Monday, December 8, 2008
The Walking Stick
Climb every mountain / ford every stream / follow every by-way / 'til you find your dream...
(from Climb Every Mountain, as performed in The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Okay, we just watched the movie again--part of our study of Europe--and that, plus the fact that I finally get to write about this part of our vacation, has left me a bit giddy...)
Our practice paid off. After six weeks of triathlon workouts (biking/hiking/swimming) for two hours every morning, we took a week off to pack, travel, and play in CA/OR with Grandma and Grandpa. But then we reached their home place, located less than an hour from my favorite mountain lake, and it was time for the test. Could any amount of exercise at our 1,000-foot elevation prepare us for a 14-mile hike at 4,000-7,000 feet???
It was to be a day hike, and we had a deadline since a special supper was planned for our return. Our alarm woke us while it was still dark. I finished loading lunch while my husband quietly rousted kids, and we snuck out before dawn without waking our elders. Our destination? My favorite lake or bust!
Over the years the trails to this lake have...evolved. When I was in my early teens we first hiked in using an arduous trail that was five miles one way, and we were more than grateful to set down our gear and set up camp for two nights before we had to pack back out. By my senior year in high school that first trail was closed, and our Backpacking Club took a new, more moderate, but longer trail in and out for a day hike. The following summer I worked for the USFS on a crew that used hand tools to maintain all the trails in the wilderness areas in that district. Along with kicking rocks and cutting out Douglas fir of great diameter that had fallen across the trails during winter, we spent one day picking rocks out of a fresh dozer trail that would one day become the trailhead from which hikers could get to the lake from the opposite side of the wilderness area. It was planned to be an easier, shorter route, with breathtaking panoramic views along the way.
But alas, I missed those views. I left Oregon that fall--headed east for college, and ended up settling in the Midwest after that. Over the years, during a couple different late spring visits, I attempted the trail, only to be forced to turn back due to snowpack. I had never made it to the lake via this newest trail. Now my family was excited to realize this dream with me.
Upon arriving at the trailhead, we ate a quick breakfast: fruit, yogurt, and breakfast bars; then took a pre-hike potty break and pix, donned our packs, and headed out. The flora in the area is very different from the species around our home, and the kids started noticing and appreciating this right away. Nevertheless, the first mile was breezy, chilly, steep, and, at this time of year, dusty. Reality dampened their excitement quickly, and it took a lot of encouragement, silliness, and photo-op stops to get our tired young trudgers over that initial hump. Once everyone warmed up and got going, though, we chugged along at a pretty good pace. We got our first glimpse of the lake from the ridge that overlooks it, and made it down to shore just in time for lunch.
Like most of the other bodies of water in the volcanic Cascade range, this lake is crystal clear and icy cold. That means, of course, that it's enticing! Though seconds before we'd felt famished, the lake was captivating and immediately became more important than lunch. Some of us soaked our hot, aching feet... Others went swimming... I'll leave you to imagine who was in each group, but will say that my husband repeatedly commented on how comfortable his "new used" hiking shoes had been, and I got one incredible video of someone who donned her snorkel and mask, jumped right in, and...SCREAMED through her snorkel as she kicked and paddled underwater all the way across the small bay of our resting spot!
It sounded like a mama moose was charging us!
I'm sure all the wildlife in the area were fairly confounded!
It would have been great fun to share, except......I accidentally deleted it...! :~O
By the time we arrived at the lake we had hiked seven miles and were tired, sore, dusty, hot, hungry, and had consumed about half of our water (we carried 80 ounces per person, plus had a large jug waiting back in our vehicle). Considering the time it had taken us to hike in, plus the surprise steep section of switchbacks we'd encountered on that last leg from the ridge down to the lake (this was not marked on the map--it was a "s-i-m-p-l-i-f-i-e-d" representation...), and the flagging energy of our children, we decided we had better plan some margin into our return. Thus, we figured we could only afford to spend about one hour resting at the lake before we had to start back.
After a delight-ful/bee-free lunch (including a few handfuls of wild blueberries we found at the lakeshore--the bushes were loaded!) the kids played pleasantly at the edge of the water while I scouted and photographed the lake and scree fields. My husband lounged barefoot beside the trail, in the shade, in a large patch of huckleberry foliage, staining his shirt (and thus dubbing himself "Bear Bait" for the return hike). We all savored the solitude.
Finally I rinsed my feet one last time and sat near my husband to put on my shoes as he roused himself to do the same. Quietly he commented, "I wasn't sure this lake was really going to be worth the hike--that it would really be worth climbing the mountain. But it is--it definitely is. I wish we could stay here and camp for at least a week..."
What a wonderful, affirming, refreshing thing for him to say! I fell in love with him all over again!!!
However, the feeling of refreshment wore off quickly. The beginning of our return was at least as rough as the beginning of our beginning. Our kids must not be "barn-sour." They were refreshed, but as soon as we left the lake the magnitude of the hike ahead of them overwhelmed them, and the "carrot" we dangled in front of them--the feast Grandma was preparing back home--was not sweet enough to empower them. They were not terribly in touch with the reality of our need to go. In the end, it took parental patience (for me that meant biting my tongue and letting my husband do the coaching...), careful pacing, and, mostly, their own personal shortage of water(!) to motivate them to climb back out and over that ridge.
Once on top, though, they were on a roll. During a quick water break our son looked around and found himself a walking stick, and this reminded him of something. Now, my husband and I are not entrepreneurs; in fact, we despise being analyzed for marketing purposes, almost completely hate shopping, and refuse to play the capitalist game. We enjoyed reading Gary Paulsen's Lawn Boy with our kids, but would not want to be the Lawn Boy...or hire him. For the most part, we like doing our work ourselves and train our children to do the same. So as the following conversation began, "Bear Bait," bringing up the rear, and I (in the lead) were first thoroughly amazed, then entertained, and finally astounded. We wasted no time shutting our mouths, opening our ears, and just revelling as we listened in on this conversation for most of the rest of our hike. It went something like this:
Oldest: "Hey, remember our business?"
Youngest: "What business?" [This was a good question. They're not like their parents in this respect. They have MANY capitalistic ideas "in process."]
O: "You know--the one where we carve walking sticks to sell to people."
Y: "Oh ya--that one. I didn't know it was our business. I thought you were just doing it with your friends."
O: "Ya, I am. But you could be in it, too."
Y: "Really? What would I do?"
Much brainstorming followed--over an HOUR of brainstorming. Very early on the youngest revealed her incalculable worth and was appointed Vice President, and then they introduced, discussed, and resolved every element of business with sober judgment beyond their years, from research to production to marketing to expansion to...investing?!?. Let's listen in again right there:
O: "What should we do with the money?'
Y: "Help the poor people."
O: "Which ones, though? I mean, there're all kinds of poor people."
Y: "First we should help the ones that don't even have a house--the ones that just live in dumps, like Melvin in Honduras."
O: "Okay. Then who?"
Y: "Then we'll help the ones like Gregor [Gregor the Overlander, in Suzanne Collins' fictional series], who have to live in tiny apartments and don't have enough money and only have a closet for a bedroom."
O: "Um, ya, that's good. Okay, and then who?"
Y: "Then we'll help everybody else--rich people who just might need a little food or something."
Oh yes! Truly a mountain worth climbing!