As we drove up highway 85 towards Hanging Rock State Park, I racked my brain for items I may have forgotten to pack. Sunscreen, check. Bathing suit, check. Hiking boots, check. Coffee…uh oh. No check. Hmmmm…oh well. Tomis roasts coffee at home and we have become quite the coffee snobs lately. We wanted to bring our own special coffee with us to enjoy during this trip. I was surprised at how this realization didn’t bother me at all. The thought of being in the woods for the next three nights was exciting and only brought the feeling the joy, not having coffee wouldn’t ruin the experience. Either I’ll go without or another one of the adults would have some to share, I thought. Hoping Tomis would feel the same way, I picked up my phone to let him know.
“Hey babe, I’ve got some bad news.” I said.
“Um, okay, what’s that?” he replied through the hazy sounds of the bluetooth car connection.
“I forgot to pack the coffee beans. I packed the filters, pour-over mug, and the grinder, but I forgot to put in the jar of beans.”
“Oh, I did that this morning,” he tells me.
And so it was, we had coffee for the trip! After I hung up the phone, I reflected happily on the fact that during the few minutes I thought we wouldn’t have coffee, I didn’t waste any energy being mad at myself for forgetting to pack it. I decided to keep that mentality going for the rest of the trip. There are many things in life that just aren’t worth the time being upset over!
On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.
“Alright, well I know we’ll find it somewhere. I’m happy to help you look! Let’s imagine what it’ll feel like when we find it,” I said.
“Oh, I’m not worried at all. I know I’ll find it. If I have to go a night without it, it really isn’t the end of the world,” he replied.
We looked a little, didn’t find it, and released finding it for the night. Neither of us was upset. About 30-45 minutes later, before going to tent for the night, there it was in plain sight on tree stump nearby. Off the child went to joyfully brush their teeth!
On the second morning at camp, I woke up in the morning to the sound of quiet clapping.
“Ayan.” Clap. “Ayan.” Clap. “Are you awake, Ayan?” Clap. In my head I’m laughing hysterically. Tomis looks over at me with a huge smile on his face, also holding back gales of laughter.
“Well, he’s certainly going to be awake after that,” I whisper, trying to keep quiet so we could listen to what would happen next.
The conversation of the boys tenting right next to us kept us going to bed and waking up with huge smiles on our faces.
“What are your top five favorite animals? Do you know all their top speeds?”
“What do you mean you don’t know how fast a peregrine falcon can go? This is your favorite animal, you need to know this!”
“My dad’s a graphic designer and a broker, do you know what that means?”
“Um, well a graphic designer is different than a designer right?”
“Yeah, and it means he gets samples. Do you know what a sample is?”
“Yeah I do, samples are like a smaller thing of a bigger thing. Like a little model of what the bigger thing is that you want to make.”
“No! It’s like if my dad designs 6 shirts, he’ll get one shirt before those 6 shirts are made. Like it’s another whole shirt outside of those 6 shirts. It’s the same size as the actual shirts. He gets one so he can see what it looks like first. We get hats too.”
“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”
“Oh well, he’s a graphic designer. So he can design things and not leave the house. He’s also a broker so people send him things and he sends them to other people, and he gets more money that way.”
Tomis and I look at each other. During this trip I tell him, “I now know that if we have a baby, I will be totally happy if it’s a boy or a girl. The boys are so fun to be around!” Previously, I thought I would only want a little girl. This is no longer the case for me! (By the way, Tomis is my husband).
Huffing and puffing I climb the stairs up to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob, the highest peak of Hanging Rock State Park. It’s straight up. The map said this hike would be strenuous, and it certainly was! As I approached each curve, I thought, Please let this be the last set of stairs. For many of those bends it wasn’t. Behind me, I could hear Caleb and Tomis talking, Tomis patiently supporting Caleb up the many stairs. Caleb was already down one water bottle in the first 30 minutes of the trip and, having not had much breakfast, asking to turn back.
