- Seeing E.T. for the first time at the Bend, Oregon, cinemas.
- Finally punching out the neighborhood bully a few days after my now late grandfather taught me how to defend myself.
- Getting the kid’s size frosted mug of root beer at the A&W drive up.
- Laughing uncontrollably after my six-year-old neighbor dyed the water in my kiddie pool blue, via urination.
- Cachinnating with my peers while our first grade teacher took the abhorrent class trouble maker into the hall to paddle him (corporal punishment was still allowed in schools in the early 1980s).
All of these moments were wonderful; they will forever be parts of the fabric of my childhood. Still, none of them compare to the enjoyment I derived from taking hikes with my mom. My parents divorced when I was two, and until 1984, when my mom remarried, it was just her and me. Given her single income, and the fragile late ’70s to early ’80s economy, she looked for entertaining, yet “free,” activities for us to do. Hiking became a favorite.
The first hike my mom ever took me on was epic. Lewis’s and Clark’s expedition, Eli’s and Solara’s travels in the Book of Eli—both child’s play compared to my inaugural bipedal excursion on the cliffs at Smith Rock State Park. It was the summer of 1981. My mom got me up early, she packed some PB and Js, and we piled into our burnt orange Chevy Luv pickup. The day was pristine. Nothing could deter me from my gleeful anticipation, not the ice-cold morning air, not even the corrugated ride from my mom tying to burn out the clutch and ruin gears while working the stick shift. I will never forget pulling into Smith Rock for the first time. My body buzzed; I was entranced by the majestic rock faces. Everything felt huge; I was merely an ant. Disembarking only took moments given my enthusiasm. We were sure-footed and ready to hike within a flash, my ill-fitting backpack hanging from my shoulders. As we descended the main pathway that runs from the parking lot hundreds of feet down to the Crooked River, the smell of Juniper and wild sage permeated the air. My senses were like sponges; I took in everything. We hiked for hours; we traversed undulating dirt paths, and shale trails. We even did a little light bouldering. I was mesmerized the entire time. The workout, the heat, the smells, seeing rock climbers hundreds of feet up on massive walls—it was simultaneous overload and delight. The day could not have been more perfect.
My mom and I went to Smith Rock often throughout my childhood—even after moving from Bend to the much further away Portland, Oregon. Without fail, after every one of our hikes we stopped by Juniper Junction just outside the park’s entrance for fresh-made huckleberry ice cream—easily the best frozen concoction served in the United States. Suffice it to say, I am forever grateful to my mom for introducing me to what is now one of my fondest childhood memories.
Now, some thirty years later, I take T (my wife) and our daughter to Smith Rock as often as I can. The hikes are still magical, and the ice cream still divine. Inexplicably, the proprietor at Juniper Junction, a Stephen King doppelgänger, has not aged a minute since I first saw him in the summer of 1981.
Hiking is magical, and it is free save for the costs of a little gear and nominal parking at times. It is also incredibly good exercise. I highly recommend seeking out a hike at least once per month; I think it is particularly valuable as a family activity. It is funny, if not a bit tragic, that you never seem to know in a particular moment whether the moment will later become faded and forgotten, or whether it will forge a lifelong memory. I would posit though, that taking a family hike off the beaten path, or at one of the thousands of national parks around the world, is more likely to forge a lasting memory in a young child’s mind than is seeing a movie, or going shopping. It certainly was for me.
Following is a section I call “Recommended Hikes,” and every week on Thursdays I will post within it details on a great excursion. My goal is to highlight at least one hike in every state of the US; then, I will start looking internationally. This page will be made even better if readers contribute. If you wish to share details and pictures of a hike you recommend, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Full author credit and linking will be given.
- Angels Point (near Los Angeles): 2.2 miles, kid-friendly, easy terrain [links to external site] (added Thursday, 4/12/12)
- Meyers Homestead Trail (near Boulder): 5.2 miles, kid-friendly, dog-friendly, easy terrain [links to external site] (added Thursday, 3/29/12)
- Grand Sawtooths Loop (near Boise): 63 miles, 12,000 feet elevation change, multi-day backpacking [links to external site] (added Thursday, 4/26/12)
- Fifty Mountain (near Columbia Falls): 30.5 miles, moderate intensity, multi-day backpacking [links to external site] (added Thursday, 6/7/12)
- Smith Rock State Park (close to Bend): miles of trails, varying intensities, kid-friendly, fee-parking, picnic tables, restrooms and running water (added Thursday, 3/15/12)
- Lost Pines (near Austin): 6.5 miles, easy and scenic [links to external site] (added Thursday, 5/24/12)
- Dog Mountain (close to Vancouver): seven miles of intense trails, kid-friendly (if they are conditioned), one restroom, dog friendly (added Thursday, 3/22/12)
- Crest of the Wind River Range (near Pinedale): eighty miles of intense trails, kid-friendly (if they are conditioned) [links to external site] (added Thursday, 4/19/12)