Take a Hike

I’m sure you know one of those families that are so outdoorsy and stoic that it’s irritating. They’re always headed off on epic cycling trips or month-long paddling excursions. They don’t have any wimpy kids in their brood, who constantly whine, “My legs are tired. Are we almost there?”

No. Their kids completed their first triathlon at the age of 6 and can easily carry a 20-lb pack as they scale mountains.

I don’t know who these kids are, but they look impressive.

I aspire for us to be one of those families. And I’m ready to irritate you with tales of our stoicism.

For the last few years, we’ve been promising our oldest that we would do an overnight hiking trip. Soon. When you keep saying that you’ll do something “soon” for YEARS, your kids start to lose faith in your empty promises.

I thought, for some time, that we would have to wait until Lark is old enough to walk a fair distance. She’s still only 5, after all. Although she requires no sleep and probably runs a marathon every day, when it comes to going on a family walk, her legs suddenly stop working.

She is very tired, she needs a break, she needs a snack, and this is boring.

I began to realize that if this overnight trip was going to happen soon, we’d have to take my daughter out of the equation. I told her with some hesitation that the three of us would be going on a camping trip without her. But that she would be having a sleepover at her aunt’s house.

She was not remotely disappointed. “Good,” she said, “Because I hate walking.”

The past many months of international pandemicdom has made me thoughtful. What kinds of experiences do I want for our family? What can we do together that is out in nature, creates growth and pushes our collective boundaries a bit? This excursion ticked those boxes for me.

I began researching all of the gear we would need. We have a lot of camping equipment, but it’s all for “car-camping” as snooty backcountry Canadians like to say. Translated, our tent weighs a tonne and is meant to be thrown in the back of the car for drive-up camping. The purists among us only consider it camping if you walk or paddle there. Or parachute. Whatever.

Although That Big Mountain Store had some great options for gear, their prices were high for what was essentially an experiment. I found stuff elsewhere, borrowed a few things, and hit Canadian Tire.

Last Friday, we tossed some packets of ramen in our bags and hit the road.

I should mention that I ran into trouble when I began looking for a place to do this hike. Ontario’s provincial parks system has a bunch of parks with hiking trails, and backcountry reservable sites. I narrowed my search down to the ones that were not more than five hours away, and then found that – sigh – most sites were completely booked until DECEMBER.

In this post-COVID world, no one is travelling far, and everyone wants to be outdoors.

Finally, I found an available site at Frontenac Provincial Park. This park is over 5,000 hectares but is apparently “threshold wilderness.” Anywhere else in the world it would probably just be wilderness wilderness, but in Canada, you know, we have tiers of these things.

On arrival, it was a balmy 12 degrees. We had a 5 km walk to our site.

Map in hand. Ready to walk.

I was relieved to find the trail very clearly marked. It was almost impossible to get lost.

The Arkon Lake loop was about 11 km in total, and relatively flat with a few small hills.

Frontenac didn’t disappoint with fall colours.

Craig and I were both super proud of our kid for not complaining and carrying his pack with minimal rests.

Campsite 7 at Birch Lake
Food storage box to prevent a critter invasion, OR, my worst nightmare, BEARS.
Bean steaming himself on a frosty 5 degree morning.

Although it was chilly overnight, the whole experience was amazing. You know that something feels like a success when you’re already planning your next trip on the way home.

What are your next new adventures going to be?

Getting the Worm

The early bird gets the wormTime-honoured cliché

I am not an early bird. For the majority of my life, I’ve most definitely been in the night owl camp. People who claim to love the mornings have always filled me with vague suspicion. Surely they don’t naturally spring out of bed in the morning, full of zip, like that guy from Jerry Maguire? Aren’t their duvets snuggly and comfortable? Don’t they have alarm clocks which somehow fail to go off or mysteriously get snoozed?

Anyway, night owls are more fun, right? What would the party be like without us! Everyone would go home at 9:00 to get their precious beauty sleep and there would be no epic things happening at 2:00 am.

Except that, amazingly, this owl seems to be moulting or something. My new feathers poking through are positively robin-like. For the last year, I’ve been getting up earlier and earlier, until suddenly being up at 6:00 doesn’t seem like such an incredible stretch. I admit that I haven’t had too much choice in the matter, as my daughter, the aptly-nicknamed Lark, is ready to rock at 5:30 a.m. every single day. Some mornings, I’ve been sitting downstairs with her at 4:45, cradling a coffee, playing toys and waiting for the sun to come up. Other days, we get a bit of a reprieve and she slumbers until 6:00, which now seems like a sinful hour to sleep in to.

