Started out as a cold morning and I trusted the weather report a bit too much. Dressed the boys in track pants and long sleeves. Bear Bait was excited to wear some of his Christmas present gear, particularly an under-armor style long-sleeved shirt. I had him put a long T over it and was glad I did. Squirrel had on just a long-sleeved cotton T, but I had a hooded sweatshirt on him. Both boys had rain-resistant windbreakers just in case. I didn’t think I’d need them, but experience being a dad on the trail has taught me that more warmth and dryness is better than less.
The night before, Squirrel had more trouble sleeping than he did on Christmas Eve. He woke up at midnight and tried to crawl into bed with me. Woke up again at 5 a.m. asking if it was time to go on the hike yet. I let them both pick out the snacks and lunch at Walmart before heading out to Kat’s house. Have to say I was real proud at how Bear Bait coached his brother in picking out snacks – explaining that he needed protein and sugar, steering him away from perishable foods (even though we would’ve been fine bringing it on so short a hike). I didn’t interfere other than to tone their portion size down some. They wanted to buy enough food for a week-long hike. (They get it honest, I’m just as bad when it comes to stocking a food bag.)
Since this was Squirrel’s first “real, big-boy” hike, Bear Bait talked him to sleep the night before with The Rules of being on the trail. Rule #1: Do exactly what daddy (or Mister Kat) says, immediately and without argument. He went on to embellish how it would save him from a variety of colorful and improbable deaths. Rule #2: When daddy says to drink or pee, you have to. If you don’t have to pee, you at least have to try.
I didn’t have to invoke rule #2, but Squirrel has an independent streak he gets from his momma. With him (unlike with her), I can invoke rule #1 and expect it to work.
It was cold. Way colder than we expected. I think Kat read that the windchill was around 26. They were cold, those boys. Thankfully, I impulse-purchased a pair of cool stocking caps and gloves for the boys. Bundled them up and off we went.
We followed the road until it took a turn down toward Beaver Lake. As beautiful as that road was, it was still just a road. The wind kicked up and Squirrel started getting really fussy. Even the big boys began to whine a bit about the temperature, but things went south quickly when Bear Bait accidentally stomped Squirrel’s fingers while climbing a tree.
I broke out the Band Aide bag and little guys fingers were just pink with the cold. He was crying big crocodile tears and asking to go back home. Kat asked if I thought to bring a lighter. We could see the lake not too far down, so new plan was to head down and find a dry creekbed and make a fire. Let the boys warm up and run around some exploring. If that didn’t cheer them up, we’d head back up the road.
It worked. Got a fire going, put food in their bellies, and off we went again exploring.
After exploring around what we think is the Indian Creek arm of Beaver Lake, we went back to the fire to warm the boys up again and stuff them full of snacks. The best was yet to come.
We left the creek bed and followed a wash up and around, chasing bluff lines. The boys came across a site where someone had been sifting for artifacts. Had to have been a while, though, because the tool blades were rusted and the handles broken. We let them climb around and explore. Bear Bait did a pretty good job of keeping an eye on his little brother. We were in one gorgeous area when Kat made a most amazing discovery.
Kat was just walking around, holding his littlest one in his arms when all of a sudden he sank up to his armpits in leaves.
This giant drift of leaves had accumulated under a bluff line. It had to have been three or four feet deep in places. There were some spots where we never did find the bottom because you just stopped sinking and found yourself standing on compressed, spongy leaves. The boys went nuts. The men went nuts. For easily an hour, we laughed and dove and swam. Squirrel was doing cannonballs into the leaf pile and disappearing completely for ten or fifteen seconds before he swam his way out. They were great insulation and pretty soon the jackets all came off and . . . pictures don’t do it justice. Every kid who has ever raked a pile of leaves together in the yard dreams of this leaf pile.
I have lots of videos but this one best conveys how much fun we had.
It was beautiful but down-hill from there. Or, rather, quite steeply uphill back to the van. The little guys were exhausted. Squirrel actually fell asleep while riding my shoulders. He put his cheek on top of my head and shoved his hands down the front of my shirt to keep his fingers warm. I could hear him snoring softly as I clambered over the rocks.
We found many more beautiful sights. . . a spring forced up from the rock, bubbling like a water fountain, beautiful bluff lines, and animal sign you just don’t find in areas frequented by humans. The climb up was arduous, especially with a 35 lb 4-yr-old sitting on my shoulders, but well worth it.
I can’t wait to go back.