As we tucked the kids in to their hammocks last night, RobinHood was determined to stick with Wired for a big mile day. Before nightfall he declared that he would need to be up by six in order to be ready when she was. It was still dark when we heard, “Mom, what time is it?” A second later, the groaned reply: “two-thirty, go back to bed!”
Throughout the night, a low grumble would rise from Orion’s throat when the deer ventured too near. Then late in the evening some coyotes began to yip and howl far off to the west. Then a return howl came back a stone’s throw to the east of our tent. After that excitement passed, RobinHood once again called out for a time check: five thirty this time. Mama Bear informed him that he wasn’t allowed out of his hammock until six. At the designated hour, both kids sprang to the ground and hurriedly began packing their bags. The parents were skeptical, but gamely packed up the tent and fried up some blueberry muffin biscuits with coffee and tea for breakfast. The kids were ready to go, and walked out of camp with Wired at 6:55, a new record for them.
The kids stuck to her heels the whole day. Wired even recorded them reciting some memorized passages (walking uphill no less). Here’s Cartwheel:Page 1 of Moby Dick by Cartwheel. And here’s RobinHood: The Road not Taken (Robert Frost) recited by RobinHood
Over these first two months of watching the kids draft behind other hikers, I’ve been working out my special theory of relativity. This is what I have so far:
E = m * (1 – 2c) ^ 2
Where ‘E’ is the kids’ energy level; ‘m’ is the miles per hour of the hiker in front of them; and ‘c’ is the degree of genetic relatedness they have with the hiker in front of them.
Thus, as c approaches zero, the kids have the energy to keep up with any hiker, but as c approaches 1/2 (the genetic relatedness between a parent and their child who always has half their genes), the kids’ energy level approaches zero. This special theory of relativity is still a work in progress, but in practice, while they might declare that they are too tired to hike when it is just the family, you will never hear such a complaint when they are drafting behind a non-parent.
The kids kept right behind Wired as we chased down the rabbits on the trail ahead of us. The high speed and big miles reunited us with many old friends, including Spot, Blue Jay, Poomba, Timone, Silver Toe, Kalpaca, Jett Cat and Kickapoo. We ended up hiking most of the day with Wired, Jett Cat and Kickapoo. Much singing, laughing and giggling was done by all. The fine weather granted us our first sweeping vistas of the Shenandoahs. We were treated to yogurt, bananas and smoothies by Tic Tac, a hiker planning to southbound starting in July who was out giving trail magic to the northbounders on their way through the park.
There were rocks to climb, hills to run (mostly down), and even a trailside restaurant in which to enjoy cheeseburgers and blackberry milkshakes. At one point I stopped at one of the shelters (called huts in the park) in order to jot a note in the trail register (a notebook at each hut in which hikers write notes to each other) about the poem that all cowrote on the trail (spearheaded by the kids and Kickapoo). I left the first two verses in the register (with apologies to Robert Service) hoping others would fill in more of the story:
There are strange things done in the afternoon sun
By the hikers who walk due north.
The Appalachian Trail has its secret tales
That would make your sweat pour forth.
The Virginia Hills have seen queer thrills,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night at the hut, when they wiped their butts
With handfuls of poison ivy
Now poison ivy is easy to see
Where the flowers bloom and grow.
How all missed its sign and wiped their behinds
In a row, god only knows.
They were always bold, but these leaves they’d hold
Seemed to burn them for a spell.
And they’d often say, as they itched away,
That they’d sooner poop in hell.
After sharing that bit of verse, I jumped back on the trail hoping to catch the rest of the pack before they made it to the next hut. When I rounded the bend and saw a tall granite spire asking to be climbed, I momentarily debated whether I had time for that diversion, or whether I should push on to catch them. Moments later I found myself atop the spire enjoying views in three directions. Then I heard a faint voice call out, “hey dad!” I looked around and on the highest rock, about a tenth of a mile away I could just make out RobinHood waving to me above the trees, each of us on our own precarious perch.
I could hear his faint voice asking Mama Bear if she could take his pack back to the trail, and then he started to scramble off of the boulders toward me. He’d occasionally disappear from sight, but a few minutes later he was sitting by my side telling me about the side trail up ahead they’d all taken out to the view where he had climbed that tallest rock.
Then we climbed down and caught up to the crew (grabbing his pack along the way), and headed those last few miles into camp. The kids were a little loopy with excitement having kept up with Wired on a marathon of a day, and were thrilled to be camping with her, Kickapoo, Jett Cat, Whitey and Moe. After dinner they were very proud that their socks were dirty enough to stand up on their own. Then they collapsed into their hammocks and were out for the night.