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Lessons learned, while on the Road by Angel Perkins

June 17, 2012

When you go on a road trip, you learn a lot of things. You learn more about your traveling companions even if they are family members or the closest friends. You learn what your vehicle is capable of, what routes are the fastest (contrary to Ms. GPS who apparently sometimes thinks it’s funny to lie) and you learn how long you can hold your bladder. If you’re like me, with the attention span of a hummingbird on Red Bull, you learn the hard way that you need to read more thoroughly.
I am in no way mechanically inclined so reading instruction manuals is unnecessary, and being brought up (for the most part after age 13) on my own, to me, recipe-reading means “follow the directions on the box you yanked out of the freezer.” So, when I got the pamphlet from the new Pine Hill Nature Preserve near Shades State Park I read like I normally do ... and noted: “beautiful hemlock grove,” “attractive trails,” and “stone carvings in the rock face from the early 1800s.”
In Eager Explorer mode, and having the approval from not only my husband (who learned how to eat grubs and make a fire with string and sticks from watching all the manly-man shows) and also my youngest children (who appear to thrive from having electronics on their person) we set off by my direction. We traveled along avoiding sticks, toads, spiders, poisonous plants, slippery rocks, and wound around several levels and terrains of land, before we came to a break in the woods where a road ran through. We crossed, curious about the large sign on the other side, especially since we hadn’t seen any trail-indicator posts up until that point and had been walking for about 20 minutes. The sign read something to the effect of: “Welcome to the start of the nature preserve trails.” The four of us shared a bewildered look and a groan and trudged (a little-less-exuberantly) on.
Mother nature and I are not really on the same wavelength. The sun burns me; the insects devour; and the sticks and rocks and unlevel ground laugh at me as they make me stumble bumble along. Stubborn, and energized from the normally-hibernating endorphins induced by exercise, I led us up a rocky ravine, using small tree branches to pull myself up at points. The trail got steeper but I wouldn’t let it beat me. Using my hands to pull myself up to the top, and exuberant from the challenge I peeked OVER THE TOP of the flat land I had finally gotten to ... and that was all it took. What I saw I had reached was a three-foot-wide path at the top of a ridge, that featured on both sides a sheer sandstone and shale wall that dropped maybe 150 feet. My knees started to melt as I registered that death and irreparable fractures loomed for us as an immediate possibility. Turning to suggest we turn back, I looked back and (stupid me) DOWN, and saw the 12 inches of rock beneath my feet — which through the trees led further DOOOOOWWWWWWWN .. and my loving family hefting themselves unnaturally up the side toward me.
Me second realization was that if they reached the top, there was nowhere for them to go except to join me on my little foothold. “GO BACK!” I semi-hysterically suggested. My husband poo-pooed my Nervous Nelly condition and boosted my daughter up (to sit facing the drop with me on my little ledge). At the top he made insanely-positive exclamations and noted that after the 40-foot trek across the skinny path there was a giant boulder to climb, which he did (while I prayed clinging to the dirt, my daughter and the trees), and “WOW! another path, then another similar rock to climb, and beyond that, another long, skinny path!”
I looked at my girl who wore the pasty expression of horror that I likely did, and her quivering lips that said, “Mom, we gotta get down.” We slowly retraced our steps while the two men I love most, my husband and son, gleefully scurried along learning more about their sense of balance and vertigo. I learned to read words like, “steep walls,” “skilled hikers,” and “no children.”

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