Climbing the Mountain

YES! Weekly | October 17, 2012
We’re in the thick of it now, the regimented pattern that all parents of school-age children fall into when autumn rolls around. Mornings see us rousing sleepers from their beds, forcing basic hygiene and nutrition upon them, then marshalling them into the car or to the bus stop. We squeeze as much wage-earning labor as we can from our workdays before evenings of homework, dinner and attempts to stay current on the TV shows we follow. Bedtime, blessedly, comes earlier and earlier, it seems.

Summer is a fading memory, winter a certain promise. And while immersed in the routine, the days and weeks pass as quickly as the beers used to back when we could squander an afternoon at our favorite bar, when each dusk came as a surprise and the evening’s plans were hatched right there on the spot.

Now, though… now we know what we’re going to be doing every day for the next eight months: We’re going to be parenting, earning, cooking and cleaning. And we’ve booked through spring those rare free moments that occasionally arise.

We had one this weekend, a half-day window on Saturday where no work needed to be performed, household chores could be pushed back a day, no lessons or appointments or birthday parties loomed. And still we made our preparations and plans in a mad rush.

Every year we go to the mountain, a trip timed to coincide with the turning of the leaves in the western half of the state. Back when the kids were little, I would often have to carry one of them through the trails as we took in the riot of color, the meandering streamerey, the quietude of the western woods. Because of this, we stuck to the ground trails at Hanging Rock State Park, where I could still keep pace with the others while burdened with a 30-pound child.

Last year we took in the waterfalls. I saw my boys scampering ahead of us on the trails, bouldering in clear violation of the posted rules. My little girl was able to trudge the paths on her own strength — a first — and at Window Falls, the three of them picked their way across the stream and stood by the drop. I knew then we were ready for a more challenging hike.

Last year, in the parking lot, before we got into the car, I pointed to the exposed peak of Hanging Rock.

“Next year we’re gonna climb that mountain,” I said. It amazed me that a year had gone by as we pulled into that same lot on Saturday — time goes by quickly when you’re on a schedule — and found a spot right next to the trailhead to the peak. We joined a parade of other pilgrims, seasoned hikers, daytrippers and dog-walkers among them, and made for the top.

It’s a short hike, just 1.3 miles each way according to a posted sign, the first mile or so a pleasant and gradual rise to the base of the rock. My younger boy made approximations as to how far we’d gone the entire way as we stopped for pictures at the outcroppings and landings.

A steep stretch of wood and rock stairs makes last leg, a challenging ascent for pikers like us, and by the time we espied the peak through the hemlock most of our party had shed our outer layers of clothing and breathed heavily. There were some complaints of the “Are we there yet?” variety, some acknowledgement of soreness in the calves and hamstrings. I assured them that the payoff would be worth it.

Our oldest, 12 now, eager to separate himself from the confines of his family, had surged ahead of us. When the rest of us reached the top, we saw him standing near the precipice of Hanging Rock itself, stretched out 2,500 feet or so above the canopy below.

While my wife held the two little ones close, I ventured out on the rock, less surefooted than I had been the last time I climbed up here perhaps 10 years ago, when the boy at the outcropping was just 2 years old, an only child at home with his pregnant mother. It was so long ago, but it seems like only yesterday.

I scrabbled out to the rock, and my boy laughed with the sun in his eyes and the wind riffling his hair.

“What do you think?” I asked. He’s a boy of few words. He looked out at the green quilt below, with notes of red and brown and orange, interrupted by farmlands and thin veins of roadway. He looked up to the sky, just a bit closer now, where three hawks rode thermals to soar above our heads. He saw the towers of downtown Winston-Salem in the distance.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s a long, hard climb. But the view is totally worth it.”

He graced me with a rare smile. I put my arm around him and we looked at the scene below us. Then we gathered the rest of our family for the climb back down.

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YES! Weekly began as a concept in December 2004, and was on the streets of Greensboro by Jan. 4, 2005. Our mission was to bring hard and fair news, insightful commentary and comprehensive cultural writing. Since then we have expanded...
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