Adventure Parenting: Hike Gone Awry

19 Oct 2020

Mistakes on the trail still make happy memories.

By Courtney Johnson
  Twenty minutes down the road, my daughter, Emma, asks if I remembered to fill up our Camelbaks. So much for the Scout’s “be prepared” motto that I’ve always spouted. A veteran hiker, author and speaker about hiking with children, and I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules about having water on the trail! (Insert eye roll here.) Even for a seasoned hiker, many things can go wrong on the trail—as my daughter and I were about to find out. An hour from the Adams Canyon trailhead in Layton, Utah, we stop for gas and fill our packs with water. The car registers a balmy 99 degrees when we pull into the trailhead. Popping open the trunk, I find a pool of water next to my daughter’s Camelbak. She never remembers to close the valve. You can lead a horse to water … Before I let out a gaggle of expletives, I simply switch the bladders out so she will have a full one. No sweat—yet. Not five minutes into the hike, the whining starts as the trail climbs 500 feet with switchbacks void of shade. “I’m melting like a toasted cheeser,” my daughter moans, pulling a line from “The Sandlot.” “Mom, don’t you tell people NOT to hike in the heat of the day?” A few moments later and in the shade, the sound of Holmes Creek is hard to hear above the continued buzz of wasps—perhaps some foreshadowing.
Emma is clearly not happy at this point.
“Are we almost to the top?” Emma whines, her bellyaching at a level of dramatic perfection. “I’m STARVINNNNNGGGG!” Not wanting to pull out the tasty snacks too early, I plead with her to keep going a bit longer. “Let’s stop and cool off in the spray of that mini waterfall,” I suggest. As Emma takes off toward it, I ask if her Salomon shoes are pulled tight. Wasn’t that one of my personal gear-check rules before we left the trailhead? Guess I forgot… Not a minute later, she’s yelling, “My shoe! I lost my shoe!” I believe it was Jean de La Fontaine who said, “A hungry stomach cannot hear.” Curse you, Jean… now I’m chasing a shoe downstream. Soggy shoe back on, we continue the slow slog up to Adams Falls, our ultimate destination and the hike turnaround. After a few peaceful moments marveling at the natural wonder, I glance at my watch. S*#t! “I forgot I told Aunt Kathy that we’d be there in time for dinner,” I shout over the sound of the falls. “If we speed-hike down, maybe we will only be an hour late.” A brown trout scurries by Emma’s foot, much to her delight, as she raises her arms to enjoy the spray. Watching her, I know we need to savor this moment of pleasure. These are the experiences that keep my daughter hiking, no matter the challenges. “Sorry, fam,” I mutter to myself.

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All the beauty taken in, I try to keep up a good pace as we head back down. Twenty minutes later and Emma’s tired again. Without so much as looking off the trail for any hazards, I sit down on a rock and let out a yelp—a stinging pain shooting up my backside. Picking my butt up, I spy the stunned wasp. I’ve lost track of how many rules of hiking I have now broken. Payback is a b*#ch. As I move at top speed on the way down, Emma starts to fall behind. Finding shade, I suggest she build a cairn to take a break. As she successfully balances rocks one on top of the other, I see her frown turn to a smile. Another moment of fun, until a man heading toward us yells, “Haven’t you heard of ‘Leave No Trace’?” He’s lucky I didn’t put my old pitching arm to the test. Arm around my daughter, both of us dirty and soaked with sweat as we descend the switchbacks to the car, we can’t help but laugh at the man’s crankiness—not to mention my multitude of hiking blunders throughout the day. Despite it all, we manage to complete the 50th hike for my book, “The Best Utah Children’s Hikes.” And the memories of that comedic hike are still making us laugh today.  
Courtney Johnson is a mom, author and substitute teacher from Erie, Colorado. She is the author of and is currently writing her second book, “The Best Cortez and Mesa Verde Hikes” for publication in 2022.
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