THE WOODS, New York —
Seriously, I’ve been in the woods for a few days camping with my family. To write this, I slipped away with a strong cup of camp coffee and came to the park lodge overlooking a misty lake. It’s the only place in these vast state-park forests with a proper Internet connection.
Before I was married, I was a beach-and-water person — not a bugs-and-logs person — much preferring the sizzle of the summer sun as it bronzed my skin complemented by a chilly, sporty lake a few steps away if not under the boat or raft I was on.
But my husband: “Ew, all that sand? Awful.” Me: “Woods? There’s no sun.” My husband: “Laying there getting hot and then throwing yourself in freezing water? What’s fun about that?” Me: “Wearing socks and boots to ‘hike’ through mosquitoes when you could be on the beach? What’s fun about that?”
You get the idea.
We have both changed some in 11 years — I more than he, I’d bet — and we find places to camp where there are both woods and water. The other day he stayed on shore and, from the shade, fished bluegill out of the lake while I rented a row boat and cut a nice pace through the water during peak bronzing time.
I do, in fact, truly enjoy hiking now. There is something inspiring about strapping on knee socks and boots and conquering a trail someone has dubbed “most difficult.” Once in a while the sun peeks through the tree leaves and gets your shoulders, even, and you can often find a creek for cold water. If you lather on the fruity-smelling tanning oil, you might even think you’re somewhere near a beach.
On our first day here in the woods, we decided to take our children on a hike. They’re old enough to walk; they’re fit and active; they like the woods. They’d been hoping to see a black bear, so we enticed them with that possibility — though with as much noise as our family of six makes in the woods, we’re lucky to see squirrels.
As we scoured the map looking for the perfect first trail, we settled on a 4.9-mile loop at about 2,000 feet altitude, a wide and hilly cross-country ski trail. Five miles did seem a little long, but we reasoned we had all day and would just take our time.
Yeah, well, we did that. Try five hours. And 8 miles! Somewhere, we missed a crucial switchback to loop back toward the trailhead and ended up hiking deeper into the forest, adding another, 3.1-mile trail to our 4.9-mile one. Whoa.
Everyone was fine, but it was a little dicey for a while. Even I wanted to cry.
For one, recently I’ve been loud and proud of my CrossFit training, where I’ve been discovering my body can be strong and endure much. “No problem,” I’ve told my husband in recent weeks. “I can carry that (insert heavy item) across the yard. I CrossFit.” Then I’d show him a deep squat or flex my biceps while arguing that not very many people (me included) can do a strict pull-up. Oy, what he endures from me, this man.
But pride, someone says, goes before a fall, right? So our 8-mile hike required me to “put up or shut up” when it came to my own fitness. “I can hike 8 miles up and down hills carrying a 30-pound toddler. I CrossFit.” Yikes. Thankfully, my own endurance was, in fact, sufficient for the hike. Aside from a bum knee, I wasn’t even sore the next day.
Our 8-mile trek deep into the forest stretched me in another way — as a mother, a servant-leader, as one whose job it is to encourage others.
My children did really well. They did not complain of being sore or especially tired the next day, and while they dragged a bit, we have not ruined them for hiking. But there were some times, probably mostly during miles 6 to 8, when I had to help them press through and keep my own chin up — or at least my boots moving.
• It’s helpful to set sites on short-term goals. “Ellie, let’s get to the next bend and see what’s around it before we stop again. You can make it to that spot, can’t you?” I find people can accomplish a lot in a series of short bursts. Conversely, just moving on and on with no benchmarks or milestones can be discouraging.
• Borderline fibbing — or setting sights elsewhere, anyway — can be useful in encouraging someone to continue on. “Are we almost there, Mom?” asked Azariah. “Yep, we’re making our way.” I also noted, “The end is up ahead” and “The trail ends sometime up here” and “We’re headed north toward our van” even when we had miles to go.
• The feelings at the end are so worth the pain. Our old minivan parked at the trailhead never looked so good. Neither had a camp shower — complete with who-knows-what crawling on the shower floor — was especially delicious. The children noted this themselves.
• Do it together. Each of us — save that toddler sometimes — had to walk on his or her own. But when I wasn’t carrying the toddler, I took my children’s hands when the trail was broad enough to do so. “I can do this, Mommy, when you do it with me,” Ellie said. Had my husband not been there to set the pace, carry the toddler — and he does NOT CrossFit — and help us have a good attitude, I don’t know how I would have done. We did it together.
• So cliché, but enjoy the trip. While we had to disallow excessive dawdling, we did stop to watch a pheasant call for her babies, climb some rocks and pick flowers. If you’re stuck deep in the woods, might as well enjoy it. You get it how this transfers to everything else in life.
Lest you worry that we force-marched our children on an 8-mile torture trail, know that I packed and CARRIED — I CrossFit, remember? — adequate water and high-energy trail food. I even applied a bandage and antibiotic cream from my First Aid kit, which I also carried.
So, we’re heading back to the woods now to try a more modest 2-miler. (Clouds are heavy, so there’s not much bronzing to do anyway.)
If I’m not back next week, better call the ranger.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health from Elkhart. Contact her a¬¬t firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”