One morning this week, I pulled out my phone to check the forecast. Ninety degrees. Ew. Not abnormal for our city, but when we’re used to spending the summers up in the mountains at camp, it feels abnormal. And gross. I scrolled over to the next day’s forecast. Ninety-one degrees. More ew. I tapped on the “10 Day Forecast” tab, hopeful and a little bit desperate. More nines and zeros. Some nines paired with other numbers, not zeros. Numbers like four and five.
And in my attempt to leave the house while avoiding the heat while also not walking around Target spending unnecessary money – I determined to go for a hike. We were headed up in the canyon, one of those hot, winding roads where you wonder if vehicles are supposed to make this sort of noise. I packed up two water bottles and a baby-carrier for my back. I threw a toddler’s camouflage hat into the diaper bag because we lost the regular hat, threw in some protein bars to snack on, and in the sudden realization of what I was hoping to do, ate a big piece of chocolate while I loaded a three-year-old into his car-seat with cheerful promises of “a special adventure walk”. Seriously though – who expects a toddler to cheerfully climb a mountain, even if it’s a nice, moderate eighty-five degrees and there’s a cool bridge to cross?
I was not expecting much. We would happily eat the protein bars. That was a guarantee. (We ate them in the car, on the way. I can’t seem to hold out on snacks.) We could enjoy the drive up the canyon, since nobody is prone to car sickness and it’s a pretty, twisting little road. We might make it up the first one hundred feet of the trail to the bridge. We might not. I tried to prepare myself to be ok with this. I’m a vigorous hiker – usually I pass people more often than I am passed myself. Slowing down takes a bit of mental preparation.
We made it to the trail head, and the parking lot was full. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this. I could be ok with just taking a drive this morning. And then I caught myself. I hadn’t put in all this work to turn around and go home. Maybe there’s a pullout ahead. There was a pull out. I ignored the steep, hiking access point from the pull out – it connected with another trail, no bridges guaranteed. We walked cautiously down the narrow busy road. I kept the toddler on the outside, hoping he wouldn’t choose this moment to fight my hand-holding policies.
And then we found our trail, and we started hiking. It was hotter than I expected. The trail was exposed and we took pretty frequent water breaks – Erik squatting on the gravel while I both refused to him sit too long, or to drink while he walked, wandering distractedly close to the edge of the steep trail. He took breaks to climb on exposed tree roots. I tried to explain that the purple flowers were called Showy Daisies and that the wild raspberries along the trail would be ripe in just a few weeks. To my surprise, we passed the bridge in mere minutes, and Erik took off running up the trail ahead of me. We hiked and climbed and scrambled and stopped in the shade and walked some more. He never complained. After about half a mile, we turned around. I was in awe of us. Emily was napping sweatily on my back and Erik’s face was red with heat despite his hat and frequent water stops, but we’d actually done it. We’d gone hiking together.
The mental battle to prepare for disappointment was over, and then suddenly when we reached our truck again I wondered Why haven’t I done this before? If hiking was going to go so well, why wait this long at all? Maybe I should have been out hiking for months before now. And I nearly let this thought begin to bother me, warm and sticky with the truck’s AC spitting out hot air before the cool. But then I stopped. No, no that’s the wrong question to be asking. And slowly the answer grew out of the questioning as we wound back down the canyon. I didn’t do this before because the before was preparing me for the now.
Before – all the months of effort learning first how to leave the house with two children and then how not to be late, and then learning how to plan time for a coffee stop – these were the moments that prepared me to go hiking all alone with two littles. The days of barely making out of our pajamas before 10 and the days of getting up and ready, stopping to get my coffee and a second cup for a friend, the days showing up with two kids and two coffees still five minutes early were the days that built into me what I needed to finally make it out and away for a morning of hiking. Sub in protein bars for the coffee and trade out the weight of pushing a stroller for the baby carrier backpack and the too-eager toddler running uphill on a hot day; I wasn’t catching up on lost opportunity, I was walking into a new challenge. Leveling up.
I think that realization in the truck as we drove into the city with our windows down at lunchtime was an important one. That wasn’t the first time I’ve beat myself up for not having tried this or that hard thing before. I’ve asked myself why I was so afraid to try water skiing that I refused for something like two whole summers, and I’ve wondered what would have happened if I had started writing more publicly sooner in my life. But the wondering tends to be a bit fruitless – I can’t go back and get up on skis sooner. And I think now I really wasn’t ready to share my essays any sooner than I have. I needed practice. The years spent writing in private are the years where I began to edit, hone, develop a voice. Those were important years. Those years were preparing me for these years.
So friend, don’t come down on yourself for only starting now. You’re starting, and that’s what’s important. You probably can’t see yet all the ways that your past has prepared you for your future, but it’s there and it’s working for you. Don’t beat yourself up.
Go forward. Take adventures. Hike on the days that seem too hot, and take the little people you didn’t think you’d be able to manage. They might surprise you, but even more importantly, you might surprise yourself.