Three miles up a gravel road that has split from the top of Stevens Pass, we park the red SUV in a wildflower lined dirt parking lot. I step out of the car, roll my shoulders, stretch my quads and breathe in the crisp fall air of the North Cascade Mountains. Before the first march towards the trail head, my husband and I gather our backpacks filled with snacks, water and first aid supplies.
Next, we unbuckle the children from the back seat: the baby takes his seat in the carrying pack, equipped with extra blankets and a clear plastic hood in case of rain, while our 6-year-old ties an extra jacket around his waist. Lastly, we give the kids and ourselves, a pep-talk, “It’s a long hike but it’s important to know that we are here for fun and to enjoy each others company, so let’s embrace the outdoors and remember to smile.”
The first part of any hike is the time to get warmed up for the long trek ahead: our muscles getting used to the pace, our lungs getting used to the increased elevation, and all the while we are trying to calm our nerves from the excitement of our adventure. This warm up portion proves especially difficult for our 6-year-old son, James who lets his excitement get the best of him by running, jumping and frolicking across the downed trees, buried rocks and trampled trails. The next thing we hear is that James is tired and simply cannot go any further, even though we are still in eyesight of the car. Eventually we find a pace that we can all maintain as we meander up the switchbacks to the ridgeline of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The key to hiking, with or without a child, is to look beyond the exercise aspect and find the beauty in your surroundings. Just to be outdoors gives a sense of clarity and peace in our otherwise busy lives, it lets time slow down so we can appreciate the moment that comes with each and every step. Luckily with kids who need frequent water breaks, we are given more opportunities to fully take in our surroundings and notice the subtle changes that otherwise might have been missed if we kept trucking along. As we climbed in elevation, the vegetation turns from tall grassy fields to lush green landscapes where moss grows on trees and the dirt turns damp. We pass rocks faces whose rubble touches the trails, wild huckleberries ready to be harvested and trees that are so large it takes our whole family to link arms to give them hugs. Some of these trees are standing tall, while others have fallen over from years of persistent winds and heavy snowfall. Those are the trees James likes the most—easier for running across, imitating a deer and practicing balance.
It takes twice as long, but sooner—or maybe it’s later—we arrive at a tall crest overlooking a large, light blue, lake that is surrounded by grassy fields and beaches by its shore: our prize for making this five mile journey. We skip down the path that takes us to its bank where the first thing we do is splash our faces with the frigid waters of Lake Valhalla, riding the sweat from our brows. Next we find a spot for us to lay out the extra blankets and enjoy a picnic of granola bars, apples and juice boxes. As I sit here, listening to my children play with their dad, I notice the tranquility and grace of the lake and its surroundings. The wind flies over the lake and sings me a soft melody that relives my soul from the hustle and bustle back home, only 40 miles away. On the other side of the meadow is a deer eating grass, while the fish in the lake are jumping for their lunch unaware of the Bald Eagle soaring overhead. Before the kids get too tired, we wrap up our lunch break and begin packing for the long hike out of the wilderness and back to the reality of civilization.
People ask me how I can stand taking young children with me on hikes; they commend me for being able to put up with the constant breaks and excessive “are we done yets?” My answer is always simple, how can you not? To me it teaches a valuable lesson of receiving a prize after hard work. It shows our children that there is more to the world than video games and TV screens and that nature is far more entertaining. Most importantly, with time constantly whizzing past, it allows me valuable time with my children creating memories that will last forever.