Despite my natural handicaps and severe pollen allergies I try to get out to state parks and go walking in the woods whenever I can, because I Am A Man. So you would not be the least surprised to know that when Mrs. Nostrikethat said “I am taking you up on your offer and taking the day off–see you at dinner” I said “Erm.”
I am what you might call a “City Slicker”. My people are supremely well-adapted to urban life. Need to find a great pizza? I’m your guy.
Want to complain about parking? Ditto.
Navigate a traffic circle? Sucka, please.
I was not a Boy Scout, nor have I ever been “lost” in the sense of “only find-able by bears and mountain lions.” I am also not really tall or muscular, which are very handy physical attributes when you are crammed on a subway car during rush hour.
I have mostly come to peace with the fact that, in the event of an technological catastrophe in which civilization collapses and we regress to a pre-industrial era, my best shot at surviving is finding a heavily-armed group of nomads and convincing them they need a “entrepreneurial, energetic go-getter with 15+ years of experience.”
As the door slammed and I heard the sound of tires squealing out of our neighborhood, the children stared at me expectantly.
“Okay kids let’s pack a lunch– we’re going to the State Park!”
“Daddy, are you sure you know where we’re going?”
Firstborn Son is, unfortunately, too clever by half.
“Of course, I looked it up on the Internet. You trust the Internet, right?”
Lovely Daughter is excited because now she has something to be excited about and it involves snacks.
Captain Underpants (who is 6) is looking forward to getting wet and promises not to be “too whiny.”
The Hurricane is just excited to be coming along on an “Ad-ven-ture!” with his big brothers and not getting left behind. Yipee!
Two hours later, we’re ready to go, because kids.
I checked the map on the web site and noted the name of the area we were trying to get to– it had “multiple stream crossings” which sounded perfect because it’s hot as balls outside.
I loaded everyone up and take the very short drive to the State Park. I’ve lived in this area for almost forever… why haven’t I done this before? This was a great idea!
I pulled up to the gate.
“Hi, I’m looking for the Avalon area!” I was very pleased with myself for remembering.
The ranger ducked back into his little hut and emerged with a sheet of paper.
“It’s about 15 minutes away. Here’s directions.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that the park has more than once entrance. No problem! WE HAVE SNACKS!
30 minutes and two wrong turns later we arrived at the second gate, pay our $2 (UNBEATABLE VALUE!) and started winding our way though a quiet park to get to the Avalon area. As we roll along at 20 miles per hour, I roll down the windows and turn off the radio. “Listen how quiet it is kids!”
“Ow, HE HIT ME.”
As if on cue.
It’s okay, 1:30 and we were all a little hungry. We hit a picnic table and hunkered down to a delicious lunch of peanut butter and jelly, strawberries, and juice boxes.
Except for Firstborn Son, who has decided that the only thing edible is the little pouch of potato chips.
The kid who swims 15 miles a week is not eating.
This was GIANT RED FLAG NUMBER ONE that I ignored.
We cleaned up lunch and started up the “Cascade Trail” which sounded pretty and was probably the trail I remembered from the map.
Despite having not eaten, Firstborn Son was bound and determined to hurry up and get this over with because he was in the middle of some kind of important quest, or level, or something computer-related and this wasn’t working for him, so he charged ahead. Like me, he’s well-adapted for urban life and allergic to the outdoors.
Within only 10 minutes we hit what appeared to be the cascade bit, which was a short little waterfall into a shallow pool with some rocks around it. We stopped for a few minutes to take a break and climb on the rocks.
The kids were having a great time clambering around on the rocks and wading in the water and at this point I was feeling Pretty Darn Smug. Our quiet time was soon shattered however, by a large group of moms and boys coming down the trail from the other direction.
“JACKSON GET OVER HERE! DON’T GO DOWN THERE! NO! I SAID DON’T GO DOWN THERE!”
