I’m not sure when I stopped hiking, but at some point in my adult life, I completely abandoned the pursuit. When our kids were babies, we hiked all the time. It was the easiest outdoor adventure we could undertake with two screaming babies in tow. Throw them in those backpacks and start walking until they stopped yelling. They loved it. Things got difficult when they started walking. I should say, things got slower. Instead of humping through several miles of technical terrain with babies strapped to our backs, we were lucky to make it 100 yards from the trailhead because every leaf, every mud puddle demanded thorough exploration. And my wife and I were fine with it. We’d read on the internet that we should let our kids explore the outdoors at their own pace. And if the internet says so, then so be it.
But then, a couple of years later, our kids stopped wanting to hike. Other pursuits took precedence. Tubing and standup paddleboarding. Riding bikes. Rock climbing. We were still exploring the outdoors on a regular basis, we just weren’t hiking. When free time is limited, and you have a choice between ripping singletrack on a mountain bike or meandering through the woods on foot, my family tends to lean toward the faster pursuit.
Then one Sunday, on a whim, my wife declared that we’d be spending the day at Blue Ridge Pinnacle, a short but steep hike near Mount Mitchell off the Parkway. She was already packing the lunches when she told us of her plan. There was no negotiating the matter. We were going to hike that day whether we liked it or not.
And we did like it. The hike itself was incredible, moving through grassy meadows and stands of evergreens, along short cliffs and over boulders until we stood on the crest of a fin of granite, overlooking a large swath of the Southern Appalachians below us. We’d just missed peak foliage, but the mountains were still painted a deep, burnt sienna. And the kids were super stars. They still stopped to explore, climbing trees and jumping off rocks, but their pace was quick, almost frantic as they moved from one nook along the trail to another. When we reached the summit, they took turns “bouldering” on a gray slab, then posed for silly pictures near the edge of the rock. And we had time to be silly together. We could talk and joke and chase each other and rest on rocks to eat M&Ms. That’s the sort of interaction you get to enjoy when you’re hiking. The pace is slower than mountain biking, you don’t get the adrenaline or sense of challenge that rock climbing offers, but every once in a while, maybe slow and simple is the right choice for a family.