08 May For my mother.
To my mom:
Not including the countless hikes that we did as a kid and random day hikes that I’m not remembering, I estimate that we have backpacked and/or climbed over 304 miles together in the past 8 years. This is relatively remarkable, because you live on the other side of the country from me. But every single year, without fail, you make a migration westward so that we can complete our annual backpacking trip together.
As you will likely recall, our first backpacking trip together was to through-hike the Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Of course, after the trip, I read on a website, “This is not a trip to take a beginner backpacker on.” Needless to say, that would have been good to know before I “coerced” you into climbing up the 2000′ gain in 1 mile that is Aasgard Pass. And maybe it would have been good to know before we camped in sub-zero temperatures. And maybe that would have been great to know before we hiked out in a snowstorm. But who am I kidding? We didn’t know, and you had a great time. I still remember the excitement of getting you up Aasgard pass alive and in one piece, even after we had to scramble up rocks completely covered with ice.
Sadly for you, the trips never got easier. I have unbelievably taken you on hikes that are literally some of the hardest, most technical off-trail routes I have ever been on. There were points where I had to help you through some difficult sections, but when I say “difficult” – I mean that most people would have turned around 10 miles before we got to that point. You apologize for “slowing me down”, but if you think you’re “slowing me down” on a nearly vertical talus field with rockfall hazard to our right and 2000′ of death-by-cheese grater exposure to our left, well, let’s just say you aren’t, because I’m probably freaking out more than you (I’m just better at hiding it).
You were there for the Spider Meadows Loop – the first “long distance” hike that I planned. Looking back, it was such a simple trip, but at the time it was a huge accomplishment for me. I had never planned a multi-day trip alone before. I still remember the excitement of reaching Spider Gap – a place I had wanted to see so badly. We crested the top of the glacier, and suddenly we were looking down on the Upper Lyman Lakes – a moment I had dreamed about for over a year. And of course, spending a day in the sun on Middle Ridge – if you were there, you know how amazing it was, but words truly cannot describe that day surrounded by mountains and gazing at Glacier Peak.
Since those first two trips, we have gone on to complete countless other adventures. We’ve climbed Mt. Saint Helens in a vicious windstorm. We camped at Gothic Basin in the snow, and I’m pretty certain you almost slid to your death in frozen Foggy Lake. We backpacked 50 miles on the Hannegan Pass/Copper Ridge loop in the North Cascades. We climbed Mt. Hinman and completed one of the most ridiculously insane off-trail circuits from LaBohn Lakes to Tank Lakes (seriously, that trip was hard even for me) amidst swarms of blood sucking mosquitoes. We completed the Carne Mountain High Route to Ice Lakes, involving one of the most death-defying scree traverses I have ever done. We camped at Robin Lakes in a blizzard and still managed to climb two nearby peaks. We have crossed endless, slippery logs. We have boulder-hopped when you were sure you couldn’t boulder hop. You have ascended incredibly steep snow and descended gullies so steep that most people would have stopped to whimper.
I am forever grateful that you instilled in me and encouraged my love of adventure. I am forever grateful for the time you spent driving me back and forth to my volunteer “job” at Hopewell Furnace National Park, which ultimately helped shape my entire career path and genuine love for parks and the wilderness. I am forever grateful for the creek walks at Evansburg State Park, and for the time you allowed 6 children to paddle an inflatable raft upsteam on the Skippack Creek (only to get lost for hours without you having any clue where we were). I am forever grateful for the summer vacations spent hiking in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, Acadia, the White Mountains, the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, and our very first camping trip to Hickory Run State Park, which was a complete disaster, but I loved it anyways. My life is the biggest adventure that I can imagine – I have an insatiable desire to explore. I absolutely could not imagine anything more fulfilling, and I am so fortunate that you helped to clear that trail for me as a young, starry-eyed hiker. I am even more fortunate to be able to share those adventures with you now, and lead the way for you to complete some pretty epic memories.
A few days ago when you called me, you said you were worried about turning sixty. Well, let me tell you what – I don’t know many 20 year old “kids” that could keep up with you. You have climbed mountains. You have hiked the Wonderland Trail. You have crossed the Grand Canyon. You hiked for 11 days, unsupported in Iceland. You run ultra marathons. If you think that turning 60 is going to slow you down, well, you’re incredibly wrong. Turning 60 just means that all of your accomplishments and adventures (and there will be many more) will be that much more awesome and brag-worthy.
It’s safe to say that 304 miles of hiking is an unacceptable total for me, which is why, we are kicking it up a notch this year. I’m looking for an epic, off trail hike that is 100% on boulders and slippery log crossings over raging rivers. If you’re lucky, we might cross a steep slope covered with loose pine needles. Or maybe I’ll plan the trip so we can get swarmed with mosquitoes… or caught in a blizzard… I haven’t decided. Either way, it’s sure to be memorable, as usual.
All kidding aside, I looked through all the photos today from every single trip that we have completed together. Did you know that there are hundreds and hundreds of photos? I am so glad that you are crazy enough to hike with me. Some of the best memories of my life are on these trips, and as I look through the photos, I am so proud that I’ve been able to share my love of adventure with my own mom. Sure, we have our differences, and there was that one time I tried to assault you with a pogo ball when I was 13, but I’d say that all things considered, I turned out alright.
I’m not a mom myself, but I imagine that being a mom is an awful lot like climbing a mountain: moments of frustration and misery intertwined with moments of pure, infinite bliss. If you can somehow combine those two things, I think the frustration and misery cancel each other out (I’ve done the math). And so, I imagine that being a mom, spending time with your child, surrounded by mountains and sharing adventures … well, I imagine that must be quite possibly the best thing of all.
Love you mom! Happy Mothers Day!