This is old hat for the husband. He’s always been pretty bouncy in the mornings. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, he used to bound in and yank the covers off of me in an effort to rouse me out of bed. (Partners, take note. Don’t do this.) He learned to let sleeping bears lie in time, but a couple of years back, began to set his alarm for 5ish in order to make it the gym three times a week at opening. Apparently, there are even other people there. His rationale was that this was probably the best time of day for him to fit in exercise, assuming that I would appreciate his presence during dinner and at bedtime. Which is true. Gym visits at 5:30 a.m. don’t really effect me if I’m still sleeping. I think he enjoys having the house to himself for a couple of hours, before his family wakes up and starts annoying him.

Recently, though, when he’s disappeared to the gym at the crack of black, I’ve been up anyway, as it’s pretty hard to ignore the tenacious, metronome-call emanating from my daughter’s bedroom:

“Mama. Mama. Mummy. Mama. All Done. All done. Up. Up. Mama. Mama? All Done. Up.”

So whether I liked it or not, I was awake. But sitting around in my jammies in a sleep-deprived stupour could hardly be called getting the worm. On non-gym days, I could sleep in and Craig would get up with Lark. Until she suddenly began to insist that be the one to get up with her every single day. If Craig tries to take her downstairs without me, she shrieks like a wild thing and yells at the top of her little lungs, “No, Mummy take it. No Daddy! No Daddy downstairs. Mummy take it!” Over and over and over until I’m fully in the land of the conscious and also have to grudgingly stumble down the steps.

Then, back at the beginning of June, I started this 28-day program with a local trainer by the name of Oonagh Duncan. It was mostly an effort to stop fuelling myself with copious amounts of caffeine and sugar, maybe shed a couple of pounds and see where it took me. Exercise was part of the equation, but for some reason I didn’t think about the reality of actually exercising for the first time in a few years. Suddenly, I had a directive to exercise 3 times a week. The workouts were sent to me to do at home with helpful instructional videos attached. As it turns out, I like extrinsic motivation, because I had to report back to Oonagh about how I’d done on each day, and didn’t want to be negligent about my homework. God, I love a gold star.

I quickly realized though, that putting exercise off to the evening was not going to work in any way. The dinner/bedtime routine is a veritable gong show at our house just now. The kids are never both in bed before 9:00. Who wants to lace up their gym shoes and get their sweat on after 9:00 pm? Not me.

I had to find some time in the day to get those workouts in. Hmmm – but when? It finally dawned on me  that the only time I had in the day was in the early morning. I was just loafing around. Theoretically, my husband could even keep my daughter away from me for the 20-45 minutes I need to get ‘er done. (That hasn’t happened) Presently, I found myself doing (my own special version of) burpees in the living room at 6:00.

The morning thing is a bit of a revelation to me. You know how you feel when you’re jetlagged, and you keep waking up super-early and feeling totally rested, and you think, Oh, I’ll just do this for the rest of my life, this is so easy. Eventually, your body adjusts and mornings start to feel onerous again. I’ve got that morning-energy-feeling most of the time now. I am now one of those ultra-productive members of society who makes everyone else sick talking about how serene their sunrise run was down by the lake today.

The only difficult piece here is that I still need to kick some of my more owlish tendencies. If I’m getting up at 5:30, I’d better be in bed by 10:00. However, those episodes of Orange is the New Black aren’t going to watch themselves. Many nights, the clock abruptly says 11:30 and I rush to bed in a panic, suddenly realizing that I’m exhausted and leaving myself sleep-stinted.

It’s a work in progress. I never thought this would be me. Neither did Craig, for that matter. Will it last? When the dark days of winter are upon us, will this early-birdy’s worm still feel so satisfying? Remind me of this post in December.

 

 

Steps

The other night, I was walking out of my garage into our back lane, when I ran into my neighbour, coming out of his garage.

I had Lark in the carrier, as I often do.

“I didn’t know you guys walked”, he said, joking.

“Sorry?” I said, startled. Unable to hide my defensive tone, I said, “Only every day.”

He quickly changed the subject and we parted amicably. But I was, shall we say, nettled. As happens so often when we have an emotional reaction to something, I couldn’t quite figure out why I was so irritated.

We live in a neighbourhood that rates a 91 on Walk Score. This means that you can do all of your daily errands and shopping on foot. All schools, shops, and restaurants are within easy walking distance.

Let me also add, that this particular person and his family do not own a car and pride themselves on getting everywhere on foot, bike or transit. They occasionally rent a car for long journeys.

When Craig and I first bought our house, we took transit to work every day and walked the neighbourhood on weekends, only getting the car out of the garage for road trips or specific errands, like a Home Depot run. This fell in line nicely with our personal beliefs. We were reducing our environmental impact by driving less and transiting more.

