Monday, June 4, 2012

Almost Fully Grown

We set out early, my hiking companion and I.  I forewarned him the night previous that he needed to pack before he went to bed-“We are heading out early, this time.  Wake up and get in the car deal, that’s it, no mulling around and wasting time.  So make sure you pack tonight." He promises to.  I understand this to mean:  I will do the packing at 5:00 am when I awake and get the coffee going. I will lovingly (ahem) call up to him to wake up because we are leaving in 10 minutes, and then again 5 minutes later, just his name, but louder, deeper, sharper to penetrate his sleep.

He comes down the stairs of our small cottage the next morning and stares off blankly as he pours milk into his cereal.   He is more alert than I expect at this hour.   I finish preparing bagel and egg sandwiches for the car ride.  This place that we both share a love for serves often as “base camp” for our Adirondack hikes.  We have done these hikes together for the past 4 years.  He has grown up on these hikes and I have relished each one.  The long stretches of solitude filled by occasional and thoughtful questions or observations have provided a depth of conversation that might not have been afforded had we not been on these miles-long journeys.  This has been a gift. He has a great love for nature and outdoors that has been strengthened here.  He is strong and peaceful, able to bend and adapt like the pines and cedars surrounding us on our hikes. Secure and solid of character like the slab rock we traverse.  His temperament, self-assured and steadfast has been nourished here.

We hike together.  We live together, for the time being.  This son and I.  We have only each other most times, friends and distant relatives come and go.  His siblings, my older children have outgrown him and moved on, they are with us in spirit but they no longer fill our lives, or the home we now occupy.   He, the little one, “the baby” has grown tall and confident.  No more be carefuls, watch outs, look after hims.   He is almost full grown.  We hike together with our odd routines.  I pack.  He does not.  He climbs into the car and begins to unpack.  He pulls all but the food and water.  I repack.  He unpacks slowly, holding up each item and making commentary while smirking and shaking his head.  I squeal and growl and scold each item back into the pack.  He starts, “Coffee?”  “Really?”  We aren’t even camping out, when do you plan to stop to make coffee?”  He is right of course, but the coffee is a teeny tiny instant pack that is going to be the lifesaving life-giving tonic that greets my morning in the event that we become lost and stranded and are somehow forced to stay the night.  He will be lucky that I have my coffee in this “what if” event. 

He moves through and finds assorted emergency products.  Of course there are enough band-aids, ace bandages, alcohol wipes and first aid sprays and creams to secure an emergency triage unit of returning soldiers from the Civil War, The War of 1812, or the Revolutionary War.  I have a very rich imagination and some deep rooted Florence Nightingale fantasy it turns out.  I don’t have the knee brace that I will need when my 49 year old knee pops and grinds from the treacherous, high impact, descent but I will stoically bandage 49 wounded soldiers that are in need of care.  The sacrifice will be worth it.  He scoffs at the Benadryl spray,  “This is not going to prevent bug bites or poison ivy, it’s going to help with the itching later, like tomorrow… when we are home and itchy and can’t find it because its not in the medicine cabinet.”  I snatch it from him and slide it back in my pack.  He continues digging. 

He wants to know why I have so much water for a day trip.  He wants to know why I didn’t pack my water filtration system so we can simply find water on the trails and filter as we go.  He has survival fantasies of his own apparently.  There are certain trails and mountains that have potable water only so high up and the thirst will surely kill us or weaken us and lead us to stumble or fall or lapse into a dehydration blindness.  Risks I don’t want to take, so the camel-back filled with water, the 4 bottles and the clamp on water bottle may weigh me down a bit, but they will save our lives and our vision I assure him.

I pack my camera, and my cell phone, and my back-up camera to capture pictures of these risky and treacherous climbs.  I frequently forget to charge the batteries and end up angry at him for not helping to pack the night before.  I tightly snap that he needed to help.  He remains calm.  He has impeccable timing, mostly.  After I grumble and twitch and shove the cameras back into the 60 pound pack he waits and then asks, drawing out his words.  “How           ex-actly            would            me        pack-ing        last       night,     have charged your batteries?  How is that my fault?”  He’s right again but I try to hang it on him anyway.  “OK, I know it wouldn’t charge the batteries, but it’s frustrating.  I know I always forget to charge them and it would be helpful if you could take it on since I have to pack everything.  HRUMPHHHH.”    Realizing that I am just trying to hang it on him I add, “I know it’s not your fault, but I am frustrated with myself for not getting the batteries together so I need to share my frustration at you.”  He just smiles quietly, and then says “Ok, I can help next time.”  He is almost fully grown.

We continue on.  We have been instructed by other more experienced hikers to take a path that doesn’t exactly appear to match our official ADK topo map.  We continue slightly apprehensive, but calmly.  Leaving early has afforded us the time to be relaxed.  We have been on these trails before and on occasion, grudgingly driven out as night threatened to close in.  An hour into the woods we are suddenly confident that we are headed in the right direction and we are making good time.  Suddenly he questions, rhetorically, “Hey, didn’t I say I was never coming on these hikes with you again?”  He says this lightly but he is recalling our last hike.  We are hoping to finish the Great Range today.  He must be remembering the other trips on the range.

