Don’t tell my kids, but in my younger days, I used to hike alone in the Santa Cruz Mountains. One morning, I sprained my ankle at the top of the hill. The challenging, narrow trail had not gotten the best of me. No, I managed to klutz up right in the clearing at the top.
I limped over to a log and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I enjoyed the view and tried to figure out how I’d make it back down to my car. About that time, the Bay Area Jewish Hiking Club arrived and came to my rescue.
As we talked and rested, they invited me to join them on the way down and suggested that we all take the wide, gently sloped fire access road that was a much easier trek.
They didn’t seem to mind having a wayward Christian with a bum leg along, and on the way down, they invited me to come along to their post-hike barbecue on the beach.
A few years later, I took Brian and my sister back to that trail. I figured that if Brian still loved me by the time we’d made it up the mountain and down again, he might just be a keeper.
There was a little grumbling all around about the pain of the journey, but somehow that made the beauty of the views from the mountainside that much more appreciated.
More than two decades later, we’re still trekking through life together.
The past couple of weekends, we have spent time with our kids hiking at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Climbing a mountain with seven children is completely different than my first solo treks. The intermittent chirping of birds has been replaced by the incessant chatter of children.
We make a cacophony all our own as we walk along. The moments of quiet awe in the face of nature are more infrequent now, but they do come, and this time we share that awe with our children.
At the end of our hikes, there is a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment. Someone usually pronounces it the best day ever (we have a lot of best days ever), and we head to the van to rustle up a picnic lunch.
While at Lassen, five of the kids earned their Junior Ranger badges. This was our first time trying out the program, and it provided a great learning experience. Most national parks and several other historical sites have Junior Ranger programs, where children have an opportunity to earn badges by learning about the places they are visiting.
A couple of my girls took the extra step at Lassen to complete the Explore Safely Trail Challenge in which they learned about hiking safety and earned a special bandana from the park rangers who quizzed them at the end.
One of the things they learned was that hiking alone can be dangerous. Apparently, you can’t always depend on the Bay Area Jewish Hiking Club to come to the rescue if you get hurt.
It occurs to me that family life is sometimes like a good hike. There are ups and downs. Other hikers whiz past only to turn around mid-hike and decide the pain isn’t worth pushing through. There are treacherous mountain passes interspersed with peaceful meadows.
The pain and perseverance it takes to stay the course only makes those incredible moments that much more precious. And that right there is reason enough that I don’t ever want to hike alone again.
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