Wow, sorry I haven’t gotten this one down yet.

I took the boys camping last weekend. As in actual, honest-to-god put your stuff on your back and hike camping, not the pull up to a graded gravel pad and lock the food in the car camping.

I called the Connecticut DEP the Thursday before Memorial Day to see if any of the “backcountry” camping passes were available for the weekend. “Sure”, the helpful voice on the line said. “Where do you want to go?” I wasn’t sure, so she faxed over the list of places in the eastern half of the state. Scouted a couple on Google Earth, and faxed back my permit request. Easy as that. They emailed it over later that day.

Sunday after church, the boys and I loaded up the VW and drove over to Pachaug State Forest, and started hiking on one of the blue-blazed trails. I was playing it kind of conservative – there weren’t a whole lot of contour lines on the map, and it wasn’t much more than a mile and a half to the campsite.

The kids were great on the hike, despite a decent number of mosquitoes. We used a citronella-based repellent, and it worked decently well. The oldest had a blast on the hike, and the youngest made it about 3/4 of the way before he asked to be carried. Even then, I only had to let him ride on my shoulders for about a quarter mile until he was fine walking again.

The campsite was great, if not quite what I’d describe as “backcountry”. It was immediately adjacent to a boat launch and some state forest dirt roads. Turns out we could have driven there if we wanted to. But the hike was a great part of it.

Other than being a parking lot, the campsite was great. It was right at the deep end of a small impoundment, and we found red-eared sliders laying eggs on the dam. Plenty of good, flat space to run around. We purified a couple of bottles of water to replace what we’d drank on the hike, with both boys making sure they pumped a little bit, ’cause Chris and Martin did that on Zooboomafoo.

We unpacked, and the boys got a kick out of setting up a bear-bag for the evening. They were really, really disappointed the next morning when they hadn’t seen a bear during the night, which, I guess, means I hadn’t completely explained the concept of hanging food to them.

Supper was ramen noodles and GORP. After supper, the boys threw rocks for literally hours, and I had a chance to try out the old fly rod. Tied on a non-descript fuzzy thing with a pink head and butt, and tossed it out, mostly for the joy of being able to throw a long line without worrying about catching the elusive tree-fish.

To my amazement, I actually caught a fish. And not just any fish – at first I thought I’d snagged some lily pads, but then they started swimming to deeper water. Which was odd. Still, I wasn’t convinced it was a fish; maybe a log and some strange hydrodynamics…

Then the water boiled, and my next thought was that the fish was foul hooked (IE, not hooked in the mouth, but snagged) and I was dragging it through the water sideways. It stripped line off the reel, but finally, I dragged it to the shore, and was eye-to-eye with the biggest largemouth bass I’ve seen in my life. I lipped it, and saw the fly neatly stuck in the fish’s tongue. As I was working the fly out, I realized that this was a REALLY BIG fish – I could put my entire fist inside the sucker’s mouth.

The boys got a kick out of it – they’d only seen bluegill to this point, so seeing daddy haul this monster out was a trip. I went to great pains to explain that this fish was extraordinary, but they weren’t buying it. It’s good to be the king.

Somehow we got to sleep. Even though they’re tiny, a two-person backpacking tent is too small for a dad and two young boys. Especially when it’s COOL to sleep in a tent. Eventually we got to sleep, but it was like watching brownian motion in a cup as it cools – gradually less and less until an equilibrium is reached.

The next morning went better than expected. No crying from the big one on the hike back. The little one was exhausted from not getting enough sleep, so I carried him a lot more than on the way in.

All in all, it was phenomenal. Cannot wait to go again.