Yup – summertime is here! Time for barbecues, beach days, and from the days of my youth, time for hitting the road! I devoted my last post to trips I took with dear Mummy, so I thought it only fair to shift my focus for Father’s Day month to travels with my dad!
Of course, there’s lots of overlap since (as the photo above shows) the folks did most of their traveling as a team from the very start. But I’m lucky to have a ton of different travel memories to savor and pass along – some that go way, way back! Mum even tells me I uttered my very first word on a trip! Though I could have gone with one of the usuals like “mama” or “dada”, she says I opted for “duck” after being introduced to one in a park pond during a family vacation. For days after, I delighted in shouting the word from my seat in the car for any reason or no reason – loads of family fun there, I’m sure…
While I have to count on Mum’s recollection for that tidbit, my own earliest travel memories include being on a ship bound for Australia where Dad took the family while he spent a year’s sabbatical working in Adelaide – during which he found time to take us on some amazing Outback outings!
Memory also serves up images of all kinds of family adventures back home in the States with Mum, my big brothers Rich and Jack and, at the helm of our beloved (if breakdown-prone) International Harvester Travelall – m’ dear Dad!
I have sort of childish, snippety kinds of memories from these trips. Like I remember the buzzing of bugs as we surveyed the grassy battlefield at Little Bighorn in Montana on a hot day. I recall racing around and out of Montezuma Well in Arizona for the safety of our car when rain began pouring down in buckets. And while I don’t recall where it was, I’ll never forget the crushing force of Dad’s grip on my hand as we descended a rickety metal staircase almost straight down into a cavern with all kinds of nothing on either side. (Dad seemed to think a little hand smooshing better than risking a tumble…)
Much of the time when we explored the country, we camped which was always lots of fun! While I was mostly occupied on these trips with racing around parks and campgrounds, or trying to push all the buttons on museum displays, Dad’s “vacation” duties included packing up the car, driving all day long, setting up camp, breaking down camp, rinsing and repeating.
I think some of that was on Dad though as he didn’t seem to care for staying put very long. When families of fellow UC Berkeley Plant Pathology professors would gather at Richardson’s Grove to camp among the majestic Northern California coastal redwoods, it wouldn’t be more than a couple days before Dad would be ready for a new adventure – and even though it meant more work for him, away we’d go!
After Rich and Jack went off to college, the folks and I still camped now and then – and I also got to savor some special adventures with Dad when we went on backpacking trips! Mainly, our playground was the Emigrant Wilderness near Yosemite National Park where Dad would take me and often several of my friends into a back country filled with jumbles of granite, towering trees, and inviting (if icy cold…) lakes!
Although we often covered some of the same favorite territory, Dad liked to experiment (as professors do) with our routes in. He felt there had to be a better way than hiking from low elevation to high on the first day when we were the least acclimated. So Dad used old logging maps to find roads to take us up above the standard trailheads – then we could set off on foot with some precious altitude already gained.
Truth be told – since we weren’t always on commonly used trails, our way did get lost on occasion. And the going sometimes got tough as we traversed granite mountainsides where trails (if any) were only designated by periodic little piles of stones which sometimes proved hard to spot. (Some call these trail markers “cairns” – perhaps it was destiny, but I know them as “ducks”.)
We always got ourselves sorted out (you know, eventually). And to me, it was part of the thrill that we were journeying into territory where no one – or where far fewer anyway – had gone before!
Dad, my backpacking buddies and I came to favor a camping spot by Hyatt Lake where prior explorers had assembled a set of granite “chairs” around a fire pit – the perfect place to end our evenings staring into a cheery campfire, recalling events of the day and (from a teenaged perspective) pondering life, nature and what it would feel like to be clean again.
And while I’m sure Dad would have preferred (as fathers do) that we actually learn from such mistakes as packing more gear than we could comfortably carry or more food than we could possibly consume, he unfailingly ended up adding to his load in order to lighten ours.
I love to recall moments from these wilderness treks that were larger than everyday life – like the time a mountain thunderstorm sent torrents of water rushing through our camp and we had to retreat to a nearby cave! But some of the simpler moments have proved the sweetest over time – like the fact that whenever I awoke in the morning on a pack trip, it was always to the sound of the crackling fire Dad was already up and quietly tending.
Dad also taught me while out on a hiking trail the benefit of glancing back now and then at the way we’d just come so we could more easily find our way out on the return trip. It’s a lesson that has stuck – even if I still overpack…
Dad and I took our last backpack trip in 1991 around Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (covered in “The Whole Dam Bit”) before the folks headed north for retirement and I headed south. After that, we three still met up for amazing adventures in places like Canada, Finland, Ireland, the Mediterranean and, of course, in our wonderful home country too! It’s largely thanks to them that I have such an incredible wealth of travel tales to share!
I thank them so much too for those early travel memories! In the month of Father’s Day, I can conjure up images of Dad’s helping me catch my first fish. I recall his sitting beside me while I marveled at my first magical view of fireflies. And I can still feel his vice-like grip on my hand as we explored that cavern!
I can’t help sharing one more similar incident when the folks and I were traveling in Alberta, Canada. Our tour bus had stopped at a spot overlooking a steep canyon, across from which we were to watch for a train that would be visible in three sections as it wound both around and through a mountain.
As our wait time drew on, I thought I’d rest a little by hitching myself onto the wall that separated us from a very steep drop. Dad’s hand instantly shot out and got me by the arm.
“Get down from there,” he commanded in a tone so stern that, knowing there was no room for argument, I promptly hopped back off the wall.
I was nearing 40 at the time.
And I realized in that particular moment that, to Dad, I would always be the little girl gleefully hollering “Duck!”. He’d undertaken to look after me, educate me, and love me – and not for the world (which he gave me too, by the way) would he ever give it up. While public confirmation of that fact might have been a tiny bit embarrassing, it was also a grand gift to be able to carry in my pocket.
I got to continue to meet up with Dad for trips all the way until just a few months before he passed away in 2010.
I can’t look down the trail and see him there ahead of me anymore – but I’m so blessed to be able to take a glance back at such wonderful travels with Dad. A grand gift, indeed!
Happy Father’s Day – and best wishes for all your summertime travels!