Reflections of a Forced Family March

When I was five or six years old, I set out to climb Mount Monadnock with my father. After about an hour or so, I began the chorus of, “I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired, I’m bored,” but my father implored me to march on like a good little soldier. And as a good little soldier, march on I did, but not without complaining. Finally, he told me that a wonderful surprise would be at the top and I just had to push through and it would be worth it. That wasn’t specific enough for my liking; I wanted details. Surprise? What surprise? I don’t know what possessed him to tell me there was a McDonald’s on top of Mount Monadnock, but I had no reason not to believe him, being five and unfamiliar with the construction costs and franchise rules associated with operating a McDonald’s. And even though I was hungry and thirsty and tired, in 1973, McDonald’s was the best motivation a person could offer me to keep on trucking.

When we got to the top, I was not pleased. The McDonald’s, shockingly, was nowhere to be seen. “Hmm,” my father said, “Maybe they closed it? But would you LOOK at this amazing view? And I bet you are the youngest girl ever to climb Mount Monadnock. Isn’t that great?” “You LIED to me? THIS IS NOT FRENCH FRIES! I waaaaannnntttt fr-fr-fr-ench fr-fr-fr-iesssssss!!!!!” Thus began my complex relationship with both my father and hiking.

Ed is a hiker and a camper, and I’m not. In the name of love, I always participate, and over the years I’ve moved from extreme dislike to mild annoyance to reluctant tolerance. When formulating our Memorial Day plans, Ed wanted to do “something fun.” Something fun to me means enjoying a vodka tonic at our swim and tennis club while reuniting with friends we haven’t seen since last August. Something fun to Ed means hiking. When you have a husband who works really hard and always tries to make sure his family is happy and well cared for and who always puts his personal needs behind the family’s wants and needs, it’s really hard not to say yes when he wants to have some fun, even if his definition of fun is not quite the same as yours. Even if his definition of fun is 180 degrees away from yours. That is love.

We decided to drive just over an hour and hike the Appalachian Trail to a spot called the Pinnacle. At first I was down with it, having enjoyed Bill Bryson’s hilarious book about the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods. The Appalachian Trail is kind of bad-ass, and lord knows I try to be bad-ass. Ed described it as about four miles up, not overly steep, and an amazing view on the top. He kind of implied it would be mildly challenging, but no big deal.

I love the idea of hiking much more than actually hiking. Families who hike seem wholesome, healthy and loving. They seem like they monitor tv and computer time vigilantly and support public radio. They seem like good people one should admire. I want to be those people, but we’re not.

Not surprisingly, our sixteen year old was not that into it. However, the two younger boys were into it, and our six year old rescue dog Teddy was, too, even though he looks too pretty to endure what turned out to be a nine mile hike in 70% humidity. And we’ve already established my feelings. But four out of six enthusiastic participants seem like they would stack the deck in favor of success. We are a hiking family, I whispered to myself. We are a hiking family.

Right off the bat, I wanted to quit. Did I mention the humidity? We had hiked all of 500 feet by this point. Had I known that three hours later, we would be just arriving at the top, I would have run back to the car. It was steep and rocky and buggy and HOT, but I shut down my quitter voices, and onward I marched. I tried to summon my inner Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra and focus on enjoying the journey. I kept shutting up the child inside me whining she was tired and thirsty and hot and bored and WHEN CAN THIS BE OVER? Had anyone honestly answered, “In five and half more hours,” I probably would have rolled into a fetal ball and cried. Instead, Ed just kept saying, “Not much longer.” They say you marry your father.

Oh, look, Mountain Laurel, the Pennsylvania state flower!

Enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey, enjoy the journey, dammit. God, this was hard. The kids were starting to bicker, Teddy looked like he was having a doggie stroke, and Ed and I were dangerously close to turning on each other. Why do people do this, again? When we finally got to the top, which admittedly was spectacular, I’m not going to lie — I immediately started wondering when we could start heading down so.this.could.be.over.

But then something happened. About halfway down, things started to change. Spending the ascent scattered and the descent jockeying for first position, the kids finally formed a group. Look, togetherness!

The boys stopped bickering and started laughing and joking. Ed talked to them about presidential history, basketball and baseball. I suggested that Andrew be a sportscaster, since he’s an excellent writer and a passionate sports fan, and he told me he would consider it once his professional sports career was over. Thunder rumbled in the distance and we descended in double time, all the while talking about what we would order for dinner. We were happy and tired. Is this what Outward Bound feels like?