Working at a job with variable hours, Zachary doesn’t get weekends off. In fact, a two-day break is a rare occurrence for him. He didn’t have such a break last week, so I wasn’t expecting anything interesting to happen.
Then, on Tuesday afternoon, he said, “Do you want to try camping down by Buford Mountain tomorrow night?” He was working 7 to 4 on Wednesday and had Thursday off, so if we got everything packed in advance, we’d have barely enough time to make the two-hour drive and arrive at the site before dark.
We’ve been talking about hiking at Buford Mountain Conservation Area for some time now. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch claimed that the 10.5-mile loop was the most challenging trail in the St. Louis area. Zachary and I decided to check it out. With a little research, we learned that the area allows primitive camping. I hesitated, feeling anxiety. We only have one trail-worthy backpack. How could we pack enough water? Shouldn’t we think about this more?
“We have a tent, sleeping pads, and sleeping bag,” Zachary said. “I can fit four liters of water in my pack. You can take your normal backpack with our food and clothes.”
I hesitated a moment more, then said, “Let’s do it.”
The next day, I spent all afternoon rushing around the kitchen, trying to get all our camping food ready. We weren’t taking a stove, so all the food had to be both shelf-stable and edible at lukewarm temperature. Soon I had a backpack stuffed with hummus, crackers, bananas, apples, burritos, and lots of trail mix. I washed a mountain of dishes I’d created as I waited for Zachary to get home.
Soon he arrived, and after getting together some last-minute details, we left at 5:00. Of course we didn’t consider that we’d be traveling down Interstate 270 during rush hour. Inching along, we plugged Zach’s phone into our tape player and listened to side one of the Beatles’ white album.
After a brief supper at Chick fil-A, we were off again, leaving the noisy interstates behind and riding onto the slender back roads. The sun sunk closer and closer to the horizon, painting the tree’s feathery budding twigs with golden light. I was reminded why I love southern Missouri as the hills grew taller and green farmland and wide wooded hills spread out before us.
We hooked a sharp left onto Route U, and found our way to the entrance of a white gravel road marked “Buford Mountain.” Our car lumbered up a snaking path, until at last we stopped at a silent parking lot surrounded by thin-trunked deciduous trees that sloped up the mountainside. To the west, the hills hid the fading gold of the sun, and to the east, the nearly-full moon was inching toward the treetops. My heart pounded as Zachary and I jumped out of the car. It was the beginning of our first backpacking trip.