Celebrating a 30th birthday in the woods

I was turning 30 and I wanted to wake up in the woods. Of course, that meant that my dad was going to want to come with me, but he had never been actually camping before and certainly not winter camping. We would find out the next morning that he had never slept in a sleeping bag and had gotten lost several times in the mummy bag we had bought him for further adventures. In fact, the last time he had slept outside was back to back with a fellow soldier during basic training. This experience would be a little different. 

My mom dropped off my dad, the BF, my 8-year-old cousin, our golden retriever Vespi and myself at the trailhead and we quickly strapped on our snowshoes and headed out into the wilderness. Of course, unbeknownst to us, little kid snowshoes aren’t really made for actual backcountry adventures and we laughed the entire way in as she kept slipping out. The fact that she was carrying her own backpack full of gear made it even more hilarious as she had never been camping either. 

We were heading out to Tucker-Johnson Shelter on the Long Trail. A classic leanto in the Appalachian style that has since burned to the ground and been rebuilt. But for a while there, it was our favorite little sneak into the woods and hideaway for the night. A quick jaunt into Maine Junction, where the Long Trail and Appalachian Trails meet for their congruent 100 miles, and then just a little further north and there you are, hiding in the backcountry while still being in Killington.

First you have to cross these cut log walkways that carry you away from Route 4 and back into the woods. This first part actually lines up with the Catamount Trail before breaking away into this glorious open area. Well, not a field or anything, but the trees open up enough that it would be perfect for a few turns if that’s what you were into. But in winter, it’s just stunning. The noise from the road fades away and the silence has you feeling like you’ve walked for miles. 

In the summertime, the path is well marked and windy, but in the winter we were following our instincts and the sometimes not quite so visible white blazes of the AT, which, due to all the snow, were now somewhere around our knees rather than up at eye height. So it was good to have an 8-year-old with us to find the marks. 

Megan was excited but my dad was just plain nervous. I mean, that’s valid. Going winter camping for the first time at age 60. It’s funny. We should have spent more time worrying about the 8-year-old being warm enough, but she was like an inferno throughout the night. Over the years, I have become a firm believer that most of the time kids are only cold because we tell them we should be. 

My dad, on the other hand, was pretty close to miserable even though he would never admit it. He got tangled in his mummy bag and almost fell off the top level of the bunk bed in the middle of the night and his face in the morning was one of someone who never quite stopped shivering even though he had a -15 down sleeping bag we had bought him for just this occasion. 

He so wanted to be an adventurer, but could never quite get past his flatlander routes to really make the transition. He was in full ski clothes, a beautiful DNA outfit in browns and greens that was an elegant transition from his constant red jackets. But man, was he absolutely miserable in the woods, trying to keep his game face on because his daughter wanted to wake up in the woods on her 30th birthday. 

It was worth it. Every moment. We had bribed my dad with a beef stroganoff dinner over the camping stove but even the warmth of the dinner wasn’t enough to make him never want to go winter camping with the BF and me again. I am pretty sure my dad ever went camping again – in fact, he never even talked about camping again and probably worked hard to black this experience out in his mind since every time we brought it up to laugh he would somehow find an excuse to leave the room. The rest of us had an absolute blast, being awakened by the warming light of a beautiful sunrise in the middle of the woods only a few miles from civilization. It still ranks as the best birthday I’ve ever had and I’ll always be grateful to my dad for braving the elements on a late March night so that I could wake up in the woods for my 30th birthday.

Merisa is a  Killington resident, KMS coach, bartender and Realtor with Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty. She can be reached at femaleskibum@gmail.com. 

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