Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bucket Lists and Making Memories On The Appalachian Trail

Friday, April 5th, I drove to Mercier Orchard for a fantastic breakfast with my daughter, Rebecca, newborn Abigail and the rest of her family: husband, Ian, Elizabeth (5), Nathaniel (9), Gabriel (8), Asher (6), Micaela (10), Ians’ parents, Ray and Maxine, and cousin, Bradley. After breakfast, we picked up my gear and took off for Springer Mountain. That slow drive up FS 42 to the parking lot gave us time to think about what was ahead. For Ray, he was about to check off a bucket list item, but doing it with Maxine, Ian, 4 gkids, and me! Once there, we quickly headed up the muddy climb with blustery winds pushing us along. By the time we arrived at the plaque on top, Elizabeth had mud from top to bottom, but true to form, she didn’t care.

Rebecca even arrived with Abigail. After a few pics, we headed back down to don our packs and enjoy a treat from Mercier, a fried pie!

It was 1:30pm before we finally headed north.
 Along the way, we adjusted packs, encouraged the young ones to keep moving despite their interest in stopping to point out items like sticks and rocks, before settling in to an easy pace with Nathaniel (Racer) moving to the front. I mostly saw his back all the way to Woody.
 Our goal that night was Hawk Shelter, but our back up was Three Forks if it proved too difficult for them. It didn’t take long to see that Gabe was now Popeye- strong and sure- but also always a gentleman. Popeye would make sure to stop to hold out a hand to his Mamere and Nana when crossing a creek or needing help in any way. We made it to Three Forks by 3:30pm and had a good snack break.
All the kids carried their own snacks for the weekend, and it amazed me how much they could chow down at any moment! At 4 o’clock, we crossed and headed toward Hickory Flats with a nice spring in our step. Asher (Mini-Chuck) by now needed a little help carrying his 10lb pack, first me, then Ray (The Builder).  After Micaela (Book Worm but this changed over the weekend!) began asking how much further to camp, Mini-Chuck replied, ‘Any mile now’. And that became our mantra for the weekend. J Climbing Hawk was a challenge, but we finally spotted tents. The shelter was full and most spots were taken, but we searched out a spot for us to camp near each other as we had 2 tents: a 3 person tent for the girls, and a 5-person tent for the guys. It was after 6 o’clock so worked quickly to set up tents, filter enough water for 8 people, clean up for bed, and hang our bags which didn’t get accomplished till after dark.
With everyone snug in their tents, I eased in to my sleeping bag and felt my body begin to relax. A night’s sleep was going to be so nice. BAM! Something fuzzy on my head was reverberating! I jumped and yelled, before Bookworm cackled. She proceeded to show me Mr. Fuzzypants who only came out at night to torture me. She was now The Jokester. A giggling fit ensued which apparently bothered the guys beside us. Sorry, boys.

The next morning, we took our time to get ready which was a good thing because there is no hurrying with 4 kids under age 10J Popeye made a shoulder pad for his hurting shoulders with the bottoms of his hiking pants. That’s what I call a good backpacker- able to figure out an answer to a problem.
Most of the hikers were gone by the time we started out after 10:00am. The hike was going to be tough with Sassafras, Justice, and most of Gooch ahead of us. Our goal was Gooch Shelter and we aimed to get to camp earlier than the day up before. Chuckwagon started out carrying Mini-Chuck's pack but by the time we stopped for our first break The Builder had devised a bribe for Mini-Chuck. If he carried his own pack up Sassafras he could have a milkshake! He grabbed that pack and took off with his Papere and we didn’t see them until we got to the top. It was one slow step at a time and there were a couple of rests, but we finally topped Sassafras and found a proud Mini-Chuck with The Builder waiting on us.
We kept our pace and made it to Justice Creek where Chuckwagon had promised the kids they could dip their toes in the water. They had a nice break playing in the cold water while we had a nice break sitting!