Basin 7/10
The Great Range is considered the third hardest climb in the country according to Backpacker Magazine.  We have broken it into three trips.  The last trip included Gothics and Pyramid Peak.  After climbing up to Pyramid Peak, we were temporarily elated, believing we had reached the peak of Gothics.  We became a little wary when we learned otherwise, the view of Gothics was daunting.  Steep, rock with minimal edges and cuts to climb.  When he saw it, he recalled the trip prior to that and said, “No way!”  I pushed.  We had made it this far, we couldn’t possibly back down without reaching the peak.  Pyramid’s view was beautiful but it didn’t meet the Adirondack high peak qualifications, 4000 foot elevation or above and we had lost a year of hiking the previous summer along with numerous other sentimental belongings and comforts.  I was not backing down from the only hike we scheduled.  As I started up the rock slide, I miss-stepped and fell down the side, being stopped by the ripping of my pants and 4 inches of thigh on a jutting branch.  His face drained of all color as he watched me fall.  He was only slightly relieved when I landed optimistically and bright, determined to try again, but cautiously on the opposite side.  My confidence growing with each climb.

Our first wilderness camping journey covered 21 miles, two days and three of the most difficult peaks, Mt. Haystack, Basin and Saddleback. After hiking 16 miles and setting up camp, exhausted, we cooked and ate and fell asleep heavily.  We awoke to dark cloudy skies and two more peaks to traverse.  We moved quickly as drizzle began to gently tease us down.  By the time we got to Basin’s rocky peak the rain was harder and the exposed, slab rock trail sleek. 

Enroute to Mt. Haystack 7/10
A few climbs were difficult and the heavy load I was carrying challenged my balance.  I am not particularly known for my balance, or gross motor skills at large.  There was a moment of unbridled fear when he took his slight frame, and his athletic inclination quickly up a ten foot vertical rock wall and awaited my climb.  I looked.  I stared blankly.  I could not imagine how I was going to move up ten feet with my uncoordinated limbs, 80 pound pack and clumsy disposition.  I shook my head and frightfully murmured, “I don’t know how to get up there,  I don’t think I can do it.”  He was younger then, 14, earnest and still of the mind that I knew all, or at least best.  He reached his hand down to help pull me up.  He was 14, earnest, and about 75 pounds wet and fully clothed, he was not going to be able to hoist me anywhere, and the slightest attempt would have thrown us both off the side of the mountain.  I looked blankly, color drained from my face, knowing, I had just put us in a situation that could end very badly.  Suddenly this drive for adventure and love of nature fell down hard on me.  I felt for the first time in my parenting life, irresponsible.  I knew quickly that I would need to get it together and find the courage and confidence to get my sluggish ass up that wall and fast.  I did, but not without a great big taste of stupid. 

We continued on, and made it over both peaks, quietly, wet, heavy-hearted.  As we came off the worst part of Saddleback, 150 feet of rock scrambles, the rain became torrential.  Trails that we had come up the day before were suddenly, raging rivers as the flash flooded brooks almost swept us down the mountain.  We seemed to enter the set of “Indiana Jones” but it wasn’t fun, as much as furious.  We stopped occasionally trying to get cover in a lean-to now and again, questioning whether we should stop or continue on.  We were cold and stunned.  We moved onward, the rain let up, the packs were heavy and we were in need of getting home and dry and warm.  The final challenge came two hours before we made it to the parking lot.  A small stream sprinkled with stones and pebbles that we easily stepped across the day before was now a raging river over 5ft deep.  I went through, numb, fearful, and defeated, knowing I had no other choice.  My son, agile and aquatic easily got across.  I prompted him forward to the car and the parking lot.  I came behind, slowly step over step, sore and tired.  I knew we survived, but I also knew I put us in danger, a place I had never gone before as a parent.  I had worked tirelessly across two decades, shielding, protecting, worrying and setting up controls and parameters to keep harm away.  I was humbled and beaten down.  Yet he was stronger and closer to grown than when we headed out.  He was barely grown when we entered the woods the day before.
Gothics Bound 10/11

I remember that hike as a trophy, a gold star of physical achievement but mostly, a wake-up call to build and strengthen my ability to ensure safety.   I recall waking the next day ready to go to the lake and swim or kayak.  Relieved that I wasn’t stiff and sore and fully incapable of movement.  He seemed a bit stiffer.  I began to run that summer.   I researched equipment and invested in a lighter pack.  I purchased a few more guidebooks. 

Upper Wolfjaw 5/26/12

We both learned a great deal about the other on that trip and over the past few years. He learned that at some point, parents may be in need of help, that we don’t always have all the answers or make the right choices.  He learned this hard and fully in areas of his life that I have no control and could not protect him from.  He also learned that we make a strong team. We rely on each other as families must, although our family has decreased in size and nature.  I learned a few handy things as well.  How to clear your congested nostrils without a tissue, well maybe not entirely.  I learned that being accountable to your children as much as to yourself is not an option for me, it's a time tested given. I learned how to make an extraordinary meal on a single flame 2 oz stove.  How to cross a raging river and carry an 80 pound pack for 21 miles. I learned how to start to let go.

Armstrong 5/26/12
We put the Great Range to bed this Spring.  We did our climb in impressive time, shaving three hours off the estimated time for seasoned hikers.  We bagged Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw and Lower Wolfjaw and cursed the endless trail down until we reached a waterfall.  He started towards it slowly, he smiled knowingly, and nodded as I passed him, throwing off my socks and shoes, wading in without worry.  He followed suit and stood at the base and let the falls wash over him.  I felt strong and confident throughout the hike, and although there were a few scary moments when I lost my footing and at least once became momentarily airborne, my thighs remained intact.  My knee barely ached and I left my hiking poles packed.  My hiking companion is almost fully grown, and I have grown stronger and lighter of spirit through the experience.  We have a few more hikes planned for the summer, and fall.  I may smuggle a coffee pack or two, but I will gladly give up the Florence Nightingale fantasy.  I wonder who will pack the batteries?  

Gothics-with thigh bite and my hiking companion 10/11


Cathy said...


Kerry said...

Love this!

Kerry said...

Love this!