One of our family priorities is on weekend adventures. That doesn't mean that every weekend involves intense planning or that we do wild and crazy things... all of the time. And sometimes, we do have branches to rake, or fertilizer to spread, or bunkbeds to paint, or welding projects to tackle, or birthday parties to attend. :) But... most Saturday mornings follow a predictable routine of pancakes and maple syrup with hot tea, followed by a mad, but well-orchestrated scramble to gather gear and food supplies for the day's outing. Erik is in charge of outdoor gear and loading the car. I clean up the breakfast mess, put together the picnic, and help little ones get dressed in adventure appropriate clothing. :)
This week, Erik plotted a course of canoeing adventure that didn't leave time for the pancakes. Instead, we loaded the Suburban with clothes, life-jackets, food, and Erik's bike, and strapped our dented aluminum canoe to the top. We stopped in town for kids' sunglasses, sunscreen, and breakfast sandwiches from the McDonald's drive-through before driving up to GTNP (Grand Teton National Park). And by 10:15, we had stashed Erik's bike in bushes at a little-used boat launch on Jackson Lake, driven back down the road four or so miles to String Lake, and were sufficiently sun-screened and life-preserved. I have been wearing a rather comical men's XL life jacket to canoe with. A little funny-looking, but with three non-swimming kiddos (the older girls are in lessons, but...) I need to be wearing one!
The Tetons are flanked by a series of easily accessible lakes. The first (as you come from the South) is Jenny Lake. We drove past that one; it is bigger, has a ferry boat, and is incredibly busy on summer Saturdays as tourists and locals access the beautiful hiking trails around and beyond it. The next one is String Lake, where we launched our trusty old vessel. It is a shallow, narrow, snake-like string, and gets plenty of (non-motorized) boat traffic. The shoreline is usually packed with picnickers, and the very brave swim out to the famous "jumping rock" in the middle. We crossed the lake easily in a short paddle.
The second lake is Leigh Lake. To get there, we "portaged" our canoe a short distance and re-launched into deeper, wider waters. Portaging is a funny sight with a family with three kids and a pregnant mama. Elisa carried her paddle and the Crazy Creek chairs we use as padding for the kids in the canoe. She kept up easily with Dad, who was carrying a canoe on his shoulders, a heavy backpack, and his own paddle. I lugged our lunch sack, the other paddles, and dragged the two little ones along behind me.
Leigh Lake can be a long journey, but on Saturday, a stiff breeze blew at our backs, and the paddle across seemed short (maybe only 45 minutes). A passing canoe told us to look for moose on the farthest north island, but we didn't see any. From there, we skidded into the shore, a bit uncertain of where we would find our next (much less popular) trail. It turned out we had chosen the perfect landing spot, and found the trail easily. Portage #2. We stopped halfway for a drink and snack, and then launched our boat in tiny Bear Paw Lake. Neither Erik or I had ever visited that lake. The paddle across was really short, as we hit a shallow area and had to pull out much sooner that we had envisioned. We were probably only in the canoe for 10 minutes, maybe. :) But, that was Lake #3. We marched through a tall, marshy meadow and then managed to find the hidden trail beyond the lake's narrow, muddy "tail." This time, because we knew the portage was over 1/2 mile, I strapped Raina to my back (I love my soft Beco carrier. If you are expecting a baby, an Ergo or Beco is an absolute necessity! :)). We stripped off life vests and I wrangled them all together in one hand, paddles in the other. Elisa carried our lunch - conveniently packed in her little backpack. Sadie worked hard to trundle along through the deep grass and then over fallen logs and rocks on the downhill path. The trail was actually much better maintained than we were expecting, and the girls did great. Raina napped for twenty or so minutes on my back (which, I'll admit, was a bit achy!). Erik is a stud. :) The hike took us probably close to an hour. We weren't looking at a watch at all, so all of my time frames are total guesses!
We arrived at the south end of Jackson Lake and gladly devoured peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and cookies. And lots of water. The day was warm - well over 80 degrees, and we were hot! Shoes came off for splashing in the bay, and after a pleasant and shady rest, we were off again! This time, the paddle was longer. We did look at the time on this leg, and we were in the canoe for almost two hours. At times, wind and waves were strong, so we hugged the shoreline and I did my best to help Erik keep the canoe on a steady course. I'm not much of a paddler even when I'm not eight months pregnant, but I worked hard! We stopped in the calm of an island and reapplied sunscreen, and Elisa's loose front tooth fell out! Erik tucked it in a zippered pocket, we snapped a photo, and then we pressed on!
When we finally reached the bay where Erik's bike was stashed, the kids were a bit weary. It was about 5:00, I think, and they were happy, tired, and hungry. More cookies, more water, and more wet toes. I gave them empty bottles to fill with sand and pebbles and they played contentedly on the shore while this tired mama sat and watched. Erik pedaled hard and fast back to our car. He arrived by six, and we re-loaded the car. Somehow, we lost one of our brand new kids sunglasses. Oops.
Portage from Bear Paw to Jackson Lake
Picnicking at Bear Paw Bay on Jackson Lake before our last leg.
We fed the kids lunch leftovers for dinner as we drove, and little Raina-bean slept hard in the car.