We took off anxious for Gooch Shelter and we made it before 6. We took two of the last sites and made camp faster than the night before: we were getting the routine down. However, the boys had to let some steam off and sounded like monkeys in the jungle for a bit, but hey, it’s all good. I proved to be the crumb-Nazi and kept fussing about the granola they were spilling around my tent so I sent them back to their tent spot so they could attract the mice there! The Jokester set up the girls tent by herself (she was earning a badge for her American Heritage club.)
Everyone was exhausted and in their tents by 8:30pm. Chuckwagon had figured out what it took to get Mini-Chuck asleep at night—backpacking!

Maxine tried to make sure The Jokester was warm enough since she had been very cold the night before. Then it was sleep…so good till I woke up with something fluorescent in my hands. ?? After holding them up, trying to figure it out, it became clear I held 2 glowing centipedes…hmnnnn. I threw them somewhere above my sleeping bag and put it down to The Jokester asleep beside me. 1:30am she needed to pee so it was out of the tent I go where I took her down below our tent site which was a fairly sharp bank. I’m shining my headlamp for her when what do my wondering eyes do I see? The toilet paper rolling down the steep embankment….50 feet at least. In 20 seconds my sleepy brain registers: do I have enough toilet paper of my own for the 8 of us tomorrow? No. Do they have anymore? I don’t know. So, with a grumpy, ‘Micaela, I’m going to get you for this,’ I take off down the bank. I make it and grab the roll and start back up. However, I hadn’t tightened my Keens and they kept sliding off. I lost one in the deep leaves but I found it after shining my headlamp around and kicking with my feet. Finally, The Jokester and I are back in the tent. Ahhh…I’m in my bag again…happy to be going to sleep when I feel Mr. Fuzzypants again. This girl is in trouble! The next morning, I find in my  sleeping bag the rest of the florescent bugs she had hidden in my bag (and I slept with all night).

We all awoke to the hoot of an owl. Knowing we had a short 5 miles had everyone in a good mood. Chuckwagon led them in a few stretching exercises.
We gathered up and started out again about 10 o’clock. Popeye had been enjoying the wildflowers all weekend, and he kept pointing them out. The Racer was still out front. Mini-Chuck never quit talking. Maxine and I were both tired. The Builder seemed fine, but Chuckwagon might have been a little tired. But to his credit, he had helped carry the kid’s packs (except Racer) off and on and kept up with them; constantly watching to make sure they were okay. When we stopped for a break on top of what we thought was the last mountain, it was a sigh of relief: almost to Woody.
Then we headed down and realized we were once again going up. Yikes, The Jokester was at this point, over it. I could tell Maxine was pretty disappointed, but she persevered. Like she said, ‘what else can you do? You have to get out.’ And so, we did- 20.1 miles to Woody Gap! It never looked so good, but what a great weekend.
The sore feet, hurting hips, and smelly bodies were forgotten. We had experienced a special time with each other and our 4 gkids. The Builder had checked off a bucket list item and we had all made memories with our grandkids they’ll ever forget. Along the way, I had special time with each one on the trail; sharing secrets or them telling me little things that were important to them. That’s what it’s all about…those sharing times. It was a very satisfying feeling as they headed off in their van to Mercier Orchard. By now, Mini-Chuck had changed from a milkshake to a fried apple pieJ
Hiking With Kids Truisms:
1)      Sticks are fascinating- they can be broken, hit against a tree so one can watch the pieces go flying in different directions, or used as another hiking pole
2)      Why walk by a big rock embankment when one can climb on it and see how high one can get without possibly breaking ones neck
3)      There is no such thing as too much mud. It is imperative to see how deep it is or how much or how far one can splatter it
4)      A small tree is there to see if one can bend it or climb it
5)      If one has enough drink and food, one can drink and eat constantly
6)      If one drinks and eats constantly, one has to pee and poop a lot
7)      You will get grumpy long before the kids get tired
8)      There are endless shapes of trees and rocks in the woods which prove to be endlessly amazing
9)      What’s important to you, will not be to them
10)   Expect your world to be expanded…they see so much more than you realize.