Pleasures of Life

Mom the Pathfinder

Have kids, will hike

By Katie Begley

North Carolina is home to some of the most peaceful hikes in the South. I’ve also gone hiking with my kids. The experiences are, well, a bit . . . different.

Hiking with young children generally begins with some crying. Whether it was overshoes that are too tight, naptimes that are too close, or just emotions that are too big, I’m not sure. A single mom with three kids, ages 5, 4, and 2, in tow, I wondered what I had been thinking as we all climbed out of the car at Weymouth Woods. This was supposed to be a relaxing morning on one of my favorite local trails. A tranquil time for us all to connect to the Earth just as it had been for me, by myself, so many mornings before.

We had all been cooped up in the house with positive COVID tests, and now that we were cleared to rejoin the world, I wanted to get some real dirt on the soles of my boots. Instead, someone stepped on the instep of my foot in the parking lot, and I had to fight back the four-letter word that popped into my head, knowing that my kids would take it up as a rallying cry if given the chance.

As soon as we settled on a direction — no small feat given the strong opinions held by each young hiker — the spirit of the hike started to weave its magic through our little group. Our lungs felt a little bit fuller. Our faces, turned up to the late morning sun, felt a little bit warmer. Our nerves, at least mine, started to uncoil. A few leaves crunched under our feet, and sand kicked up behind my kids as they ran, laughing, down the trail.

I was laughing with them, not even thinking about the cubic feet of sand we would all bring back into the car in our shoes, when the boys, 5 and 4, suddenly stopped. They’d discovered a mysterious set of tracks on the trail. A strenuous debate followed about what kind of animal it could be. They ruled out deer because the tracks were too big. A bird of some sort was the top contender for a while until they realized that the clearest of the tracks was a semicircle and didn’t have any claws. My 5-year-old used his preschool powers of deduction to suggest that it may have been a horse, given that we had seen a sign designating this as a horse-friendly path. Always the proud mama, I beamed at what I knew were signs that my kids were destined to be geniuses, possessed of both logic and reason. I had reached peak motherhood.

“No, it’s a velociraptor track,” my 4-year-old announced confidently, followed by what he imagined the velociraptor sounded like at the very instant it swooped into Weymouth Woods and touched down. My 2-year-old fell back onto her bottom, startled by the wild noise, and began crying. My oldest rolled his eyes, said, “Whatever,” in a voice that sounded way too much like a teenager and took off in the opposite direction. I looked around us, silently praying that no one was in earshot of the party of four disturbing the peace.

Having narrowed our choices to either a prehistoric beast or a large hooved mammal, we circled back to the car. It may not have been the tranquil morning that I envisioned but, glancing in the rearview mirror as we pulled back onto the road, I saw my kids nodding off in their car seats, and smiled.  PS

Katie Begley is a freelance writer and executive director at The Wilds Writer’s Studio. You can follow her writing on social media @katiebwriter and learn about The Wilds resources for young writers @thewildswritersstudio or www.thewildsstudio.com.

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