July 18th, 2007

Rush

At Altitude

One of the things you get when you're one of our children, my husband's and mine -- along with wide feet and a lot of books -- is the opportunity to hike. A lot.

I know what you're thinking. I should italicize opportunity, because half of these so-called lucky chances must have been parentally-compelled death slogs, right? When my sister and I were kids we used to have FFOs (Forced Family Outings) and, admittedly, there's been no break in tradition. Even as city kids in the center of Texas, our girls have clocked more miles on trails than on sidewalks. And, OK, not every mile's been a birdsong.

But my husband and I fell in love on the Barton Creek Greenbelt and in the Santa Barbara Backcountry and on the Ice-Age Trail and at the top of Wilson Peak. This was bound to be part of the package.

So, since they were babies in backpacks, our daughters have hiked. They've collected their easter eggs on rocky trails, and played countless games of 20 Questions -- on foot and in motion. They've skinned the occasional knee and swum in snow-melt. They recognize elk and marmet and hawk and moose. They understand blisters and hydration and the deliciousness of peanut butter on a tortilla, eaten above tree-line. 

This is all by way of saying that we weren't completely nuts to set off on a stomp around the Mount Zirkel Wilderness last week -- seven miles in the Sawtooths with a 6- and an 8-year-old. They've trained for it, if you know what I mean.

A good hike is like a good book. There's the opening thrill -- signing in at the trailhead so the rangers know you're out there, just in case. The potential for success but also for trouble. The titallation of the unknown, even with a topo map. There are the moments of utter poetry -- indian paintbrush as big as a man's hand, a rocky lunch ledge hanging right over a broad waterfall, the eye-shaped knots gazing from the trunk of every aspen tree. And there are the dramas. The switchbacks that get a little too steep for the six-year-old's liking. The 8-year-old having to hike the whole way in her Crocs because her foot's all puffy from an ankle twisting at a frog pond and her boots don't fit. The folks who lost their dog, the end of the summer sausage, the remnants of an old fire on the peak.  And the hail. Yep, really. We reach Gold Peak Lake as the clouds blacken and by the time we turn around to pull out our ponchos, we're getting beaned with the white stuff.

But here's the thing, when the weather moved in, that's when we really got our second wind. The hail was a jolt of energy and adventure, and suddenly we're traipsing along with new fervor, singing. We're wet and a little bit cold but the day's become a page turner. Both girls are beamy and proud when we make it back down to sign out at the trailhead, safe and strong. 

Still, the next day we decided on a hot springs and our little one looked at us skeptically when she asked, "Do we have to hike there?" We didn't, and boy oh man did it feel good.