Before I was born, my family had a tradition of hiking the trails at Hickory Run State Park in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. After I was born, the tradition lived on despite the extra work it took to carry a baby through the trails. The next youngest in the family is seven years older than I am, so my presence certainly slowed down the process for everyone else. The solution was putting me in a little backpack on my dad’s back with a little plastic hammer that I could use to entertain myself, and bother him. I have no recollection of this, and I’m not sure why he put up with it, but my family assures me that it was a funny sight.
It takes a little over two hours by car to reach the park from the suburb of Philadelphia where I grew up. We used to make the trip up there a few times a year to take advantage of the beauty of the changing seasons. My first memories of hiking and camping are of swimming in small pools that form in the creek and sliding down tiny rapids on rocks that were made smooth with moss. The water was always icy cold, but my sisters and I never seemed to be bothered. In those days, there was probably more stopping than walking since my little legs couldn’t quite keep up with everyone else’s.
Eventually, as I got bigger, the hikes got longer, and harder. Our favorite stretch of the Hickory Run trails is called Shades of Death, a name that makes it sound a lot scarier than it actually is. Still, it’s one of the more challenging sections of the park, so it tends to be less trafficked, which is always nice. This narrow trail takes you through thickets of rhododendron that bloom beautifully in the summer. Another favorite spot is Boulder Field, a landmark that was formed during the last glacial period, when melting ice would carry large rocks down the mountains during the summer months. We always had a great time scrambling over the rocks that form the huge field, trying to see who could get across the fastest. I’m sure my mom didn’t enjoy this practice as much as the kids since we’re probably lucky that no one ever broke an ankle out there.
In the US, Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the summer. It also typically comes very close to my birthday. For a long time, we would spend the long weekend in the Poconos to celebrate my birthday and have one last hurrah before school started back up again.
Many years later, after a camping trip that ended with a bad case of strep throat, and another that ended with a close call with a rattlesnake that made me wary of the trails, I hadn’t been hiking for quite awhile. The rest of the family hadn’t either. My two sisters and I have all grown up, and trips where the whole family is together don’t happen as often as they used to. The Pocono tradition had nearly died, but my mom’s birthday saved it.
This year was one of those special birthdays for her (for my safety when I get back to the US, I won’t say which one). To celebrate, my dad, sisters, and I started plotting a surprise for her. After throwing around some ideas, we decided that there was no better way to surprise her than to bring back an old tradition that she loved. We knew it was a great idea, because not only was it the weekend of her big day, but it was a good time to initiate the newest member of the family, my nephew, to hiking. His first birthday had just passed and it was time for him to get into his own little backpack.
It only took my mom about half an hour in the car to figure out where we were going, so the surprise wasn’t quite as surprising as we hoped it would be. That didn’t really matter because she was very happy to get back to our old stomping grounds. When we finally arrived, we carefully strapped my nephew into his backpack and got on our way.
That weekend, we didn’t go quite as far as we have in the past, and we didn’t go quite as quickly either, but sometimes even a short journey can have a big impact. All in all, there are only about 40 miles of trails in the park, a tiny amount compared to the length of el Camino de Santiago, but a journey that has lasted more than twenty years is still something to write home about.