Hiking With Dad


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  1. #1

    Hiking With Dad

    I awoke to the sound of my dad’s snoring, which was oddly comforting. I had not been looking forward to this camping trip in the White Mountains because my father and I often had difficulty communicating. Yet, once we became familiar with the fact that we were going to spend the next few days together, we fell into a rhythm of conversation that seemed to suit both of us. I had hoped this trip would rekindle our connection and it seemed to be doing the trick. But this day would prove to be the big test, as we were going to climb a mountain.

    The sky was overcast as I climbed out of the tent as quietly as I could. Dad stirred but did not awaken as I zippered the flap of the tent. The chill of the autumn air cut through my sweater as I quickly worked to light the fire and boil the water for our instant coffee. I heard a small gaseous explosion from inside the tent and knew Dad was awake. He emerged a few moments later, rubbing his face with one hand and adjusting his comb-over with the other. He pulled on a stocking cap as he stumbled behind the tent to relieve himself.

    “Are you ready to climb?” I asked. He grunted and mumbled he’d be ready after some hot coffee and breakfast. He reached for his mug and sat down on the log next to me.

    We cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast. The food wasn’t pretty, but it tasted hot and delicious as we contemplated the mountain behind us and discussed our plan for conquering it. Neither of us were expert climbers but we considered ourselves to be in good enough shape to follow the intermediate trail to the summit. To us, it was less about exerting ourselves and more about being with each other and enjoying the outdoors. The weather forecast called for a chance of showers and we prepared by packing ponchos in our backpacks along with food and water.

    It was just before 8:00AM when we headed out of camp and up the trail. Dad and I chatted about different topics the first fifteen minutes or so, including our predictions for the new football season, how much money we thought our wives would spend shopping while we hiked and camped, and how great it was to be outdoors among the colorful foliage in October. It wasn’t long, though, before the slope of the trail increased and required us to focus our energy on the climb. Even as the trail leveled off in spots, we had to concentrate on where we placed our feet as many layers of leaves covered the trail and one could trip over a root or slip on a rock if one was not careful. After a while we came to a series of rocks and boulders that led straight up, and it was obvious the trail now forced us to use both our feet and our hands. Right about then it started to drizzle, yet we weren’t fazed by the obstacles that lay before us. We put on our ponchos and dug into the climb with me leading.

    Negotiating the climb was a challenge and I had to plan my hand and foot placements carefully. I hoped Dad could maintain his energy as he climbed beneath me but it wasn’t long before I found myself further and further in front of him. “You okay Dad?” I said as I watched him tackle a steep and now slippery section of the boulder trail. “I’m fine,” he muttered. I slowed my pace so he could close the gap between us.

    At the top of the rock face, I stopped and opened my canteen for a drink. Two minutes later he was sitting next to me remarking on the beauty of the forest. As we sat in silence, he pointed toward a large tree about fifteen yards below us. Following his finger, I saw two whitetail deer standing perfectly still, staring at us as we stared at them. Men and animals remained stoic for some very long seconds until the wondrous stalemate was finally broken by a screeching blue jay in a tree up above us. The deer pranced away, their tails dancing gracefully as they departed. Dad and I looked at each other with pure joy and chuckled as we once again began our ascent.

    We climbed another thirty minutes or so before the rain began to come down much harder. The sudden weather change did not dampen my spirits as I sensed we were close to the top and I knew there was a small shelter where we could regain our warmth. Dad, however, was clearly frustrated by the rain and his fatigue. I attempted to divert his focus from the challenges before us by sharing my optimism about reaching our goal on the mountain when he interrupted me and said, “Scott, do you think we can get a taxi up here?” I was relieved he was coping with humor instead of anger, which scared me when I was a kid.

    Continuing our hike, I found myself remembering an experience that occurred when I was in high school when he didn’t handle his frustration so well. We had woken up to about fourteen inches of snow in our driveway on a morning when Dad had an important early meeting at work. He was barking at me to hurry up with my shovel, then made me try to push his huge Lincoln as he attempted to gun it through the drift at the end of the driveway. I always felt he blamed me for what I assumed to be his own incompetence and impatience that winter morning. We didn’t talk for days after that fiasco. Dad’s demeanor on our hike strongly suggested he’d found better ways to deal with his frustration.

    As is usually the case when I face a difficult challenge, the end of the trail was not as close as I thought it was. I had to slow my pace considerably as Dad struggled with the climb. But the rain stopped after a while and the sun came out just as we emerged from the tree line, allowing us to shed our raingear and finish the hike with relative ease. In front of us was our goal, the top of Mount Ascutney. We walked together as the trail leveled off toward an observation tower that stood at the highest peak. I knew the top of that observation deck would allow us to command a 360-degree view of the world below us, but I also was aware that Dad was very much afraid of heights and might refuse to go to the top.

    I first learned of Dad’s fear when I was about ten years old. We were at a large amusement park in central Ohio and my sister and I were begging to ride the Sky Tram, which carried passengers in gondolas high above the park from one side to the other. I thought Dad was kidding when he told us we’d have to ride it without him, but I knew he was serious when he almost vomited as we tried to talk him into riding the double Ferris wheel with us. As I got older, he always made me get up on the roof to clean the gutters because he couldn’t bear to stand on a ladder.

    “I’m going to the top. Care to join me? It’s worth the effort,” I assured him.

    “No, No, you go ahead,” he quickly replied. “I’m fine where I am,” I began to climb the stairs alone.

    I had made it a third of the way to the top when I could see the farms laid out below in all directions. Here, I faced a dilemma. I wanted to share with my father how spectacular the view was, but I didn’t want him to feel shame because his fear prevented him from seeing it. I decided to force my hand. “Dad, the view is awesome.” He heard me and looked up at me. Then, without a word, he began to climb the stairs.

    I continued and made my way to the top platform, then pulled a pair of binoculars from my backpack. The buildings and cars below looked like children’s toys and the sun’s reflection off a distant lake was bright and shimmering. Dad was still climbing.

    He stopped at the first deck where the view just began to get interesting. I was sure he would remain there when I saw him look up at me again, but he continued his ascent in silence and I said nothing, afraid to jar his determination. I spotted a man in a hang glider toward the east, riding the wind currents beneath a bright orange and blue canvas. Dad saw him too, and continued to climb slowly and with more caution than when he began. He was determined to make it despite his fear.

    The clouds were sailing rapidly across the sky and the wind was blowing. Dad was almost to the top and he stopped, then continued until he was standing next to me. He reached out and grasped the railing with one hand and my arm with the other. He looked out over the valley with amazement and, I believe, a sense of accomplishment. “You’re right, the fear is definitely worth the reward,” he said with a grin. I put my arm around him and hugged his shoulder. I had felt pride for my father many times during my childhood but it had been a long time since I had been so proud of him. After we both got our fill of the beauty before us, Dad finally said, “Let’s get the heck off this thing!” I laughed out loud as be began our descent from our private paradise.

  2. #2
    Very well told, a smooth style that lets the reader see both you and your dad. Your story also does a remarkable job of letting us get to know you without being obvious, the descriptions you give, actions and responses do more to let us visualize you both than any adjective could. Welcome to the forum I am looking forward to more of your work...Bob
    God hates a coward Revelation 21:8

    “Good writin' ain't necessarily good readin'.”

    Hidden Content ,

    To encourage and facilitate "me"

  3. #3
    Hey Bob,

    Thanks for your kind words, Bob. One of the toughest things about writing a piece is developing an openness to feedback. I have not posted material in quite a while due to not prioritizing writing, but I have once again developed a strong desire to share my prose. I plan on reading some of yours, too.

    Scott

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