I love sharing our family outing disaster stories. We need to do more of this, as a society. Let’s face it, we all tend to overedit our Facebook posts…
Right now? I’m a mess. My lower back is killing me. I’m overdosing on Aleve. I smell like Ben-gay.
Why? Because I was obsessed with getting the kids outdoors on New Year’s Day.
There’s a state park with a popular family-friendly hiking trail not ten minutes’ drive from our house. At the top, there’s an old, sturdy stone lookout tower. We call it the castle; the kids love it. There’s also a pretty neat weather observatory. It’s less than a mile up, but very steep. The trail is really rocky and rooty. There are also ski slopes, and in the absence of snow, the slopes are quite hike-able.
We’ve done this hike many, many times. I know the kids can do it, though Babygirl has often insisted on being carried. For this reason, I usually bring a backpack-style child carrier.
But we’d done this hike with friends just the week before, when the weather was unseasonably inviting. Sixty degrees the day after Christmas? We’re going outdoors! Babygirl had nonchalantly marched herself the whole way up and down, and I exulted, because I thought we were done with the carrying.
So, New Year’s Day was decidedly colder. The high was 40 degrees, 20 with wind chill. I love a winter hike*, and I want my kids to, as well. In any case, when we set out in the late morning, it was sunny; and at our house, it wasn’t that windy. So: We’re going outdoors!
We’d had the typical New England smorgasbord of precipitation in the days prior: a ton of rain, some snow and plenty of “wintry mix”. I’d forgotten about that. Even at the wide, easy base of the trail, there were large patches of crusted icy snow, and even more of mushy, cold mud. The wooden stairs were dripping, and even waterfalling in places. We had to pick our way around the edges, along the tree roots, to avoid getting wet sneakers.
Sneakers. We wore sneakers: totally improper footwear for wet and cold conditions.
That may be part of the reason why Babygirl insisted on being picked up, very early in the hike. (Later on she cried: My toes feel tingly and ouchy! and I finally figured out, her pink sparkly Stride-rites had soaked through, and she was probably getting frostbitten toes.)
So I picked her up, and on Babyboy’s lead, we left the mucky drippy trail, and headed for the ski slope. There, sun had quickly melted all the snow, and the ground was frozen grass, hard and dry.
But. The little trail through the trees had been protected from the wind. The smooth, verdant slope was a current of cold. Ooooh it was painfully chilly. I carried Babygirl piggyback, and she buried her face in my shoulder. I considered turning around, but Babyboy was way ahead, running, joyfully. He loves big, wide open spaces of nature.
I figured if we kept up our speed and upward effort, we’d warm up quickly enough. And, I was right. It was great exercise. By the time we reached the top, Babyboy and I were rosy-cheeked and toasty-warm. We found a wooden table (there were quite a lot of people up there!) and set up our little picnic snack.
The kids had packed their own preferred snacks, and the deal was, they couldn’t eat them until we were at the top. Babygirl stopped complaining about the cold and dived into her raisins and Cheddar Bunnies, and I realized that she’d also been hungry. Babyboy always eats a good breakfast; she does not. That was probably another reason she wanted to be carried.
It didn’t take long for cold to win out over hunger. The workout had created sweat, and the sweat was making us hypothermic. I realized that hiking back down on the gusty open slopes with that formidable wind chill wasn’t a good idea. So we cut over to the trail through the trees.
But it was steep, and rocky. I realized that I couldn’t navigate it while carrying Babygirl on by back- I needed my arms, or at least, one arm. Even then, it was pretty impossible.
So we backtracked, to the road. I don’t like taking the road, because the occasional cars tend to drive too fast, and there’s no sidewalk. But the road through the forest was at least semi-protected from the wind.
The road is also longer, and if we took it all the way down, it would add a quarter mile in distance. When you’re carrying forty pounds of whiny preschooler, that’s a quarter mile too far. I figured we could take the road down as far as possible and then cut to the woodsy trail, which, though rocky, wet, icy, and steep, was relatively short.
And that is what we did. That last little bit on the woodsy, rocky, muddy, icy trail just about killed me. I was holding Babygirl on my hip with one arm, and using the other to grab rocks and branches to try to keep my balance while picking my slow, unwieldy way down.
Babyboy, meantime, was a total champ. I marveled at his calm and competent navigation: balance-beam precision along the slim dry edges of a soaked segment of trail; running, skipping and jumping over roots and rocks, half-hidden by wet leaves and patches of frozen snow, slips and slides quickly corrected; a few falls, with rapid recovery, just bounced back up and kept on going, with a grin.
What’s so amazing about this is that he’s usually totally uncoordinated. He’s completely uninterested in sports. He trips over his feet all the time. He bumps his head daily. He drops things, breaks things, loses things… This is common in kids on the autism spectrum, the lack of body awareness.
But in the woods? He’s like a gazelle. I loved being able to praise his physical accomplishments:
Good job leading the way, you helped us avoid that muddy patch there!
Wow, I’m impressed with your climbing over that big boulder, bud!
Holy moly, good catch on that ice, you kept your balance!
And this is one of the reasons I was determined to complete this miserable hike.
Unfortunately, in doing so, I made Babygirl miserable.
And now, I’m miserable.
My back started to seize up a few hours afterwards. Of course, it was from carrying a heavy, squirmy, asymmetric load on uneven, slippery ground. There was plenty of unexpected, unnatural torque and force on the old L-spine.
The pain was distracting enough that I couldn’t fall asleep. I got up and rifled through our medicine cabinets… Slim pickings for pain control. Aleve. Tylenol. I took both at max dose, even though I’d just taken the same doses two hours before.
Then, I found an old, expired tube of Ben-gay. It looked like it had been carried around in Hubby’s travel kit for years. I slapped that stuff on my left lower paraspinal muscles and massaged it in. It actually helped! That and some gentle stretches.
A few days and a lot more NSAIDS later, the lower back spasm is improving. Babygirl doesn’t seem scarred by the experience; she’s asked to go out and play a few times.
*I didn’t always love a winter hike. I’ve personally been the limiting factor on more than a few cold-weather endeavors. I give myself credit for sticking with it, though.