“Whoosh… thump thump thump, THUMP.” The stand of narrow spruce trees let loose another shower of snow. I squirmed between them, brushed a handful of snow off the back of my neck, and picked my way over the last few devil’s club and alders–back to where the trio of kids was eating their snack.
Flopped next to the sled that held their tiny discarded snowshoes, they had pulled off mittens in favor of fistfuls of crackers and brownies, looking decidedly unenergetic. The kids were 3, 4, and 5 years old, and had spent the past hour alternately dawdling and whining their way down the unplowed road to the trailhead we had finally reached. It was 3PM.
“…I checked out the trail, and…”
This is where a sensible mom would have said “…it’s too far.” Or too tangled. Or too snowy. Or too late in the day. She would have lifted the kids spirits with a fun game that could be played on a snowy road or in the nearby patch of woods, getting a jump start on the trek back to the vehicle. But I am not that mom.
“…there’s only a few tangled spots. I think if you guys have a lot of energy from your snack, and want to be strong hikers, we can make it to the beach! But only if you have a good attitude and keep moving.”
My fellow hike leader joined in with her own hopeful enthusiasm. “See, if you listen, you can even hear the waves! And maybe at the beach we can roast our hotdogs in the fire. But if we go, we have to keep your feet moving the whole time on the trail, OK?”
Katmai immediately insisted on going, and his 4 year old friend was close behind him. Lituya shot me a glance with one of her excellent pouty faces, still sniffling from a cold.
“Lituya, I can carry you,” I conceded. My usual rule was that a 3 year old is too big for that. But my desire to actually make it to the beach trumped any desire to train up my littlest hiker.
I plowed on, Lituya clutched awkwardly against my chest as I ducked beneath the overhanging branches, my snowshoes packing a trail for the kids behind me.
“It’s like an avalanche!” one of the boys exclaimed as we sat down to slide the last steep hill, plowing the wet snow into lumpy piles with the seats of our snowpants.
And there was the ocean. Snow blurred the air. It erased the far shore of the bay, and turned the one visible boat into a distant ghost. It frosted the top of every beach cobble and driftwood log. It drifted into our tracks.
The kids wriggled back and forth through the narrow slot that cuts a tunnel in one of the largest boulders. Then they ran back to the campfire over the snowy rocks.
“I haven’t found ANY fossils!”
They hadn’t found any sea stars either. Or seen any salmon in the creek. In the snowstorm, the beach was stark and monochrome—more dramatic, less playful than on a summer outing. It drew us all closer to the fire, where the kids dangled hotdogs in the flames and ate them half raw, half charred.
I tried not to look at my watch. The kids had earned the destination. And they’d have to earn the way back, sooner than any of us might want.
Usually, I don’t get much exercise on kid hike days. But three year olds are heavy. They become even heavier when asleep, and heavier still when carried like a sack of flour up a steep snowy hill, carefully ducking under waist-level branches. The bigger boys were on their own.
“I don’t want to walk anymore!” the 4 year old sulked.
“OK, so do you want to sleep here in the snow?”
Sometimes, it’s nice to have the difficult truth on my side. It’s easier to win the argument when there really is no other option.
It was all uphill to get back. It was number games and distraction and holding hands in the snow.
Back at the truck, I apologized for my misguided route idea — for misjudging our speed and of the depth of the snow. My fellow leader shrugged it off. “I think it has to work out that way sometimes. It’s good to have an adventure.”
The kids will remember that they could do it after all. They’ll remember the snow on the waves and the icy caves. They’ll have a story to tell. We all need an occasional afternoon epic.