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As long as her health permitted it, my mother's favourite things to do on vacation were backpacking, cross-country skiing and long walks in cities and in the countryside.

When my brother and I were of school age, she took us and our dog Belka skiing near Moscow every snowy winter weekend. We would ride a train for thirty minutes to an hour, get off on an agreed-upon station, find a ski track and follow it for several hours, have lunch of hot tea that mother carried in a 3-liter-thermos in her backpack, boiled eggs and bread with cheese and sausage or salo (pork fat), then head back to the station.

In summer, the four of us often spent a couple of weeks camping with friendly families with children of our age, most often not walking or kayaking down a river, but simply staying in tents in the woods by a river or lake, in a spot not too near but neither too far from "civilization". We cooked food on the campfire, swam, gathered mushrooms and berries, and played outdoor games including a lot of football in fine weather and cards when it rained.

Later, when money became less tight, we started taking summer trips to famous places around the country, such as the Solovetskiye Islands, Solovki, up North, and the lake Baikal and the Altaj mountains far in the East. These trips were usually half-organized by one tourist company or another, half carried out on our own.

At the same time, mid-2000s, I finished college and started to go on my own trips that were quite different from my mother's. My travels centered around meeting with people, and later, theatre plays, and involved staying in hotels and walking around cities, not wilderness. I liked them better but did not mind, and even insisted on, keeping my mother company on hers until her last true backpacking adventure in the Altaj mountains and lake Teletskoye in 2008.

The trip was an organized affair where a tourist group was taken places in a refurbished old army truck, set up tent camps in certain locations and went sightseeing for day-hikes from those. All the tourist gear, including sleeping bags, was provided by the tour organizer, and that made my mother and I miscalculate. We thought that the trip would be more stay-in-one-place than what it turned out to be, packed suitcases instead of backpacks and took too many clothes, and boots, that we ended up not needing.

This hiccup aside, the sights were beautiful and often breathtaking. We ate wild berries, walked down mountain roads, climbed boulders on mountain sides, swam in the large, placid and clear mountain lake Teleskoye that was often overhung by low clouds, then crossed it in a largish boat.

Rocky brown mountain top covered in patches of snow and half-hidden by clouds in the warm light of a rising sun.

Dusty winding road hewed into the side of a grass-covered mountain.

Sunset over the lake shore. Water on the left, rocky shore then forest on the right, sunlit mountainsides directly ahead, and a pole mounted with a painted cow skull adorned with bird feathers on the shore. The sign under the skull reads "Go no further".

View of Teletskoye lake from the boat. It is a grey, grey day, the boat is grey, the folds of the mountains in front of the viewer are grey, the water is steel grey and the clouds hanging over water are white grey.

Me in a blue t-shirt looking down with a smile. Behind me is a vista of the lake and a grass-covered mountain valley on the other side of the water that is partly hidden in shadow. I was accidentally caught on camera after bathing and my face is still wet.

Me again, sitting in a twisted pose on tree stump, with one leg over another and brushing dirt off my foot before putting my trainer on, while in the background one of our instructors is strapping our bright green sleeping bags on top of our second car.

Mother (on the left) and me (on the right) climbing up a mountain side toward the line of fir trees over great grey rocky boulders.

I also sweated buckets the first four days of the trip, an unpleasant side-effect of travelling South in the summer when your body is out of shape and it takes it a while to get used to the new climate, came down with a head cold from hell right after that, and was uncomfortably reminded that I do not do well walking uphill. (Having trained as a swimmer through secondary and high school, I have no problems walking on the plain, but turn into a huffing, puffing and painfully slow mess climbing any hill, let alone mountain paths.

The problem with day hikes out of a camp is that the group is usually well-rested and sometimes inconsiderate of its weakest members. One time I returned back to camp from halfway into a hike upward at the end of which we were promised to walk on permanent snow. To me, however, this promise was not worth the effort when I was always the last to arrive at rest stops and made to go on almost at once despite needing as much, if not more, rest as everyone else in the group who already had theirs while waiting for me and my two fellow slow-walking sufferers to catch up.