I look back at Alona, whose face was as red as mine, and smiled. She smiled back and said, “I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this hike if I knew this is how it started!”
“Well, if there is one thing I know about mountains, it’s that if you get to the highest peak, the only way off is to go down. So after we get to the top, it’s got to get easier!” We laugh at my response.
“That’s totally true,” she responds, still determined to go up.
I glance up at the backs of Andrew, Gabe & Tessa. “How do they do that?” I ask aloud. The boys are far ahead, talking to each other as they quickly and efficiently climb the stairs. Tessa is right behind them, determined to catch up. I think to myself, she’s so low to the ground at her height, that’s how she’s making it look so easy.
“I don’t know!” Alona exclaims, “It’s like they are robots!”
I slow down to chat with Tomis. “Hey babe, I think we should give the boys a map and tell us to meet us at the tower. Let’s let them go. I think they can do it. As long as they stay on the trail with the red circles, they can’t get lost. I can show them where everything is on the map. How does that feel to you?”
“I have no issue with that. Is that what you really want to do?”
“Yeah. I mean, people let their kids loose in New York City with a subway map. This is way easier than that. The worse case scenario is that they get hurt and sit for a bit while we catch up. But obviously, I would only have them do this if they actually feel comfortable going up ahead.”
“Sounds good to me,” he responds.
I catch up to the boys. “Hey, do you want a map? You can just go up ahead and meet us at the tower.”
Andrew quizzically looks at me. “Like just go ahead and meet you there?”
“Yeah, if you want to. Here, look at the map.” I show him the trail, and remind him that the Moores Knob Loop is marked by red circles. I point out Balanced Rock and the Fire Tower that are coming up ahead. “This is where we are going. There will be signs, so stop at one of these and we’ll find you for lunch. We’ve got to be halfway there already.”
“Awesome! C’mon Gabe, let’s go!” They take off up the mountain, as the rest of us prepare for a water and snack break.
“Can I go to?” Tessa asks, already climbing up after them.
“Well, I’d love to have you stay with us, but I’m totally cool with you deciding what you prefer,” I respond.
“I’m going!” she yells down to me, her back already a flash of red, disappearing up the mountain.
I look at Alona and shrug. “Well, let’s see how this goes!” I think she’s a little shocked that I let them go up alone. I was confident the signage was clear, and knew that with the freedom, they would be even more careful than if they were with us. I know these kids. If they felt unsafe, they would turn around and come back or stop and wait. I had not one shred of fear about them getting lost. Okay, well maybe one shred, but I knew that was my “panic-how-I-was-raised” mind, not my grounded, centered mind.
We keep climbing, and about 15 minutes later (it really wasn’t that far off that I let them go ahead), we reach the signs for the fire tower and balanced rock. “Andrew? Gabe? Tessa?” I call out. No signs of life. “Hmmmm….” I wonder aloud. I had run up a little ahead of Tomis, Caleb and Alona, wanting to find the other kids. There were no kids here.
Well, I think to myself, somehow they have missed all these signs and walked past it. Knowing that we actually weren’t that far behind them, I guess that if I yelled pretty loud, they’d hear me.
“ANDREW!” Why I chose his name to yell, I don’t know. It just came out that way.
Faintly I hear, “Yeah.” Sighing, I melt into relaxation. It felt good to hear his voice, confirmation that everything I was sensing was on point.
“YOU MISSED THE SIGN! TURN AROUND,” I yell. I hear faint yelling in response. A couple minutes later, the three of them come tromping back.
“We were already on our way back when we heard you yell!” Tessa says excitedly. “We felt like we must have gone to far.”
I smile, totally happy to know that the kids did exactly what I knew they would do: turn back if they felt uncomfortable so they could find us again.
