I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
Okay, maybe it was a hill. But the hike was steep and long, or so it seemed to me.
Probably one of the most memorable outings with my children occurred a few years back. Charlie, my outdoorsman, wanted to lead us on a hike. He loves backwoods kind of stuff and had been learning about “Outdoor Leadership” at school. He planned the thing from start to finish — more or less. As you can imagine, outings with a family like ours can take on a life of their own.
We talked about different options beforehand: how long the hike should be, who should go, when we should do it, etc.
May was ruled out. Black flies are horrible in the Adirondacks in May. They are my one memory of a family hike I took up Mount Marcy as a child. Black flies are merciless, swarming, nasty, little blood suckers. I avoid them at all costs.
Grace and Hannah were ruled out. Grace is — how should I say it — not the most active child. Her eyes are probably the most physically fit part of her from scanning back and forth on page after page of book after book. And she occasionally, at that age, whined. Don’t tell her I said that. Hannah was just too little. I knew she would be asking to be carried at some point, and I didn’t want to. I also didn’t want anyone else to give in to her winsome harmless-sounding requests.
How long the hike should be was a harder question. Charlie studied maps of the Adirondacks. He regularly took campers on hikes, but I think he wanted something he had never done before. Someone told him about some fire tower that had spectacular views. It was a steep two-plus mile hike out. This sounded reasonable. Two miles straight up — get the hard part out of the way. Enjoy a snack. Enjoy the views. Enjoy each other’s company. Easy two miles down.
So, one beautiful August day we set out: Charlie, Brandon, Deirdre, Elliot, Fin, Bobby, and me.
We arrived at the trail head, divided some eats and drinks in backpacks,and headed out. A short way in, we came to a fork in the trail. You know what Yogi Berra says — “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” We took it. The left hand fork, that is.
Everyone was in agreement that this was the right way. Everyone but Brandon, that is.
“I think we need to go right,” he said, in his quiet, non-obtrusive way. Nobody listened to him.
Off we went, hiking, full of energy, laughing, enjoying this easy trail. It sloped up at first, and then began a gentle slope down. And down. And down.
“I don’t think this is the right way,” Brandon said again. Nobody listened to him. Again.
A good twenty minutes into this hike, which essentially was a gentle downhill descent, Charlie called us to a stop. “I don’t think is the right way,” Charlie announced.
“That’s what I said,” Brandon muttered beside me. I don’t think anyone else heard him.
“We need to go back to the fork and go the other way,” Charlie said, and everyone nodded in agreement.
“I told you we needed to go right,” Brandon said quietly beside me. I ignored him.
So, off we went, the other way, a gentle ascent. The day had gotten considerably warmer in the time we had been out on the trail, and ascending is a bit more taxing than descending, but once we reached the fork, we rested momentarily and started anew.
Now we were definitely on the right trail. It quickly got steep, then steeper, then steepest. I felt like I was in an English class using comparative words.
We went up and up and up. I started to feel my almost-50 years. I, who prided myself on being physically fit, who exercised nearly daily by walking and lifting, who had given birth to eight children without breaking a sweat (slight exaggeration) was running out of breath. Quickly.
I sat down on a rock to rest. Everyone else kept going. Charlie, who was bringing up the rear, sat down with me.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I just need to rest a minute,” I told him, a little embarrassed at the whole thing. I jumped up. “I’m okay now. Let’s keep going.”
He looked at me questioningly, but took up his hiking stick and started behind me again.
We didn’t have to go far before we found everyone waiting for us at a bend in the trail.
“Mom was tired,” Charlie said by way of explanation. Of course, they were all rested by the time we reached them and were on their feet ready to go.
Is there a word beyond steepest? Because that’s what I felt the trail was turning into. I rested again, Charlie waiting with me, and then we caught up with the others.
My rest were becoming more frequent and longer. It’s like the contractions one has when having a baby. If you’ve ever had a baby, you know what I mean. (I really was exaggerating about having babies without breaking a sweat. It’s hard work. That’s why it’s called labor.) I was doubting whether I could finish this hike.
Suddenly, a funny thing happened. When we, once again, caught up with the rest of the pack, they didn’t get on their feet. They waited while I rested with them, and then told me to lead the way.
I didn’t think much of it. I started on, feeling my quads like I had never felt them before, pushing the weight of my body up one step, and then another. Before long, I needed to rest again.
“You go on ahead,” I told my followers. “I’ll catch up.”
“I’m tired, too,” they said, one after the other, and sat down beside me.
When I got up, ready to go again, they insisted I lead. Me. Obviously the weakest of the bunch. Leading up and up and up. I thought the trail would never end. I thought I would never reach the top.
When I stopped, they stopped, and when I started, they started. I could hear them whispering behind me. It wasn’t like Brandon’s earlier muttering; it was giggly whispers.
“What’s going on?” I asked, turning on them suddenly. Wide-eyed innocence was all I got in answer.
I’m not sure when it hit me. Had I caught snatches of words? Or had it just become too obvious? They wanted me — me — to be the first to the summit. It was a honor that my usually competitive crew was bestowing on me. My eyes teared up, just as they do now when I remember that moment.
I gritted my teeth and vowed to be worthy. I pressed those muscles of mine to do work they had no mind to do. It wasn’t long before we reached the summit.
A fire tower with a view that made it all worthwhile.
Michael Card once sang,
There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey
There was great joy in the journey that day.
This post was the first idea that came to mind when reading yesterday’s daily prompt: Head to one of your favorite blogs. Write a companion piece to their penultimate post.
That was before I knew what penultimate meant.