I hated to hike when I was a kid. Growing up in Western Maine my parents, Moe and Linda (photos), were forever belting my brother and I into the back of the Caravan to take us on some “short, fun hike.” No matter what the White Mtn. Guide promised, the hikes were, in my estimation, neither short, nor fun. They usually ended in a view of some water falling off some rock, some swampy pond, or if lucky, a view down onto more trees and more rocks. I was a fearful child, and always concerned that while hiking I was going to be eaten by a bear, a saber-toothed tiger still prowling Evans Notch, or a panther which had escaped the circus. Like most 6-year olds my legs were at least three times shorter than the average adult’s. Since most hiking trails are built by giant trail crew members, they are not designed for short legs. How much would you enjoy hiking if every trail had steps that were placed at waist height? Not much I suspect.
Fortunately, I and my legs eventually grew, and around high school, hiking became an attractive activity. Hiking allowed backpacking, and both these activities are generally condoned by parents when it is assumed that members of the opposite sex are not going. But there are many mountains and trails, and there can’t be a parent behind every tree. Unless someone’s little sister has told them which tree to hide behind, and on which night… My parents and those of my friends said “yes” to hiking when they said “no” to keg parties in the sand pit. Hiking and the mountains promise freedom, which type of freedom depends on where you are in life.
This weekend I went for a hike with my parents. This time they were in the back of the van, and I was headed to visit Zealand. Now I wait for them (although they still beat the book times), and I carry my mom’s pack when she needs a break. On the Zealand Trail we saw a lot of kids out on their first hikes. Their bangs were sweaty, and the bookpacks they carried were sagging to the back of their knees. They didn’t have to ask, I just told them “You’re almost there.”
“That’s what they always say” one sighed, turning his back to his parents.
At the hut, the cook, Emily Taylor, was giving out band-aids for banged shins. Her older sister Hannah was visiting from Colorado and ladling out soup to AT thru-hikers. The Taylors are family dynasty at the AMC. Their mother Dijit, worked for the AMC Conservation Department, and all three of the Taylor girls have worked in the Huts. I gave Hannah a ride back to the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail so she could visit her other sister Bethany up at Carter. She talked about her parents taking she and her sisters up the trail to fish when they were small. “It used to take us like five hours to go less than a mile” she laughed. Hannah was a Nordic ski racer at Middlebury, and yesterday she was probably at Carter in not much longer than an hour.
I hope any parents of young kids who come across this post will take it as reassurance that they are doing the right thing by dragging their kids kicking and screaming on a hike to see some waterfall, some view of more mountains, or some more trees. Almost all the kids working in the huts this summer went on hikes when they were young. It might have been walks in the woods in New Jersey, or climbing Katahdin in the winter, but they were outside rather than in. If they’re like most kids, they will hike because they have to. Then they will hike to get away from you. And eventually they will hike with you because they actually enjoy it. Of course they may also completely reject the outdoors and move to the city and make great sums of money which which they can buy you a very nice retirement house in Provence. Those of you whose kids are in the huts now can take this as a thank-you on behalf of your sons and daughters for taking them on hikes when they were small and slow and full of complaints. I think most of them have had a summer that made those hikes worth it, they just can’t buy you the French country house quite yet.
(photo note: my dad (he's the one on the left) requested a crop which did not draw the reader's attention away from the text and to his toned abs, and I edited this post to reflect that wish.)