Luckily, we had three instructors, and one could be spared to take me back safely. I would have felt bad about it, had I not learned afterward that one of my two "friends in misfortune" who persevered when I split off had to take a heart pill at the end of the mount, because the group pushed her beyond endurance.

Having returned to camp, I had an interesting experience of my own. Our driver, whose bad feet made him stay back in camp together with my mother, who had thought she was too old for that particular hike from the start, took me with him for a water run. The camp was set on the bank of a flooded, shallow, frothy and dirty mountain river that day, and we had to ride across it to get water from a clean spring. While gathering water, the driver was approached for help by two young people, members of another tourist company, whose smaller vehicle was stuck in the river (it having overflowed part of the road), leading to one of them being injured when they were trying to pull the car out.

The driver agreed to tow them out, and after bringing the water back to camp on the way, there we went. It was interesting riding the front seat of the big truck, and even more interesting, and also embarrassing, to be talked to by the driver as "one of his own". As we drove, he sort of winked at me and commiserated that the group we were helping were likely too green to be able to say a "proper" thank-you to us afterward, meaning, of course, that they would not have had, or known to give him, if they did, a bottle of vodka for his efforts (not that he would have refused to help regardless). It was endearing to be included, and embarrassing as well, because I knew I would have been as "green" as the young people with regards to the "proper" thank-you, had I found myself in their place.

Having recovered from the sweat, and the cold, I enjoyed the sights and other little adventures during the trip, and yet it only confirmed that I would only ever "not mind" such a vacation, especially after the end of this one was forever soured by the health problems my mother started having upon our return home.

We do not know whether she had taken a bad chill when we bathed in the Teletskoye lake, overtired herself lugging around her too-heavy suitcase, or if it was something else entirely, but several weeks later she started suffering from a herniated spinal disk, followed by a slew of different other problems in the years that followed.

We never stayed in tents with her again; she most likely never will, and I much prefer the relative comforts of hotels and hostels.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2017 01:12 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

Special thanks to quiltingdragon for inspiring me to write this.
Mar. 2nd, 2017 03:43 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a very interesting trip. I think I would enjoy going along. It is irritating when all the others are faster and more fit than you are. You hate being tired, and you hate holding them up.
Mar. 3rd, 2017 11:07 am (UTC)
It was sometimes too much for me, but I think you would have thrived on it, because you are much more active :-)
Mar. 3rd, 2017 02:50 am (UTC)
Sounds like an amazing trip. It's too bad your mom's problems began after that. My mom keeps telling me that her tent camping days are now done, but luckily she's still game for some adventure if she can use her RV as base camp. I almost wrote about the frustration of being among the slower hikers in some groups in my entry, too.
Mar. 3rd, 2017 11:11 am (UTC)
We still go on trips, too, we just find ways to rent rooms locally instead of setting up tents.

And I agree about being the slowest, but I had a laugh too, when we were going downhill. It was a long walk, but I was always with the fastest group that time, and it was fun seeing them wonder at the change :-)
Mar. 4th, 2017 08:15 am (UTC)
This was an interesting read and the pictures are beautiful :)
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Mar. 4th, 2017 05:53 pm (UTC)
I loved the memories in here, and the pictures were great. My mental image of Russia is one of snow, and I forget how beautiful it must be when the snow is gone. One of the things I have been noticing in some of the outdoor entries is how miserable parts of the hike were, but how wonderful the memories are now.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:06 pm (UTC)
Well, we are certainly further North than most of the U.S., and the shortest day of the year in Moscow is 2 hours shorter than the same in Michigan where my parents' friend now lived (we compared them this year :) ), but we still have snow for less than half a year, and the recent winters, bar this one, have been too snowless and too warm.

I am rather glad that we usually have no more than 3 or 4 weeks of temperatures over 80F though, because I stand the cold better than the heat.

