First Posted: 4/4/2015
The idea of hiking never dawned on me until my early 20s. The family I grew up in wasn’t that outdoorsy. Sure, Mom loved gardening and Dad played lots of tennis at the club; we’d spend time at the pool and beach and even had a boat but none of it was “roughing it.” We did not camp or hike. The only outdoor cooking we did was on our deck, adults with cocktails in hand.
Luckily, my early 20s found me living with some awesome girls, all post-college, back in our home town. We had a Grateful Dead Head chef-in-training and a Pilates instructor among us, both very zen. I borrowed a pair of Birkenstocks and never gave them back. Everyone wore fleece pullovers before I knew what fleece was. One of our best guy-friends had a family vacation home at Sugarbush Mountain in Vermont. We went there summer weekend and everything changed.
“Let’s hike to the top of the mountain,” my buddy proclaimed while shooting quarters around the kitchen table on our first night. “It’ll be so cool.”
I had no idea what I was in for. Hiking, up until that moment, had meant I was unable to find a good parking spot at the mall. I was out of shape, having lost touch with my former teenage-dancer self and not yet having discovered the adult virtues of exercising.
Sugarbush stands overly 4,000 feet high with a vertical rise of 2,600 feet from the base. That is where we began our trek. My friends were not that into doing switch-backs. It was straight up some of the steepest slopes I had ever seen. I huffed and puffed, turned crimson in the face and got a stitch in my side. But I never stopped or allowed myself to slow down the group. When we climbed above the cloud line, drenched with sweat and sat on the rock that is the summit after many hours of struggling, I felt alive.
“I can do this!” I thought to myself. Looking around from what felt like the top of the world. I had a new love in my life.
So hiking became a favorite past time. I never had the ambition to go to Everest or anything like that, but everywhere I did go, I found a hike. I’d hitlocal parks and trails and find interesting hikes whereever I went: a lake side trail around Lake George, a historic path in the Boston suburbs, a trail through the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle.
Then I had kids.
My husband is not a hiking enthusiast, so it was up to me. With two children born within 19 months of each other, hiking wasn’t feasible for quite a few years. When the kids were school-aged, I was able to get them out on the trails around Keystone College a few times, but sports schedules and homework eventually won out and I gave up. Weekends have become not about me and my passions, but about their activities and my to-do lists.
Last week I went to Aspen, Colorado. We had been invited on an adults-only family trip, only our third in the nearly 14 years we’ve been parenting. My mom and step-dad were generous enough to give up a week of work and their time to stay with the kids and we made it happen.
And I hiked. Well, snow-shoed, to be clear. Hiking at the summit of Aspen Mountain, over 11,000 feet, was glorious. I had found the skiing was difficult beyond my abilities with the warm spring temperatures, heavy snow and very steep slopes, so after two days I set out on my own and connected with a snow-shoe tour led by an inspiring naturalist.
Kinsey, our young guide, showed us fresh animal tracks. She dug deep into the snowpack to show us how the varied layers of snow pose great risk for avalanches. She taught us the history of war-training on the mountain dating back into the 1940s and showed us debris left behind by these mountaineers. She pointed out a dormant volcano and the strata in the red rock of the Rockies that showed how they were formed by the collision of tectonic plates. She pointed out the Continental Divide and explained its meaning. All the while, we hiked, quietly, in the glorious brisk air, with the bright blue sky and the glistening snow all around.
It was the highlight of my week in Colorado and I was inspired. It’s time to reignite my love of hiking and to share it with my children. So when the air warms and the ground thaws, I hope to be out looking for trails, three kids in tow. The teenager might think she has better things to do. The toddler might slow us down, but we will go. It’s at the top of my to-do list.