I felt a moment of pity for this poor mom. She was having a hard time dealing with her boys who seemed to be hell-bent on getting down into the water with us. I looked at my kids who have chucked off their shoes and were poking around in the shallow pools and then up at her kids, who looked like the one thing they wanted more than ice cream was to go play in the water. If only she was Outdoorsy, Like Me.
“Panic Mom” was killing my nature-induced serenity, so I told the kids to pack up and head up the trail.
“Daddy, I want to go back now. I’m hot and tired and getting stressed out.”
RED FLAG NUMBER TWO.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. We didn’t drive all this way just to turn around and go home. Let’s keep going, it’s a short trail.”
We headed a little way up the trail and somehow The Hurricane found a lady bug beetle, who was now His New Best Friend.
“Look Daddy! It’s My Friend Mr. Ladybug!” Like most three year olds, he talks in initial caps.
“Oh, that’s great! Let’s keep walking, we’re going to lose your brothers.”
Have you ever seen a small child try to walk while holding something?
It is the SLOWEST. THING. EVER.
Our pace, which was at best one mile per hour was now measured in geological epochs. Mr. Ladybug wandered up and down his hands and arms and had his full and complete undivided attention. In a three year old this means there is no mental processing power available for tiny dude locomotion.
“Oop! Dropped Mr. Lady Bug. Where Did He Go? Ooh! I Found Him!”
“Oop! I Dropped Him Again!”
“Mr. Ladybug’s mommy is calling him in for dinner. He has to go in now.”
Saddened though we all were by Mr. Ladybug’s untimely departure, we had to keep going because although I was fairly sure Firstborn Son had not fallen into a ravine, I had lost visual contact with him in his haste to Get This Over With.
The trail was pretty easy and ran along a stream. As we continued our walk every once in a while I had to fish out Captain Underpants from some part of the stream. He was now pretty thoroughly messy and happy. Lovely Daughter enjoyed hanging back with me and the Hurricane and talking my ear off. Aside from the continually worsening temper of my oldest, it was actually kind of pleasant!
“Oh Daddy! That sounds like more falls!”
“Actually that sounds kind of like… cars… we must be back near the road that leads to the parking lot. See, we’re almost done.”
The trail opens up onto … a highway. Who the heck blazes a trail through a state park to a highway?
“Gee guys, I guess we have to turn around and head back the way we came.”
“WHAT?!? THAT’S GREAT DADDY. NEXT TIME BRING A MAP.”
By this time, the 3 year old had started to crash as well. We headed back into the woods a short way and found a spot to take a break. I fished out the leftovers from lunch out of my backpack and we all drank some water. Oldest Son has resigned himself to marching back to the car as quickly as possible. He drained his water bottle and half of mine while we’re sitting there.
DING-DING-DING RED FLAG NUMBER THREE!
The Hurricane slurped down a bag of strawberries and perked up a bit. Thus began The Long Trek Back.
As we walked back, I was envious of Panic Mom.
She was back at her car and probably not listening to her kids make a list of things she forgot to bring. Like sunscreen and bug spray and a golf cart with a cooler strapped on the back of it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t run into Panic Mom, or Jackson, or Mr. Ladybug again, nor did we really do much on the way back besides try unsuccessfully to keep up with Firstborn Son.
“Daddy, I can’t see him any more!”
“That’s okay guys just remember: Daddy loves you all but that’s why we have replacements.”
Captain Underpants is a little phobic about his siblings getting left behind.
I can’t imagine why.
As we descended the trail past the Cascade bit and towards the parking lot, we spied Firstborn Son in the parking lot with an expression on his face that said “I SURVIVED THE OREGON TRAIL.”
On the ride back Firstborn Son basked in the air conditioning for a bit in silence and then apologized for his behavior.
“On a scale of 1-10, how annoying was I?”
“I’d give that a pretty solid 7.”
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. Next time, I’ll bring a map. Now who wants pizza?”