I have noticed the same trend this week :). The difficult part of such adventures usually are worth the beauty that you see.
Mar. 5th, 2017 03:07 am (UTC)
The difficulty with group trips is always that the group pace may not be what you'd prefer. The photos are lovely thank you for sharing them, and this story.
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, but when the group are walking from point A to point B without returning to point A, the group is usually more interested in ensuring the weakest members are not off their last feet.

Thank you :)
Mar. 5th, 2017 11:47 pm (UTC)
Those are amazing pictures!

I'm sorry that last excursion did not go as well as planned, but how nice that you were able to take it with your mother, and give her that last outdoors experience. Your childhood shows how much she loved the outdoors, and those winter ski trips... I wish I'd had the opportunity to do something like that as a child!
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, looking back, I am really grateful for both. I might not want to repeat the experience on my own, but it was absolutely worth it :)

Thank you!

What prevented you from going on trips with your parents? (I hope it is not a painful memory.)
Mar. 6th, 2017 06:12 pm (UTC)
We did summer trips-- yearly backpacking, which went very well.

Not so much in the winter. My mother's first career was as a radiologist, and skiing and motorcycle riding were forbidden at our house, due to the number of paralyzed people she'd seen as a result of accidents from both.

Cross-country skiing wasn't really a thing at all when I was growing up, and she would have been okay with that. But the convenience of getting on a train with your stuff, going up into the mountains and being dropped off and taking the train back when you're done... we don't have anything like that in the part of the U.S. I live in. Passenger rail isn't as common, especially not for things like that where it would actually be very useful! So much better than people piling in their cars and driving to and from the mountains in stormy weather. That's kind of an inhibitor even now. :O
Mar. 6th, 2017 12:00 am (UTC)
A touching memory, something to hold onto for a lifetime. And the pictures are great!
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, it was interesting and sometimes very unusual (I have never ridden such a truck long distance before, for example). Thank you!
Mar. 6th, 2017 06:33 am (UTC)
It is not easy getting older. You have to cultivate new interests be c ause you can't physically manage the old. Thank you for sharing this. Hugs and peace~~~~
Mar. 6th, 2017 04:19 pm (UTC)
It is not easy getting older. You have to cultivate new interests because you can't physically manage the old.
Very true. And because my mother has always enjoyed good health before this rapid decline, I feel that she is afraid/in denial/resentful over it.

So on the one hand, it is a blessing for her that she continues working, and I fear what will happen when she stops, but on the other, she probably should soon, because she has turned 75 this year and working tires her a lot...

Thank you for this comment.
Mar. 6th, 2017 07:12 pm (UTC)
Goodness! Blessings on her being so active! :)
Mar. 6th, 2017 08:26 pm (UTC)
So did your mom take you and your brother and dog and skis and lunch all by train? That's a lot to carry! When I was riding the bullet train in Japan, one of the stops was a ski range where you could just get off and take the lifts immediately to the slopes. It seemed really convenient.

I find the vodka story funny because your driver was under the assumption everyone brings bottles of vodka camping let alone having extra on hand for a present. Are you always supposed to bring vodka camping? I guess it's similar here with the cheap beer most people bring with them in coolers when they go camping.

I really like the pictures btw. Especially that skull post. I went on a hike yesterday up a mountain. It was tough and I'm sore, but fun!
Mar. 6th, 2017 09:08 pm (UTC)
We always carried our own skies, and when we grew older, first I and then my brother were given little backpacks with spare mittens and socks, and boots, but yes, at first, she carried pretty much everything.

Vodfka is common currency in the country, yeah. A bottle of vodka would get you a truck of manure, and a bag of fish, and repairs around the house done, and I-don't-know what else. Back when vodka was only sold "по талонам" in the 90s, those who had country houses stocked up on it all winter. I once saw a cupboard full of bottles at mum's friend's house, it was surreal because she did not drink.

And well, on trips, it is often used as rubbing alcohol (at home, too), and as currency, too. I do not know if the adults used it that way on our summer trips. But I guess had we really ~went backpacking into places unknown, they would have had a couple of bottles ready just in case.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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