above — and enjoy the luxury of a warm shower while camping.)

Sandy reminded me that she had even brought along a porta-potty – a small chemical toilet for campsites.  She figured her small boys could pee in the woods, but didn’t think they could manage any other toilet necessities without the porta-potty. She placed it in an inconspicuous spot away from our campsite and invited all of us to make use of it. This was my second camping trip so I thought I’d be fine with a walk in the woods and a shovel, but my kids – who were afraid of bears and anything that goes bump in the forest – were grateful for the porta-potty.

Kate was the first to give it a try. Afterwards, she sheepishly walked back to our campsite and whispered in my ear, “Mom, I can’t get the porta-potty to flush.” I hollered at Sandy, much to Kate’s embarrassment, “Sandy! Kate just pooped and can’t get the porta-potty to flush. What should I do?”  Sandy walked over from tending the fire and reminded me of the toilet’s instructions. Push the blue button a few times to release the chemicals, then push the tan button to pump the flush mechanism. Then lift the lid and see if all the waste is gone. If not, repeat the process.

I made Kate walk to the toilet with me so she’d know how to work it during future visits. In case you’ve never used one of these contraptions, they are squat little buggers, about the size of a child’s training potty. We got on our hands and knees and bent over the potty. I lifted the lid and, sure enough, Kate’s deposit was still there. I pushed the blue button several times to release the chemical stream, then began to push the tan flush button. For some reason Kate opened the lid prematurely, just as I was pumping, and the contents of the reservoir exploded all over my face and arms as I bowed at the base of Sandy’s plastic throne.

For the rest of our lives, the exploding toilet will be our family’s symbol of a camping trip gone bad. I should have known there was more misfortune in store for us on that damn trip. And more rain, which commenced again a few hours after the toilet mishap.

To be continued . . .