“I don’t want to leave this place!” my son screamed as I struggled to carry his flailing body up the last half-mile to the trailhead.
I have heard worse comments at the end of a hike. In my exhausted state, glee propelled me forward. We did it! We hiked the entire Little Moose Loop Trail.
We first attempted the Loop a year ago. At that time, I still carried my 2.5 year old son Mitch for most of our daily hikes. I would strap trucks to the Kelty so he could play along the trail or at the summit. The trucks did not usually derail a hike. In the case of the Loop trail, they did. Once I unclipped the trucks at Big Moose Pond, Mitch played with them for hours at the shore of Big Moose until the leeches found us.
Fast-forward to this summer. Mitch and I have not been hiking together as much. I work part-time, he is too heavy for the Kelty, his big trucks are too bulky to carry. My family also started raising concerns about me taking him into the woods by myself. As a result, I usually adventure without him.
This week, though, I began hatching a plan to return to the Little Moose Loop Trail with him. I would let him pick out his favorite junk food and candy. Yet he also expressed envy when he saw pictures of me hiking with Chris’s dog Avalanche last week. “I want to hike with that dog!”
Chris and Avalanche happened to be available to hike the Little Moose Loop on Wednesday. With the four of us on the trail together, Mitch quickly assumed the lead. He marveled at every rock bar. “What’s that for?” We navigated around a blow-down, which he called a “blow-up”.
When we reached Big Moose Pond, I held my breath. Yet Mitch stayed on the trail and headed for the bridge. He laid on his belly to look under the bridge and then asked about the remnants of the dam.
At the junction where the Pond trail splits, I told Chris we should go whichever way hits the scrambles sooner. I wanted to hold my son’s attention. Scrambles always seemed to do the trick.
When we reached the sandy beach on Big Moose, my son took off his shirt and resembled Mowgli. He hung off trees, banged sticks in the water and sand (much to the excitement of Avalanche), and dashed back to the trail at the sound of other hikers.
I thought he might quit there. By some miracle, we continued onward. Once the trail became an uphill tangle of roots, Mitch passed an out-of-breath Connecticut couple.
We soon hit the most photographed overlook, the one other hikers save as the grand finale: Big Moose front and center, the lake and its entourage of mountains off to the side. The blueberries surrounding the outcrop sweetened the deal.
We hiked from overlook to overlook, my son often running the needle-laden trail. Only once did he ask for a hand.
We did not set any speed records, but my son proved himself a steady hiker. Even after he soaked his shoes attempting to detour around a bog bridge, he continued barefoot.
No one ever wants a satisfying hike to end, especially not a 3.5 year old boy. Yet Chris did have to work that afternoon. We could not stay all night, as the exhausted boy wished.
As he screamed “I don’t want to leave this place!”, all I could reply was “I don’t want to leave this place either”.