Beth and I have always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that there’s a better than average chance that Jake will be home with us after the other two head off to college.
The only hitch in our plan is that Jake’s going to have to LOVE hiking by the time he’s 22, or else he’s never going to be up for a 6 month hike from Georgia to Maine.
He’s as physically capable as any 12-year old, but lacks the fortitude to put his mind to a task for an extended period of time. Still, if certain accommodations are made, he usually does very well. We (the boys and I) went on a 13.5 mile bike ride recently, and as long as we let Jake have the lead, he did well. In fact, making sure nobody got too close or, gasp!, passed him, was part of his motivation.
Sunday we climbed to the summit of The Owl. It’s the first mountain west of Mt. Katahdin. It is a lovely little mountain with an elevation in excess of 3,700 feet. We’d really like to make a run for Baxter Peak with the kids this summer, and figured this would be a good test for who’s ready and who’s not. If we were going to include a side-trip to see Katahdin Stream Falls, which we did, it would be a 7.4 mile hike.
Prep is key with any outing venture that takes three children, one of which is Jake, into the woods for almost 7 ½ miles. We’d been talking up “climbing a mountain” with him for days. We made sure he wore comfortable clothes that he likes. He even got to use my old pack, in hopes it would make him feel like a big boy.
Making sure everyone has fun and survives until next time is Dad’s job. That means I double as Sherpa. I carried the bulk of the water and food, including the knife, flashlight and first-aid kit. Each kid carried their water portion, plus a few snacks, in their Camelbak packs. After Mom made sure everyone was liberally slathered with sunscreen and bathed in Deep Woods Off!, we began.
The first mile is pretty laid back, and is everything I’ve come to expect on the first mile or so of a Katahdin trailhead. Rocks, roots, gentle/steep incline. No big deal. We covered the first mile in about 25 minutes. Liv was even starting to complain that there wasn’t enough “up.”
At the cutoff to the Owl trail, things changed immediately. Suddenly, there was enough “up” for everyone. Thankfully, the steep sections were offset with more gradual portions, so we could catch our breaths. Jake started showing signs of frustration. He wanted to sit and rest because his heart was beeping so hard. He began pleading for snacks (another ploy for rest time). This went on for another mile or so. We came to a spot where you could break out of the forest and see how much progress we’d made. It was gorgeous! It recharged our psyches, and gave us what we needed to keep going.
The problem was, it got increasingly steep from there. More and more upper body strength was needed to pull yourself up onto the next rock, or to grab onto nearby roots and tree trunks. There were even a few false peaks to deal with. Every time we thought we MUST be there, the trail would continue on around the next bend.
Still, we persevered and covered the 3.6 miles in just about 2 ½ hours. It wasn’t until then that I remembered iPhones are camcorders, and thought to record Jake’s thoughts. He was still in pretty good spirits, having been allowed to lead the charge on the way up, but he was already thinking about being back on level ground and home with his puppies.
Best Jake quote: “Look, that’s a lot of world!” He really enjoyed the 360 degree view from the summit.
Things started going sour for us on the way down. Jake was no longer enchanted by the thought of being at the top of a mountain. He was showing signs of fatigue, and was frustrated that Gabe was so quick in his descent. Remember, Jake NEEDS to be in the lead. This time, however, he just wasn’t capable. Gabe would bound off ahead, and Jake would get increasingly upset. It became a juggling act to restrain Gabe’s inherent enthusiasm, while pushing Jake to move a little quicker. Finally, they decided to team up and beat Liv, Beth and I. Once they joined forces, things went really well; almost too well. We had to keep yelling at them to slow down and wait for the three of us.
Once we made it to the Katahdin Stream Falls, we were able to take a much needed outhouse break, and drop our packs for a few minutes while we took in the scenery. When we were ready for our final 1.1 mile hike back to the van, Gabe took off in the lead again. Jake, predictably, got upset and started crying. It’s so hard having to scold Gabe for being good at something, just to keep Jake from freaking out. He should get to be as strong and fast as he wants to be; and he doesn’t understand the full ramifications of his actions. We tried to impart that it just isn’t worth putting Jake through 20 minutes of fear and anxiety, just to “win” 30 seconds before the rest of us.
I got a pic of them holding hands during the final ½ mile. What the picture won’t tell you is that it’s less “brotherly love,” and more “I’ve got you – now you have to stay with me.”
We piled into the van, and drove the 8 miles out to Togue Pond, where we promised the kids they could take a quick dip. Liv and Gabe fell promptly to sleep. After a refreshing dip, we headed into town for a sit-down meal in the shade. Turns out the key to getting kids to eat is dragging them over 7 ½ miles of rough terrain.
The video has five parts.
- Jake at the summit to the Owl (2:10)
- Jake getting frustrated on his way down from the peak. (1:18)
- More of Jake’s frustration. (0:58)
- A brief clip of our time at Katahdin Stream Falls (0:53)
- Redux of the day, and declarations for the future at the Sawmill Bar & Grill (1:14)
1. “No, I didn’t climb on the mountain, I just walked on the mountain” (0:12)
2. “Look, that’s a lot of world!” (0:36)
3. “Daddy, take Gabriel home and get him ready for bed!” (3:04)
4. “It was too big!” (5:04)
5. “I’m not going hyaking again with my horrible feet!” (5:39)
At the end of the day, Jake didn’t pass the Who Gets To Climb Katahdin Next Time? test. Better we learn on a 7.5 mile hike than on an 11 mile adventure. The “Mountain Goat” award, for endless energy and relentless bounding up and down mountains goes to Gabriel. He’s definitely Katahdin-bound. Winner of the coveted “Ashley P. Dickey” award, awarded to the person who received the most scrapes, bruises, cuts and abrasions, is Olivia. Not since Ashley have I seen someone so effectively drag themselves up, and scrape themselves down a mountain.
Until next time…