I was always an “indoor girl.” My favorite pastimes have a lot more to do with books and yoga mats than they do with boots and backpacks. I prefer workouts in sleek places surrounded by people who are minding their own business while I listen to my music and daydream about the outfits I’ll be showing off my toned legs in. The great outdoors and I are just not a match when it comes to fitness or much else, aside from picnicking.
When I met my now-husband in New York City, we ambled lazily around town from brunch to Bergdorf’s and went for the occasional run together through Central Park, rewarding ourselves with martinis afterward. That was the full story of Jenny and Josh working out together.
After getting married and having children in the suburbs, we started to ramp it up a bit, exercising with intention but not abandon. Finally, a pandemic hit and our gym closed. This is when all you-know-what broke loose.
Here’s the thing. I don’t hate exercise, I just really don’t love it. Glossy yoga studios with floor-to-ceiling mirrors or intense barre classes where I can feel my sweaty ponytail hitting the back of my cute Lululemon top in an air conditioned oasis while my kids play in the onsite gym? Yes. Fine. But with no classes, no childcare, and no community, I was worried that exercise was going to head straight to the back burner.
And at first it did. But after the initial shock of a closed-up world wore off and we found ourselves throwing back way too many glasses of lukewarm chardonnay on the deck one day, we finally looked at each other and agreed it was time to get moving. The next day, we would take a family hike. The kids groaned, I rolled my eyes, my husband excitedly googled “easy family hikes” in our area, and off we went.
Begrudgingly dusting off my running shoes was my only contribution to this plan. My vegan, meditating, close-to-nature hippie husband who toils by day in the finance department at a tech company was actually thrilled about it. We’d taken a few family hikes in past years but they were not at all a part of our standing repertoire.
I can’t lie, it wasn’t fun at first. We live in Georgia, where animal friends of a slithering variety live by river banks and the sun beats down so hot midmorning through late afternoon 9 months of the year, that you’ll be winded and prickled with sweat within minutes of hitting the trail.
But we persisted. Despite the whining, the bug bites, and the many moments one of us (even the hippie husband) wanting to just throw in the towel and grab a burrito, we kept hiking. I was often reminded during these hikes of a favorite line from Sex and The City, when Carrie finds herself quite bemused that her man of the moment suggests going for a hike; to which he replies, “Hiking… is walking.” He was not wrong.
Soon, as a stay-at-home mother and by then pregnant with our third, I started taking the kids on weekday hikes alone. Whereas I previously saw non-school days as a time go shopping or get a nice lunch together, now we were hitting the dirt first, and relaxing or noshing after.
Every single time, at least one of the kids cries. Or I cry. Or someone has to pee, which causes extra steps to be made to the nearest bathroom and back, which leads to whining and the occasional fight. There are always bug welts or noses kissed too heavily by the sun, toddlers who don’t like being sweaty or, when all together as a group, spouses that feel the other is walking too fast or too slow.
Then you reach this rhythm where the stream is trickling or the sun is shining through holes in the leaf cover, or the summit of the mountain is approaching and you can see the tippy-tops of the city buildings far away and yet so seemingly close, and something just clicks. The children don’t have to behave perfectly, and I don’t have to smell great, and it also doesn’t have to take hours.
But these surprising little bright spots seemed to present themselves to us on every single hike, so that now when I look back at them it’s hardly the tantrums or the rolled eyes I think of but the feeling of calm, of connection to the earth, and of accomplishment that wins out in memories. And in time, the kids started to find these peaceful, incredible moments, too.
We never started loving family hikes, we just kept on doing them. On holidays or special occasions, on random mornings or afternoons, or just any time we can cram one in. There’s usually some kind of drama on the way there or even during the hike itself. It’s never utter peace and beautiful oneness with the natural world. We have three kids, after all!
But every time we come home from having spent this time in nature as a family, I feel it. A quiet, deeper connection that cocoons us all, if just for the rest of the day. The fact that we left our phones behind and focused on each other and a mutual goal together. Moved our bodies, cleared our minds.
It is a reminder, sad as I am to admit, that we only have X amount of years left doing things like this together. The melancholy mommy in me who would keep them little forever if she could, sighs heavily counting years on my fingers. When will they leave us? When will the hikes end?
Thankfully, today is not that day. So, on go the sneakers and sunscreen, and off into the woods we hike. Because for just a little while, it’ll be us against the world, and that’s a pretty beautiful thing. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it.