Monday, July 28, 2014

When we hiked up the mountain

On the drive back last night I admit I felt pretty wounded. It sounds silly, maybe, but the hike had been hard. Very hard. The most hard, even... for me. It wasn't childbirth, but it was the most strenuous mental/physical thing I have done. My shoulders were still aching from the weight of my pack and I thought to myself, "You've gotta give this a few days to process before you start writing things down." I showered a heavenly shower after we carried all the dirty-footed kids into their beds last night. When my head hit the pillow my legs tingled with the tingle of about 26 P90x dvd's. I slept a deep, dreamless sleep. So did everyone else. The baby didn't wake until almost 8 this morning. Johnny slept until 10.

Kirby and I were both admittedly surprised at how hard this trip actually was. The first 1/4 mile of the trail wound through the forest floor and I snapped a million pics of my cute little hikers. We started to climb a bit and I figured we would climb a little here and there so, no big deal. But then we kept and kept and kept for 1200 feet. After the first few inclines we stopped slapping each other on the shoulders and just started working. Heads down, feet moving. Thinking back on it, I am amazed at my kids. There were whines and complaints and tears, yes. But never "why are we doing this" "let's just go home" "this is the worst trip ever"... none of that. Just recognizing what it actually was - "This is hard." Yes, it is. "My feet hurt." Mine, too. "I'm so tired." So am I.  I'm sure for many (fit, childless, experienced, etc), it wouldn't have been so bad. But the climb was brutal, and it was brutal together. No one was skipping up the trail. And because of that we felt totally united. We were all a little bit the same. 

I recognize still that this was pretty insane. I did zero research on the trail or the elevation. It was my first backpacking trip ever and I did it with an 8 month old on my back + my bed roll + my sleeping bag + a bear canister + Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (HUH?). Why didn't we start with a mile trail on level ground? Why didn't we get a feel of the route beforehand? Why? I don't know. This is the faulty planning gene I've talked about before, I suppose. But, maybe we wouldn't have done it had we prepped and planned. I think sometimes the ability to just go is a sweet silver lining. Kirby has a shockingly high tolerance for endurance so when he said, "It'll be fine," he wasn't exaggerating. For him, it was. And maybe if he and I were alone on the trail, it would have been ok for me, too. In a hard, exhausting sort of way. But being on this trail with our kids added a new element of mental and emotional exhaustion that neither of us could have foreseen. 

It's one thing to just have to get yourself to finish a thing. It's another thing to get 5 small people to finish it, too. 

I found myself wondering what we would do if someone just gave up and flopped in a heap of tears in the dirt. What if someone refused to go on? What if someone fell and sprained their ankle? A hike back down is still a hike. With Clemmy and Peter in tow neither of us could possibly carry anyone else. These little worries never quite went away and they were pretty draining. We also faced the challenge of not being able to carry on as you think you must when you are pushing a physical limit. You know when you need to put your head down and just go? I wanted to do that lots. But I couldn't. We couldn't. We had to stop... a lot. We had to soothe tears, we had to answer "How many more minutes?" countless times, we had to chat about that lizard there, we had to be present. And that was a different kind of exhaustion that I hadn't anticipated.

But don't stop here and think I told you so, this sounds like a mess.

Because what else happened is this: I saw my family. I mean, I really saw them. I saw what they could do, who they are. And it is impossible for a love to not grow deeper when you can really seeing someone. I watched Hero, who can be the floppiest, laziest one of them all, power her way up and down that mountain with a strength I didn't even know she had. Head down, no complaints, silent and happy and strong. I watched Mary grab Johnny's hand so that he could get an "energy boost" from her (eye-roll of cuteness). I watched Johnny encourage his exhausted baby sister when she cried- "You can do it, Clemmy! Isn't this a fun hike?" - when he himself was at the end of his little rope. I watched Kirby carry an enormous pack and a 2 year old almost all the way up and down a mountain. I watched him keep us going with his happy tone and his easy way (even when he was working the hardest). We cheered each other to the end of the trail, we celebrated together at the top. And I saw Kirby off to work and I washed their dirty hair this morning with a new affection. They are all a little bit new to me today. A little bit more.

I loved the magic of being deep inside a busy National Park in a place that felt so secret. I loved that fellow hikers are actually the nicest, coolest people you could possibly meet (not serial killers!). I loved that everyone we passed cheered on our kids as they went. I loved the feeling of meeting another tired, smiling face on the trail, who is working hard just like you. I loved that clear blue sky and the deep quiet.

I'm grateful that Kirby took us on this epic trek. It felt like a true journey, with dirt and tears and aching backs and victories and challenges and getting to the top together. When we finally saw the lake the happiness leap from our lips. It was pretty magical to feel so sincere about the same thing. It was pretty magical to be so deeply happy together in a moment I don't expect to fade even though many others will.

Anything that gets this kind of sap out of me is good.


  1. Wow! Way to go! I can imagine how hard it was, but I know the memories will only get sweeter with time!
    And I love that you had Harry Potter strapped to your body. :)

  2. So inspiring! Thanks for this.

  3. What a beautiful story! I have been following your post for several months and have always enjoyed your insights, rambles and deep thoughts. This story however nails the essence of family and love. You write with such humility and unabashed honesty. It is inspiring. Your children are blessed to have these experiences that they will likely hold close to their hearts forever.

  4. I'm so proud of all of you! But especially my Clemmy!

  5. Oh Blythe, what a great post and trip for your family! This whole thing made me tear up, to think what a strengthening and beautiful journey you went on and the memories made.

  6. You guys are really brave!

  7. What an incredible gift! For all of you. This - this is priceless:

    "I saw my family. I mean, I really saw them. I saw what they could do, who they are. And it is impossible for a love to not grow deeper when you can really seeing someone." ...and..."They are all a little bit new to me today. A little bit more."

    You couldn't be living your vocation any more truly, I don't think - no matter what the adventure - but not shying away from real experiences, taking a chance on them, on God, on yourselves, and preparing to care for them but also going for it- sounds like such a gratifying adventure for all. Most of all that you were able to keep your heart and eyes open to the perspective that came to you through it all. You are definitely cooperating with something (One) powerful!

  8. You guys are such rock stars! I'm so amazed and impressed by you, especially because you admitted it was hard going. Maybe next time leave HP at home, though? ;-)

  9. What a cool trip!! My uncle carried me up my first hike when I was four up the Drakensburg chain ladder which is also pretty steep, but being up there with my parents, my brother, my cousins and my aunt and uncle stuck with me even being so little. We did lots of hikes after that when I was little and did one recently (was my little sisters first hike ever) and even though their really hard you only remember the good stuff! :) And I think its so awesome for kids to "rough it" a bit, builds a sense of adventure. Good on you guys your trip sounds like it was worth it:)

  10. This gives me hope! We like to enjoy the great outdoors a bit as a family, but had one rough experience camping with a toddler and have sort of given up.
    With number two on the way, we sort of resigned to, probably camping wont happen again for a while. But, it doesnt have to be like that. And, it doesn't even have to be perfect. Thank you.

  11. I thought you were bat-shit crazy for wanting to do this, but I'm now so impressed and happy you did it! I'm always amazed at my kids endurance when I always presume they're going to just drop, but they never do. I really want that kind of endurance! And Harry Potter made me laugh!

    1. Ha!! I had high hopes for some twilight Potter reading. Let me tell you, it was NOT worth it:)

  12. Holy Cow, you are MY HERO. The hiking thing? Awesome. Doing it with all the kids? Beyond awesome. DOING IT WITH HARRY POTTER IN TOW? That just takes the cake.