“Babe?! Babe!!? I. Don’t. Think. This. Is. A. GOOD. IDEA!! BABE!?!!”
My rising panic increased with each stilted word as I was starting to lose my grip and footing on the icy steps. This was not a great start to our first hike of the year.
Charlotte was in daycare and my husband took the day off so we could do something nice- just the two of us for my birthday. Before Charlotte existed, we both loved traveling abroad and planning grand adventures which included trying different cuisines and discovering local hideaways. Even though the province I live in is still under varying stages of lockdown, I was really looking forward to the day. I found a trail within an hours’ drive from our place and it had been a while since we both worked up a good hike. The trail’s starting point was at the top of a hillside with stairs leading hikers down to the bottom of the hill- aptly named “The 99 Steps.” I had packed us each a sandwich and some snacks to enjoy on the trail. Even though my expectations were low, I was still excited to be child-free and spend quality time with my husband. The weather was perfect; I couldn’t wait to be in nature, breathe in natural fresh air, hold hands, talk for hours, and just explore together.
We found a parking spot in the small lot (incidentally close to an industrial construction site) and made our way to the top of the steps. To our surprise, we quickly realized that the unmaintained trail had been coated with a blanket of snow and underneath that, a thick sheet of ice. I hadn’t anticipated there would still be snow forty-five minutes north of us even though where we live it was practically spring weather! I knew this would be impossible; there was no way we’d be able to navigate a non-existent trail on a decline, much less one layered with slick ice. It was a real bummer and I couldn’t help but feel defeated.
I slowly made peace with this new reality and started to make my way back up the steps trying to think of another idea for us- perhaps another trail that wasn’t so steep and icy (bad combo). I turn back only to see my husband deciding for us in that instant that this was not going to be a question, “babe, it’s fine, just slide along slowly and keep your hands out for balance- you’ll be fine.”
“The WHOLE TIME?
You want me to slide along the trail the whole time?!
Are you insane? WHO THE HECK HIKES LIKE THAT?!
We’re not going to make it!
You can’t even walk straight on regular, evenly paved road without rolling your ankle!
We’re going to die! I can’t carry you!”
Sometimes I think he likes playing with fire because he doesn’t believe bad things will happen. And I’m always the realistic one trying to remind him that it only takes one time. The devil rarely gives gentle warnings, you know!
“Look, I’m going, you can stand there or come along. We’ll be fine! We drove all this way and packed a lunch!”
As if this was a reasonable enough excuse to possibly orphan our child. People fall on their sword for their country and freedom every day. My husband was willing to risk our lives for much less- precisely because we had driven forty-five minutes out of the way and packed a soggy sandwich.
Battling against my inner voice and basic instincts, I stupidly followed my husband into the northern wilderness and prayed aggressively to God. Admittedly, we’ve been in similar situations before and made it through (like that time he
convinced forced me, while three-months pregnant, to trek a twelve-hour hike in the Norwegian mountains to Trolltunga). I was praying hard this would be one of those gritty war stories we could add to our memory rolodex. Secretly Openly, though, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways we could meet a terrible fate but again, that didn’t matter as we marched slid on.
After getting to the bottom of the steps and over a small bank, we realized that there was always one side of the trail that was mildly trekkable (think patchy and muddy), so we strategized that this would be our way forward. I began systematically smothering the panic that was building up inside me and decided we would just do our best. After about an hour of following differently marked trails, I grew impatient and my familiar friend (panic) started bubbling up again.
“We’re lost, just bloody lost! These trail markers suck, who the hell marked these trails? It’s so confusing!”
Just when I tried to google the crap out of the trail, I noticed my cellular signal was as weak as my willpower (why the heck didn’t I stand my ground and force him back in the car)!
RANDOM HIKING PRO TIPS:
1. Take a picture of the trail map before starting
2. Always let someone know which trail you are planning to take
3. Also let them know your starting point, what time you plan to start, and your estimated hike time
We had been hiking for about two hours when we decided to just take a break and gather our wits. At this point, my husband had emptied his entire bottle of water forty minutes into the hike while I hadn’t drunk a single drop from my stash. (Clearly, he hadn’t watched many episodes of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” because if we really were destitute and lost, he’d have to start drinking his own piss while I slowly enjoyed my water. I decided I would determine how quickly I’d forgive him based on his level of remorse.)
Luckily, just then a gentleman (who, in our haze, could very well have been a serial killer in the woods looking for prey but we didn’t care because we were seriously lost) happened along the trail. He was the first soul we had seen in a couple hours and he kindly stopped to give us helpful directions. Within thirty confusing minutes or so we came upon the bottom of a hill, and at the top of it was a radiant vision of highway guardrails. I mean, in my life, I’ve never been so happy to see guardrails and hear the sound of construction vehicles backing up.
Just like that, we had made it. We went from being desperately lost in the northern wilderness to emerging (embarrassingly) upon an industrial construction site (muddy and climbing over the guardrail with our hiking gear) while people in hard hats stared at us bewildered at our disheveled appearance. I tried to hold on to my dignity as best I could as we stalked off toward our car less than fifty feet away muttering, “honestly, you’re working right by a hiking trail, what do you expect?”
Other than the acutely distressing hike, my birthday was a perfect reminder that life is short, so I really need to stop listening to my husband! The rest of the day consisted of normal, civilized activities that required no risk of life, and it was beautiful. My husband baked me a cake at my request (with extreme micromanagement and supervision on my part) and it was lovely. To his credit, he’d never worked so hard to make my birthday as memorable as it was, and I was so grateful to spend some much-needed alone time with him. It was a great day to be alive!
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