Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Family Hike #6: Welch-Dickey Loop, New Hampshire

Hike #22: Welch-Dickey Loop
Elevation: 2,605 (Welch Mountain) and 2,734 (Dickey Mountain)           
Date: July 11, 2015
Location: Thornton, NH
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 4:24 (58:40/mile)

I’d like to think I’m a good dad: I promote reading, creativity, physical activities. I have my special foods such as omelets and grilled cheeses that are as good as any chef could make. A few years ago, I even turned a rainy day into Spa Day, although the girls established that no amount of make-up can make me beautiful. And, of course, I worry that I’m constantly getting things wrong, which will inevitably lead to their therapy to come to grips with my mistakes (“Dad!  How could you tell us that swallowing apple seeds would cause us to poo crabapples in the Fall?!?!”).

We headed out for another training hike in mid-July, in advance of our three-day, hut-to-hut hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains over Labor Day Weekend. We’d purchased hiking boots for the girls and this was a second chance to break them in. The Welch-Dickey Loop is a 4.5-mile trail that is renowned for its views, and would offer the girls their first chance to hit two summits in a single hike. It is also a good hike for families. Allegedly.

She's either learning about delicate ecosystems
or finding an excuse to not hike.
Everyone was dressed appropriately, with plenty of water and food in their packs as we set out from the trailhead. The weather was beautiful but steamy, and later in the morning than I preferred. I quickly learned that the weather would dominate the hike.

Only a few hundred yards into the hike, I sensed that something was wrong with my older daughter. I suspected that if I were reading her right, she’d cry if I asked directly. Do I ask? Do I silently nudge her along? Do I stop and turn back and let the other two go on? I agonized in my head for a moment before probing. Sure enough, she broke down. She didn’t feel well, which I concluded was due to over-exertion and under-hydration the prior couple of (hot) days, so she was starting this hike at a deficit and the heat and humidity were quickly getting to her. The tears were partly because of how she felt, and partly out of frustration.

We didn’t quit the hike. Sara and my youngest daughter paired off for a bit while I coached my oldest to keep hydrating and showed her how she can soak her bandana in the nearby stream to cool off her neck. We continued on until we arrived at the first clearing, partway up Welch Mountain. Some brownies and water helped refresh a little before soldiering on.

Is it a lesson in disco or geography?
The trail continued steeply up open rock, under bright sun, with temperatures now well into the 80’s. The girls persevered but it took real effort. Reaching the summit of Welch Mountain wasn’t glorious; it was a relief. We found a secluded spot and rested. I noticed my oldest was again shedding some tears. She nestled her head on Sara’s lap and covered her face with the wet bandana, under the pretense of hiding from the sun beating down on us. Since her tears were silent and she laughed occasionally, we grown-ups pretended to not notice. We also eventually pushed the girls on, seeking a chance to get back under the tree canopy.

I proudly watched the girls faced their
fears on a challenging descent!
We were immediately faced with an intimidating descent in the saddle between Welch and Dickey. Scared, the girls still moved forward, scooting on their behinds through part of it, careful to avoid a steep drop-off on one side. The canopy was nowhere to be found, so we continued to cook as we moved to the summit of Dickey Mountain. We continued along a ridgeline for a while before coming out on a big expanse of cliff overlooking much of the loop we’d traversed. Then, finally, blessedly, we descended below tree line and after what seemed like forever, we emerged back at the parking lot.

I watched the girls closely much of the time, and when one had a water bottle with funky water, I gave my own to keep her going. I prompted refueling periodically, sometimes with brownies. But I kept pushing them. Tears have a way of making me question my actions. But, upon hitting the second summit and even over the next hour of mostly still being in the open, I noticed my oldest slowly but increasingly bounce back. She even became outgoing and animated for the first time even though we were over three hours into the hike, showing an ability to endure.
On the summit of Dicket, with Welch behind us.
"Quick, girls - pretend you're happy and smile!"
We dined at a restaurant and they earned the right to eat whatever they wanted. This was not billed as a tough hike, but the weather truly challenged us. Yet, I watched one who normally lags push herself, maintaining a much better pace than she normally does while remaining upbeat. Her commitment to dance and basketball and her increased physicality paid off in a way not previously seen, not to mention taking the lead over her sister near several cliffs. I watched another who can shy away from risks and challenges push herself as well. Seeing her grow stronger over the course of the hike, and push through her fears near very steep spots, allowed me chances to point out her successes, hopefully giving her more belief in herself.
One daughter bravely venturing onto a cliff

Actually, all of these hikes aren’t just about family bonding that the kids would be happy to skip. They’re opportunities for the girls take on very real and increasing challenges and equally real successes. It’s also about equipping them with the skills to navigate when outside their comfort zones. Pictures with them bravely (and timidly) standing on the edge of a cliff with a steep drop-off, or with the first summit in the background, aren’t just capturing family moments. They’re also trophies earned through perseverance. My Man Code requires that I be emotionally stunted and bury the few feelings I still feel. But it was poignant to watch them dig deep and offer up an achievement worthy of pride, and to laugh in the process. I am still as utterly confident I’ll screw something up in the near future as I am that science teachers would disapprove of my “teaching” the girls that oceans taste salty because of all of the fish pee. For this hike, however, it felt as if it weren’t just a demonstration of the kids’ triumphs, but also a great parenting moment.
Sibling humor - a sign of doing more than just surviving the hike!
See you on the trail,

Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper

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