I love hiking. I love hiking the way I love writing – as a deep need that I don’t always enjoy while in the middle of it, but I’m almost always glad I did afterwards. Unfortunately, Chris’s weekend schedule when he was working as a cook meant we could only go very rarely. So when Chris quit to stay home with Sprout, I looked forward to many Saturdays out on the trails.
My dreams were helped along by a very generous gift by our neighbors – a nearly new Kelty baby backpack that their kids were now too big for. The backpack was probably a few hundred dollars when new, so it was great to have one less piece of baby gear to worry about.
Before we set off on any grand expeditions, I wanted to try a couple of easy trips. I penciled in last Saturday on the calendar and planned to walk a few flat miles on the C&O Canal towpath. Unfortunately, we had torrential rain last week that flooded a lot of trails. When I checked the National Parks Service’s website, it said that parts of the towpath were closed.
We were not deterred. Instead, we decided to visit Great Falls, C&O’s sister park across the Potomac River. We packed the backpack, sandwiches, water, baby food, and of course, Sprout himself in the car and headed out. As we drove along the winding road to the park, I appreciated how green everything was after the spring rains. Even Sprout, who doesn’t like being in the car, was in a good mood.
Then everything came to a screeching halt. Or more accurately, a slow halt. As we entered the park’s entrance road, we saw an electronic sign warning us: “Delays – 1 hour.” We laughed, saying, “There’s no way it could possibly be an hour’s wait to get into the park!” Twenty minutes later, as we were less than halfway to the end of the service road, we were no longer laughing. With the accuracy of the sign sinking in, we turned around and abandoned our plan again.
We arrived home having spent over an hour and a half in the car with nothing to show for it except a somewhat disgruntled baby. We put him down for his nap, discouraged but not yet beaten.
When we woke up, we made one more last ditch effort. We headed to the closest entrance to Rock Creek Park, only a few miles away. We knew that the trails were too wet to use further up the creek, as I had called a nearby nature center on the way home from Great Falls. But we hoped that perhaps the creek bed in our section was high enough to minimize the flooding.
Our persistence paid off, with the only sign of the previous rains along the paved trail being spots of dried mud. We walked for about 45 minutes, switching off backpack duty half-way through so we could both get experience with it. By that point, the weather was beautiful, with the sun filtering through the trees’ glistening green leaves.
Despite the previous mishaps, the mini-hike actually boded well for future expeditions. We had a lovely conversation as we walked along the trail, which was hilariously empty compared to the mob in Virginia. Sprout seemed to like the backpack much more than the soft carrier, which he’s always tolerated at best. He loves watching what’s going on, so the high-up viewpoint of the backpack seemed to suit him better than the limited view of the carrier. Both of us found the backpack somewhat heavy, but manageable. It weighed a little less than a backpacking pack, so it was a weight both of us had handled before. Sprout was more wiggly than pans, a tent or food would be, but the pack compensated fairly well. The only concern was being really careful around low-hanging branches since his head was a couple inches high than ours. We wouldn’t take on any long or strenuous hikes with it, but there are enough 3 to 4 mile hikes around us that there’s plenty to keep us busy.
While I look forward to using the backpack on future excursions, our last few family field trips have taught us the importance of flexibility, if nothing else.