After I had my son in 2008, it was a joy to explore our neighbourhood on foot, with epic stroller tours, naps and fun activities to take him to. When he got a little bit older, I bought a Chariot bicycle trailer and began to pull him behind me in the spring of 2010. He loved going for a bike ride and usually fell asleep in the trailer on the way home.

But then he got sick.

Our life, for over a year, was a long series of back and forths to the children’s hospital, often racing the clock in the middle of the night to get to the ER. There was no question of walking, or biking or transit. It was car and car only. As much as I hated it from an environmental standpoint, I accepted the necessity of it. Actually, I remember entering into this curious mental state of “these rules don’t apply to me” as I cut corners and disobeyed traffic laws, all in an attempt to hurry, hurry and get to the next appointment on time. Such is the mindset of one living in a constant state of high alert.

As 5 years have passed from then to now, I’ve attempted to pull back from my incessant car use and retake our former walking lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy. My life with my son continued to be one, long trip to an appointment at hospital or various locales scattered across the city. The emergency scenarios didn’t decrease, and again there were many tense rides to ER with my little buddy listless and pale in the back seat, throwing up.

On our “good” days, when I attempted to walk Bean to school, the 1 km walk would stretch to 25 minutes and beyond. His long illness and continued poor health meant a huge decrease in stamina compared to other children his age. He would need to stop many times on the way to school to “rest my legs.” Each of these stops was frustrating, as the clock ticked onwards, making it more likely that he would be late, and more likely that he would suffer stress, so even more likely that he would then be ill. Emotional outbursts were prevalent.

On most days, I ended up just chucking him in the car when I thought the walk would prove to be too much. After the arrival of Lark last year, this frazzled mama was barely getting out of the house dressed, with kid and newborn in tow, squealing up to morning drop-off with only a moment to spare. Often the open door of the school would close in our faces as the last child trooped in. Which then meant getting the babe out of the car in the -20° weather and marching down to the other end of the school to deliver the kid through the western door. The result of all of this early morning frazz? Ring, ring. Ring, ring. An hour later. “Bean’s not feeling well and throwing up, you’ll have to come collect him.” Baby back in the car. Here we go again!

Here’s the turnaround point. Last March, Bean’s new medication kicked in, which has meant continued wellness for periods of more than one or two weeks. It has meant a huge increase in stamina and general well-being, and less anxiety and stress. He began to be able to walk the 1 km to school without complaint or multiple rest stops. As a result, our behaviour as a family has changed.

With the start of this school year, Bean and I agreed that we would try to walk to school every day, unless there is some compelling reason to take the car. We have stuck to that agreement since September. He has walked to school and then home, and then most often walked to his after-school activities or friends’ houses for playdates. I have been tracking my steps with the Health app on my phone. Each day, I’m walking roughly 5 kilometres, with a daily average of about 8,000 steps. On record days, I’ve clocked over 17,000 steps, or about 12 kilometers. Bean and I have been quite pleased with ourselves for sticking to our pact and leaving the car at home. Naturally, Lark has been along for the ride, either in the stroller or carrier.

You can understand then, maybe, why I was annoyed with my neighbour for his offhand remark.

I guess the problem here is that humans make judgements based on what we see. It’s almost impossible for us to make perceptive calls of other people’s behaviour based on what we don’t see. If, the majority of the time, my neighbour encounters me exiting our house through the garage, then he will assume that I most often drive. He doesn’t see me bumping the stroller down our porch stairs every morning. And, as stated above, we did use to drive pretty much everywhere, so at one point in time, his comment would’ve been accurate. Though, in truth, our reason for driving everywhere was painful.

Unfortunately, for me and the rest of us, we use these kinds of judgement calls all the time. Let’s say, for example, you have a friend who is trying to lose weight. You don’t witness the entire previous month that they have subsisted on kale smoothies, but you do see the big piece of cake, eaten as a treat at the birthday party. Your conclusion? Your friend isn’t working very hard at this so-called diet.

It can be disheartening when we work hard to change a certain behaviour, but our efforts go unrecognized by those around us. This is especially true when dealing with those closest to us, our intimate friends and family members. We like to keep our loved ones in the cozy pigeonholes we’ve crafted for them. As for acquaintances and strangers, we have no problem forming blanket opinions based on a small exchange or observation.

The moral of the story is the trite but true, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Sometimes these hard battles shape our behaviours in ways we wish they wouldn’t. We can only be forgiving, and attempt to stretch our brains to imagine the behind-the-scenes story, the battle that we can’t see.

As for me, it’s time to wrap this up now – I’ve still got 8,000 steps to take today.