I'm not saying that Danielle and I are sticks in the mud, but we do like our comfy little routines. The road more traveled? Fine by us. Reading before bed. Date night on Thursdays. Dinner out at our same favorite places, where we will order our same favorite dishes. Church on Sundays. Walking the dog in the evenings. You get the picture. Sometimes, however, we cling a little too tightly to routines for routine's sake. We have to remind ourselves that we are not yet old dogs that it wouldn't kill us to learn some new tricks.
However, when trying new things, one should take time to read- not skim- the directions.
With the beautiful spring weather in full force, Danielle and I have spent many of the past few weekends hiking or taking long walks. We love our usual hiking spots but have been eager to try more of the trails that crisscross our region. Two weekends ago, we decided to venture out to a trail system two of our friends have been raving about. I even researched the trails online and found a 2.5 mile loop that would be appropriate for a hike with the dog in tow. We packed a lunch, filled two water bottles, brought water and treats for the pup, and were off for an adventure.
When we arrived, we got off to a grumbling start as we struggled to find parking. (Again, we are not exactly go with the flow when trying new things. And by "not exactly," I mean "not even in the same zip code as".) The small parking lot area beside the trails was packed with vehicles; on one of the first pretty Saturdays of the season, nature lovers were out in full force, and the area was even more crowded due to some type of mountain biking event. Despite our default mode of "curmudgeon", the Zen of being outdoors worked its magic on our systems, and after about a quarter of a mile we settled into an easy, relaxed walk through the woods. We felt the cool relief offered by shaded areas and listened to the trickle of streams that popped up intermittently along the path. We shared conversation and comfortable silence. Eventually, we admitted to each other that we were grateful to be on the trail at the same time as the mountain bikers because all the activity decreased the likelihood of a bear sighting. (Both of us cultivate highly active imaginations and harbor a strong fear of bear encounters on hikes. It would not be unheard of for us to talk abnormally loudly or to shake our keys during a hike to scare away the bears. If you have encountered obnoxious people on what you hoped would be a tranquil hike, I apologize. It was probably us.)
We covered two miles and congratulated ourselves on getting back onto the hiking/exercising bandwagon. (We are so healthy! Go, us!) Not long after that, we encountered a marker for mile 2.5, but the trail seemed nowhere near the end. Mile marker 3 turned into 3.5 and then 4. At mile 4.5, we came to a lookout area with a flat bed of pine needles and some shade. We had planned on having lunch at the end of our hike, but we decided to stop and have an impromptu picnic. Being tired and famished will do that to a person. While we were eating, a trio of bikers came up the hill and kindly stopped to admire our dog. We all struck up a conversation, and at some point mentioned that we had been under the impression that the trail was two and a half miles long.
The cyclists' faces fell. They looked at one another. Who would break the bad news to us? "Oh, no. It's way more than that." And they proceeded to discuss among themselves how long they thought the trail was. Their consensus? Somewhere between 6 and 7 miles.
We were a little tired at the 4.5 mile resting stop but were hanging in there. The dog, however, had never done more than a 5K up to that day. So, as we continued on our journey, Danielle stretched out her t-shirt, stuck all 22 pounds of dog inside it, and made a makeshift carrier in the style of a baby-wearing wrap. (Think Baby Bjorn or Moby wrap.) For the remainder of the journey, she would carry the dog about half a mile, let the dog walk half a mile, and then start the cycle all over again. By the end of the hike, that t-shirt looked like a damn cowl neck.
As time passed, our key jangling and noise making ceased. The distance between the half mile markers seemed to grow longer and longer. We became concerned. Just how long was this trail? Visions of our bodies being airlifted from the woods drifted into my head. How long would it take for a rescue crew to reach us? Would the bears get to us first? Who would take care of the dog in our absence? What if I never lived to eat another bite of chocolate?
To put out minds at ease, we needed some confirmation and solid facts. Although we were out in nature and weaving our way around a huge lake surrounded by woods,
we still got clear cell phone reception. So, we decided to call one of our
friends to have her look up the length of the trail. To our dismay, she
told us it was a total of nine miles. Nine. Friggin'. Miles. The blisters on our feet instantly began to sting with more fervor. Our water bottles suddenly seemed dangerously depleted. I was *thisclose* to pouring a jar of honey over my head and just letting the bears finish me off. No use postponing the inevitable, right? Then, we got some good news. The trail was 9 miles if you included a 2.5 mile loop but only 7.5 miles if you avoided the loop.
Hmmmm. A 2.5 mile loop. 2.5... miles. Sound familiar?
I, in my infinite wisdom, had put my family (which includes a short and almost nine-year-old dog) on a 7.5 mile trail because the 2.5 mile loop I'd been searching for was only accessible several miles into the hike.
Obviously, our misadventure turned out fine. We made it out of the woods (literally), and neither the long hike nor Danielle's wrath killed me. (She was quite forgiving of my blunder, actually.) Danielle got some monstrous blisters on her feet, and my skin was a patchwork of sunburns, but we were generally no worse for wear. In fact, we were quite proud of ourselves. Between the trail length and the distance between the trail and trailhead, we covered a total of 8.4 miles. Not something we'd have thought we were capable of but something we were proud to have done. Something we'd conquered together. We even talked of hiking the route again over the summer sans pooch.
We got home, cleaned ourselves off, and proceeded to eat whatever the hell we wanted. After all, we'd walked 8.4 miles. My map-reading accident turned out to be a happy accident. We'd ventured far outside of our comfort zone and lived to tell about it. In fact, we'd actually enjoyed it. And it made for a great story.
Nevertheless, Danielle has informed me that all direction-related tasks are to be double checked by her in the future.