Several years ago my oldest suggested we should hike the Appalachians. I thought it would be fun of course but remained undecided for a few months until we were helping family clean out some old junk. Among said junk were a couple of old external frame backpacks loaded with maps for the Appalachians. Taking it as a sign, I declared that we would go. Not for the whole thing of course and not right away. I had never been backpacking so I knew that we would have some serious work to do. We spent the intervening years doing smaller backpacking trips close to home, getting ourselves used to how we would need to eat and what sort of gear we should bring.
Finally, this past summer me and my two oldest went to Smoky Mountain National Park, intending to hike the Appalachian Trail straight through it. Within minutes, I worried that we might be in trouble as one of the kids was struggling before we even got into the woods. A few hours in and I was seriously thinking about turning back because I didn’t think we would make it to the shelter before dark. Not a good sign on day one. To be honest, about that time I was struggling as well, wondering if I would be able to complete the trip we had planned.
A couple more hours and it was clear, the trip was doomed. Yet, it was too late to turn back for the day. We pressed on to the shelter (arriving after dark) and turned around in the morning.
Despite years of training and experimentation, how did this happen? Hubris is a big part of it. I knew from recent training walks that my second would struggle. I refused to accept that the kid just wasn’t ready. I had too much of my own ego wrapped up in everyone’s participation. However, this was my fault. There was plenty of time, time that I didn’t take advantage of.
Also, I relied far too much on my own strength. I’m not the biggest or strongest guy you’ll ever meet but I’m not the smallest either, and I can generally get done what needs getting done without any help. That led me to pack significantly more than I should have, and insisting that the kids carry more than necessary as well. I assumed I could carry anything I could fit into my pack any distance necessary. As it turns out, I have limits. Add in the fact that I didn’t react well (at all) to our slow pace and the fact that we were going to fail in our attempt, the hiking trip was a complete bust.
Fortunately, once we calmed down, an idea began to form. As it turns out, the South is full of great American history. In fact, we started our hike at Fontana Dam which was built to power the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, TN to the north, as well as factories that provided the metal to build fighter planes. After my wife encouraged us to take our time getting back and explore the area, we formed a plan. We would do a small American history tour.
We spent the rest of the week filling in holes left by our less than adequate public education system. Our first step was to head north to Oak Ridge and tour one of the museums. From there, it was back south to Huntsville, AL and the US Space and Rocket Center. There, my oldest revealed to me that their school made no mention at all of the Apollo program. Considering that just a couple weeks after our visit, the nation would celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, this seemed to be a huge problem (which will likely be explored further in a later column).
After learning of the dawn of the modern technological age and some of the most important events of the Cold War, we turned back the clock and explored the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and the home of Andrew Jackson. Along the way I couldn’t help but notice all the other signs pointing out places of historical significance. I hope to return in a couple years with the rest of my clan, maybe making a whole road trip out of learning about the Civil War.
All in all things turned out well. Despite my own arrogance and pride nearly ruining the trip, my children’s patience and my wife’s graciousness helped turn it into possibly the best trip I’ve taken. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun along the way. Instead of causing a major tear in our relationship, it drew me and the kids closer than ever.
But what about the Smokies? We’ll be back. Almost immediately we began planning our second attempt and have already begun training. Instead of giving up, we are applying the things we learned and making sure we do it the right way. Next time, we’ll be ready.
We are currently forming the American Conservative Movement. If you are interested in learning more, we will be sending out information in a few weeks.
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