I started hiking about 18 months ago, after swearing it off as a young teen. Many weekends of my childhood found me struggling along behind my dad on various trails in Washington State. I hated hiking. I hated it so much, in fact, that I promised myself I would never do it again once I became an adult. And I didn’t. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The last time I hiked as a kid was uphill, in the snow. Our family had a rustic cabin (think hand pumps for water, propane electricity and an outhouse, ugh) in the Cascade mountains. During winter months, the road leading from the tiny, off-the-grid town of Liberty to the cabin was closed due to snow, so we hiked the miles carrying our supplies over the snowpack tamped down by snowmobilers. It sucked and I hated it. Hiking alone, my parents could do it in about 90 minutes. Hiking with me, it took up to five hours, due to my whining, constant break-taking and my overall digging in of heels, both literal and figurative.
It sucked and I hated it. Whether we were on switchbacks in the heat of summer, or on that snowed-in trail, I loathed hiking. It was too much work with no purpose. There were no phones. There was no makeup. There were no friends, just adults. And nature was so boring. The only way my dad could get me to take a step forward was to bribe me with sugar. He would let me pick out a special candy prior to the hike, which he would then dole out in carefully measured quantities as we slowly made our way. Come up to these rocks and you can have another handful of M&M’S, he would say, or, cross this stream and I’ll give you more. I would miserably propel myself forward, because the only thing worse than hiking was lack of access to sugar.
The final time I hiked, I was twelve and working on a Girl Scout badge project. My dad and I set off in the snow toward the cabin, and I was working on my attitude, since I really wanted another patch that I would never get around to sewing to my Junior vest. We had a stash of peanut butter M&M’S that day. My dad carried forty pounds of supplies on his back, sparing me. I was slow, but I wasn’t whining. It seemed to be exceptionally cold and humid that day, and a fresh snowfall labored our steps. We’d been walking for close to five hours when my dad started to talk about how tired and cold he was, in a dreamy tone of voice. I was surprised, as I’d never heard him utter one word of discomfort or complaint on a hike. When he started talking about wanting to lie down on the trail and rest, my little Girl Scout heart began pounding, my skin prickling, on high alert. These were the early signs of exhaustion, which would lead to immobilization and freezing to death. As he started to stagger, I jumped into action.
Dad, have some M&M’S, I instructed. Here, let’s eat the whole bag, I said, shakily tearing it open and pouring the brightly-enameled sugar and protein bombs into his hands. I knew he wasn’t OK when he didn’t balk, normally insisting candy should be savored, not binged. I did not eat a single one, hoping against all hope that sugar, our old standby for making it though a hike, wouldn’t fail us now.
My dad’s head seemed to clear almost instantly once the bag was empty. OK, we need some help, he declared, straightening up and moving forward. He flagged down the next pair of snowmobilers (and thank goodness they were out in numbers that day), asking them for a ride the rest of the way, which they obliged. They got us as far as the packed snow would take us, dropping us off within sighting distance of our cabin. Here, the snow was thigh-deep on my dad, but with a renewed spirit, he waded through it, clearing a path for me. He dug out the front door and we were in, six hours after we left the car. I promptly fell into a deep sleep, awakening to my dad drinking brandy by a roaring fire in the woodstove, jotting notes in our cabin journal.
You saved my life, kiddo, he said. I was freezing and sleepy, and you did the right thing by giving me those M&M’S. I wondered if they had a Girl Scout badge for saving your dad’s life. I will never ask you to hike again, he decreed, and just like that I was off the hook, the sacred promise made. I was never going to hike again.
Flash forward 22 years and a friend gets me out on an Arizona trail. I have to, because it’s what she wants for her birthday. I love it. I do it again. I start hiking several times a month, seeking out new trails, each time texting my dad a picture of me out in nature.
Hiking with my dad since my reawakening has been a special joy. We’ve come full-circle. I get why he always wanted to be out there in any weather, experiencing nature. I’m grateful for the second chance and not to be trailing a stubborn brat, like I used to be.
We were on the phone the other night, and my dad was remarking about the latest hiking pic I sent him–one of me posing poring over a Sedona trail guide he sent as a gift, against the red rocks. He didn’t believe I’d cracked it open, so I had to prove it. I’m just so proud of you for getting out there, he said. Me too, I exclaimed. And I don’t even need M&M’S to incentivize me. The M&M’S come from within. We thought that statement might just serve as an important metaphor for life and mulled it over. Yes, we agreed, the M&M’S must come from within.
It’s wonderful that you have rediscovered something to share with your dad. Recent events have shown me that every day you can spend with your folks happy and healthy is a gift to be savored.
The magic is in having the realization in time, isn’t it? Perspective is everything. Thanks for your readership, Jackie!
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