We eat lunch together on balanced rock, laughing and joking with each other. Caleb has totally bounced back after having food, water, and a break. He’s eating his sandwich, and we are all laughing hysterically at the breadcrumbs falling off his sandwich. We bought gluten free bread, and unfortunately for all of us who are GF…it was more terrible than usual. It literally crumbled apart when you touched it. The rest of us opted to not eat the bread today, (we suffered through it already for lunch the day before), choosing to make sandwiches out of tortillas instead. Caleb was dedicated to sticking to his GF diet this trip, and didn’t want us to waste the money we spent on this bread. In the morning, he proudly made his sandwich, and was now determined to eat it.
The breadcrumbs dotted his face like grains of sand, and he was laugh-crying as he ate. “It’s like eating cardboard with meat inside,” he wails, smiling though, knowing he is providing entertainment for the rest of us. The foil he has wrapped his sandwich in is the only thing keeping his bread from falling completely apart.
“Caleb, it’s okay, just don’t eat the bread. It’s so terrible! Why not just eat the meat out of the sandwich?” I didn’t want him to feel like I was going to force him to eat this mess of a sandwich.
“What?” He says, still laugh-crying, “I’m NOT gonna waste this sandwich. I’m eating this whole thing. I don’t care how bad it tastes!”
“Oh boy, I’ve guess I’ve told my story about my mom eating raw potatoes and raw fish one to many times. Now you all will never complain about food!” On our last roadtrip, after the kids complained about how much PB & J we ate, I told them how my mom survived her escape from Vietnam on a small boat with only raw potatoes and raw fish to eat for 30 days (I don’t actually know how many days they survived this, perhaps I should clarify this with my mom, but 30 days feels like a nice dramatic touch to the story). I told them they had no idea what starving was, that the most they’ve experienced is hunger and being uncomfortable and that eating PB & J wasn’t the end of the world. We were trapped in a food desert in Kentucky when I first told my mom’s story, in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store option to shop from. I remember walking in the grocery store and realizing that I didn’t see much that I would consider actual “food” inside. We did the best we could to feed the kids edible items for those two days…And from that point on I would hear, “I’m starv- I mean, I’m hungry.”
As Caleb struggled to finish his cardboard/styrofoam/sand sandwich, we noticed birds beginning to circle above.
“What are those?” I ask, squinting my eyes up to the sky. Three of the kids tell me they are turkey vultures.
“How do you know this?”
“We just know. Look at their wings. Those are turkey vultures,” Alona responds.
Andrew backing her up firmly says, “Those are definitely turkey vultures. I know it.”
I’m impressed. I have been to the raptor center several times and have also taught bird units to kids during my time conventionally teaching, and I still can’t seem to tell the birds of prey apart when they are flying way up above me. I have this memory problem that school taught me, the one where you remember something good enough to pass the test on Friday, and then the information just melts away into oblivion. The kids are describing to me how to tell raptors apart, and I’m glad to see they do not suffer from the same affliction.
Caleb begins laugh-crying louder now. “They are coming after my sandwich because it’s falling apart everywhere!”
Now we are all laugh-crying.
After lunch, we climbed to the top of the old fire tower, now simply a lookout for tourists to visit. Being a weekday, it was completely empty and we had the 360 degree views to enjoy to ourselves.
The highest point was about a third of the way into the 4.3 mile loop we were doing. As I predicted, this mountain was, in fact, like all other mountains I’ve climbed up: after getting to the highest peak, the only way back is down. We very quickly descended the mountain, Caleb, fully recovered now that he had eaten (albeit, a terrible sandwich), was at the head of the pack with Andrew and Gabe. Had Tessa been just a few inches taller, she would have been right up there with them. She wasn’t too far behind them, though. I felt like we were practically running down the mountain, and was carefully watching each one of my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle. Alona kept pace with me, trying to playfully place her steps where my step was just a moment before.
“They are robots,” I grunted back repeatedly to Alona. She was just as incredulous as I was at the speed they could maintain. Tomis was quiet at the very back of the group, I guessed just keeping up the best he could. We all made it back in one piece to camp, very proud of ourselves for completing this strenuous hike!
You can see more photos with captions of our trip here!