Tuesday, January 1, 2019

#52familyhikes: What We Learned From Our Year of Adventures

Our family started 2018 with a challenge and three simple rules: Take 52 hikes, at least one mile each, all five of us together, no repeats. It seemed like a fun goal for our active, outdoorsy crew and a formal, if arbitrary, reason to get out and play. But it became so much more.

Our excursions took us from Charlotte nature preserves to the sandy dunes of Hammocks Beach State Park on the coast of North Carolina, from the peak of Mount Mitchell (the highest point on the East Coast) to the sedan-sized boulders of Devil's Marbleyard in Virginia, from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mecklenburg County greenways. Every time we laced up our boots, we gained a precious and unanticipated gift of a bonding experience, an important life lesson or a poignant and lasting memory.

Here are some of the most compelling takeaways from our year of adventures:

We got to know each other better. Turns out Jeff can recall a remarkable number of silly old show tunes, which was especially handy when cranky hikers needed a distraction. More importantly, though, we all became more in tune with one another. During long hours on the trails and in the car, we came to better understand what makes each other laugh, and how to be gracious and supportive when one of us would just as soon cry. Being alone together in nature heightened our understanding and appreciation for the roles we play in our family.

We talked. About silly things. About current events. About our values, beliefs, hopes and dreams. We told jokes and asked questions. With only the whisper of wind in the trees, birdsong in the skies and our padding footsteps along the trail to interrupt us, we learned to fully engage in conversations.

We gained a greater appreciation for our environment. We became nature savvy and more confident in the wild. We can all identify poison ivy and know how to tread carefully where snakes might be basking. We pause to marvel at wildlife, rather than blindly passing it by. We no longer take the environment for granted and we intentionally talk about things we can do to preserve and protect it.

We created lasting memories. We once rescued a 90-year-old man stranded on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Another time we encountered a rattlesnake thicker and longer than a baseball bat. We also survived a hike that will go down in infamy for its swampy terrain and swarming clouds of mosquitoes. Those are the stories we'll tell for years to come.

We laughed. Oh, the things that are funny after hours on a trail. We've all gotten really good at answering nature's call in the woods. We have a secret warning call for when fellow hikers are encroaching. And, yes, we use it more often than not to trick each other. It never gets old.

We got lost. And learned to be ok with it. Every time we finally found the trailhead after a long and winding drive or ended up taking a creative route back to the car on our hike, we gained confidence in handling the unexpected and unfamiliar.

We covered new ground. We saw how beautiful and dynamic our state is and learned to appreciate what's outside of our urban Charlotte bubble. We saw stunning views and discovered splendor in rural countrysides, shadowy valleys, expansive waterways and groomed city recreation areas.

And we reached our goal. In fact, we surpassed it. We finished the year with 68 hikes. That's 168.6 miles for each of us, a cumulative 843 miles covered. But of course we've found that what really matters can't be tallied. It’s the shared journey that means the most.

I'm not sure what our next challenge will be. Maybe we'll try to visit all the North Carolina state parks or tackle part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail or explore more sections of the Carolina Thread Trail. I do know that what we set out to do will just be the beginning of the adventure.

Thanks for following our journey. Happy trails in 2019. May you embark on a challenge that brings unexpected gifts.

1 comment:

  1. What an incredible experience for you all! Thank you for sharing it and inspiring others to do the same.