Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Family Hike #7: Mount Tom, Holyoke, Massachusetts

Hike #23: Mount Tom
Elevation: 627          
Date: August 8, 2015
Location: Holyoke, MA
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 3:26 (45:47/mile)

This was to be the final tune-up hike for my family before a Labor Day Weekend hike in which my girls would summit their first 4,000-foot mountains as part of a hut-to-hut hike. It was sunny and warm, but not brutally so, unlike their hike a month earlier when the heat messed with us.

This hike was re-planned following one daughter’s ankle injury. She was relegated to a medical boot for a couple of weeks to rest a chronic ankle problem that had worsened. Modifying the itinerary to be less mileage and elevation gain would avoid immediate stresses on the ankle that might result in re-injuring it. Mount Tom, in Western Massachusetts, is neither high nor strenuous. But the trail to its summit covers most of the elevation gain early, and often follows cliffs that provide fantastic views of the Connecticut River Valley. It’s also only about an hour’s drive from the house, avoiding the much longer ride into New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

My daughters' least favorite part of hiking: up.
After parking but before starting the hike, we checked out the visitor’s center. It’s not big, but features a mix of conversation-starters: a cross-section of a tree trunk several hundred years old; pelts you can touch; skulls to match with the right animals; and friendly staff who will explain those items and more. After the girls were sufficiently grossed out, especially by the animal pelts with no eyes, we started the hike.

Both girls were lethargic and slow, seeking excuses to stop. They had to be woken up in the morning, so their bodies didn’t have the amount of sleep they desired. But I also wondered about a less physically active summer contributing as well. As a training hike, one goal involved achieving a good pace.  The huts we’ll be hiking to are prompt about dinner, and bunks can be first come, first serve. Hiking in the dark is a whole other ball of wax, too. So, with the upcoming hike having a long day of seven miles, stopping every few minutes isn’t going to work. I finally felt forced to stop, explain, and request we maintain better speed. They obliged, and the second half of the ascent unfolded with great views and better time. The summit itself lay under a hot sun, so we descended slightly to a wooded area that served as a better spot for lunch.

It's unclear if they're enjoying the view
or procrastinating hiking further.
Descending the same way we’d climbed, we again enjoyed great views. We also shaved about 20% off our time. My older daughter continued to seem to struggle and wasn’t very talkative, but she persevered without complaint, spending more time toward the front of the group. I’d been setting the pace on the climb, but acted as a sweeper on the return trip, and mostly chatted with my younger daughter. She seemed in good spirits, but I soon noticed a limp that worsened during the remaining hike out.
Bravely standing on the edge of a cliff, soaring with the falcons.
She explained to me that her ankle had, in fact, sometimes hurt when her medical boot was on, and it continued to hurt since the two weeks expired. At this moment, it was hurting bad enough to almost warrant crying. When I’d checked on her during the preceding days, it turns out she answered literally: “it doesn’t hurt” meant that, at that precise moment in time, it was pain-free, unlike some other moments when it did hurt. Ugh, bad time to be so literal!
The faster you descend, the faster you get back to the truck.
P.S. if you look up, the views are beautiful!

After coming out of the woods, we got her off her feet. It leaves plans unsettled on a few fronts.  I’m unclear how much healing even occurred, let alone if it’s enough to keep our Labor Day Weekend hiking plans. I’m also unsure if she’ll be able to start up again with dance classes in the fall, which greatly contributed to the original issue. Those classes have given her more confidence, assertiveness, perseverance, feelings of accomplishment, and physical activity that anything else over the last year, so she’d be heartbroken at missing a month or two of classes. Lastly, I’m unclear how injured she is and what the exact injury might be. The doctor was sure the boot would do the trick, but she limped painfully by the end of a very gentle hike.

Although I questioned the doctor thoroughly at her appointment, and this activity was explicitly approved, I can’t help but now question myself for pushing her. I had the best of intentions, and the upcoming hike will be strenuous for them, requiring some training. But guilt is always easy for a parent to come by.

A big point of the upcoming hike is to push the girls outside of their comfort zones. While I’ll always want to protect my girls and see them happy, life won’t allow them to live entirely in a happy, easy space. Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable becomes important; it creates coping skills, allowing the girls to better manage both themselves and difficult situations. If the girls are to have and pursue dreams, achieving those dreams and goals will only happen if they can deal with tough challenges. Rather than keep them in an alternate reality of easy bliss until adulthood, I’ve chosen to create challenges for them to overcome, with obvious rewards and a chance to experience the stress and then the pride of such experiences. Seems like a good plan, but not when the training plan involves crying on one hike and almost crying on another.

So, now the challenge is to figure out how best to move forward without compounding my guilt and her injury, but while still finding opportunities for the girls to challenge themselves and grow. Will we still hike? Will we cancel but look for an alternative adventure to push them beyond their comfort zone? I don’t know how this will play out, but who ever said parenting was easy?

See you on the trail,
Jay Bell, AKA Rock Hopper

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