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When I go camping, I always have this image of a lone tent set high up on a bluff at night, the sky generously grated with stars as bright and yellow as cheddar cheese. But it’s never like that. Not really.

Take, for example, the sounds. Where that beautiful lonely campsite I mentioned before would only carry the rustlings, zippings, crunchings and murmurings of a few humans, and the rush of the alpine oceans intermixed with chirps, warbles and the occasional hum of an unwanted fly, the campground of reality is much, much louder.

Our neighbors are a prime example of what not to be when you go camping. Their Minnesotan accents woke me up at 6:15. They have more people packed into their campsite than the Brady Bunch, and my god are they loud. At 7, my ears were assaulted by the matriarch preparing the young ones for their hike. “Do you want a sandwich? Mayonnaise or butter?” was circulated around the group more times than I care to remember.

They invaded our little home under the mountain like a small army of cockroaches, but unlike cockroaches, they do not fear the light. I even saw one of the boys walk straight through our campsite. They brought enough food to last through winter and the grandmother-matriarch never stops asking if anyone wants more food while dragging on a cigarette in a National Park where a fire is still raging. I guess vices don’t have a pause button.

I saw what devastation one of those fires could do today while driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Makes more sense why Smokey the Bear’s philosophy was drilled into my head when I was younger.

Today we hiked up to Hidden Lake behind Logan Pass Visitors Center. I passed someone from Pineville, Missouri, who recognized us as fellow kinsmen from dad’s Mizzou T-shirt. I saw an itty-bitty brown lab puppy trotting up the boardwalk stairs, tail straight up, having the time of his life. I saw an Asian man with a bandage on his forehead from a tangle with his feet and the rocks. The man helping him showed an interested party the dents in his metal water bottle from the impact of the fall.

I saw meadows filled with lush green grass the color of spring. It seemed like an artist took his water colors up with him and began dotting the wide expanse of grass with butter yellows, creamy violets, opaque ivories and cornflower blues. The flowers were gorgeous. So was the lake.

I took a selfie with dad at the overlook to the lake. On the way down, I was hit with a wave of predetermined nostalgia and gratefulness for a dad who would drive thousands of miles, sleep on the ground, follow me up mountains and eat freeze-dried Neapolitan ice-cream with his daughter.

A few nights ago there was a terrible wind all night and the tent sides would push and pull. At one point I swore there was a bear muzzle pointing in against the tent flap. Without hesitation, “Dad!” flew out of my mouth. “It’s just the wind,” he said calmly. Even at 21, I’ll never be too old to need my dad.


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