Then I went camping in the snow.
Fresh snow. Wet everything. Anything you could possibly burn for a fire absolutely soaking wet. And freezing cold but still impossibly squishy mud. And yet still somehow the most fun I've had in quite a while.
So we headed out Sunday morning and shockingly managing to make it out in one go, not forgetting any one important item. Pro-status, yo. We made it to Payson and pulled off to actually figure out where we wanted to actually go off-road for the camping and tree hunting. We consulted our handy dandy map of where we were allowed to chop and fiddled with our phones for a few minutes to see if there were any convenient camping sites in the area. There were plenty, but most of them required a fee to get in. No, thank you.
So we just kinda picked a general direction and went that-a-way.
A lot of the turnoffs turned out to be closed for the season, but we finally found a back road that looked promising. We got to a bend where we could either keep going along the clearly traversed dirt road or veer off onto an even more off-roadish path. We took the path less traveled by and came upon a steep bank bordered on either side by even more steep hills and rocks. But Mark was determined. We careened forward, crested the top with our front wheels and tipped deeply to the drivers side, a loud harsh grinding pulling us to a halt. Mark managed to open his door and see that we were ground against the bank on his side and could not continue forward. We backed up, got into 4th low gear and attempted once again to conquer the embankment. We climbed up with a bit more ease and made it over the crest but were once again greeted by the ripping, grinding sound and upon making it across and inspecting the truck we found that the driver's side foot rail had been smashed inward and was awkwardly crunched to one side.
Oops. Luckily, we both aren't too attached to the railing system and actually prefer the look without the stepping aids. So that made it all the better when it eventually completely fell off near the end of the trip.
We ventured onward, not wanting the step to have been crushed in vain but it soon became apparent that this pathway was designed for a lighter, smaller vehicle. We made a few ruts, flung a good amount of mud, trekked on foot to deign whether it was worthwhile to struggle onward, deemed it NOT worthwhile, completed a 10-point (roughly) turn and skedaddled on out. We cheated at the dreaded bank and instead turned off the path, down the hill, into the rock studded ditch (at an alarmingly steep angle, mind you) and curved around a mangled tree.
We found our camping spot not 20 yards beyond our win/fail of an adventure and parked the truck on the flattest spot of ground we could find. We cooked up our dinner and enjoyed the steamy warmth of cheesy chili with sliced up hot dogs sopped with hot dog buns under the cozy goose-down comforter we brought along. A light, gentle snow began falling and everything was perfect. Except that we hadn't found a single dry thing to begin a fire with, let alone a place to build a fire. So we shut up early and ran the truck for a few minutes to work up some heat. Pretty soon, it was cozy enough to leave our extremities outside of the blanket as we listened to Ender's Game on audiobook.
The morning was bright and cold and we wasted no time in deciding that the half hour drive back to Payson for a hot breakfast was in order. I got the country fried steak special with two eggs, potatoes, and toast and he got the double order of biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon. The waitress asked him, "Have you had that before?" Mark hesitated, unsure of how to answer and she added on, "it's a lot of food."
After completely forgetting to submit our order to the chef and apologizing profusely, our plates arrived. It was a BUTT TON of food. The biscuits were each the size of softballs and there were four of them. Between the both of us there was only a bite and a half leftover. The waitress praised our efforts. The potato slices were fried perfection and the scrambled eggs went nicely with the fluffy wheat toast. We did not regret fudging just a tad on our "camping" adventure.
Funnily enough, once we gave up on the 260 giving us any good tree trails (most were closed or too muddy or had no usable christmas tree types) we headed up the 87 and ended up turning off onto the Fire Control Road that was actually the 64. The very first road we turned off of and searched around we found a very nice looking tree. Evenly branched, fairly full of needles and symmetrically shaped. Only maybe slightly too large. We marked that spot in our minds but kept searching. We went as far in as Camp Geronimo but eventually headed back to that very first perfect find to make our early dinner and then head back home. Another uncomfortable night in the truck was not eagerly anticipated so we both agreed going home early would be better than sticking it out another day.
We hiked around, completely disregarding anything on the ground and breaking off any dead, hanging branches that looked like they were at least somewhat dry. After gathering a decent pile, we dug out the already formed fire pit and managed to get a fire going after around twenty minutes. And there was much rejoicing in the land. Even though we burned through almost 80% of the paper plates we had brought along. Not that we needed that many for the trip. We threw our tin foil wrapped piles of steak with chopped up carrots and bell peppers on top and I wedged my traditional can of ravioli onto the coals. When it was bubbling up red sauce through the steam holes I had poked through the top, I attempted to use our long tongs to turn it but when I squeezed the can, little lava bursts of red sauce would squirt out of the top. I managed to turn it without losing too much sauce.
Everything heated quite nicely and we stuffed our faces with sirloin and tri-tip, dipping pieces in the leftover ravioli sauce. I couldn't let the opportunity be wasted and wrapped a hot dog in the used tin foil from the steak and cooked it up on the coals as well and had myself a heavily ketchuped hot dog. Turns out there's a pressure difference between Payson and the valley so not depressurizing and shaking up the bottle so the ketchup is all down by the opening and flipping the lid open is a really great way to get a monstrous stream of ketchup to come soaring out onto your unsuspecting hot dog.
We had cinnamon cake and milk for dessert and just enjoyed the warmth of our successful fire. When the sun went down we began to pack up and Mark wandered off to go find the plastic jug of water we'd seen earlier to use in putting out the fire.
We quickly found out the jug most definitely did NOT contain water. Mark unscrewed the lid to find the seal still intact so the sticker on the front professing to be anti-freeze was actually correct. He declared that it would work anyway since anti-freeze isn't flammable.
It's so totally flammable.
He splashed a bit onto the coals and it whooshed into bright greenish yellow flames. We played with that for a bit before getting out our drinking water and using that to dash out the flames as well as piling some mud on top for good measure.
We continued to pack things up into the truck when I opened the passenger door, reached inside for something and my hip brushed the envelope tucked into the pocket on the door. Out toppled our permit for cutting down our Christmas tree, the whole entire point why we came out, and realized that we had both totally forgotten about it. I held up the envelope and said to Mark at the back of the truck,
"Oh, uh honey? Let's not forget our tree, shall we?"
He looked up with wide eyes and mouth in a silent "O" and we laughed for a long time at ourselves. We're gonna be so helpless when we're old and senile.
We were back home by 8:30, threw all our dirty smelly clothes in the washer, drew up a hot bubble bath and showered away the dirt and sore muscles, then enjoyed an episode of White Collar before retiring to bed.
It was a beautiful, wonderful, solid vacation and I would do it all again this weekend if I could.
We're pretty excited about decorating the tree.
More pictures to come soon!