|You know that old schtick of the donkey being lured by the carrot? In my case, it was a Cadbury Bar — milk chocolate with nuts and raisins — and I would have gone to the ends of the earth in order to chomp into one. This is the story of the kid and the Cadbury.
I grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, and even though it’s connected to the mainland with an eight-lane bridge, it had plenty of green groves and lush ravines surrounded by water.
|Dad still hits the trails in Mt. Rainier National Park.
We had milk-carton derbies in nearby ditches, built forts from fallen branches, and captured frogs, spiders, garter snakes and anything that moved but wouldn’t bite or be broken in half by its capture. For all intents and purposes, we were serious outdoorsmen. Unless you compared us to my parents. Now these guys were serious.
For pretty much every other weekend for the two months that comprise spring/summer around the area, my folks dragged us kids on day hikes. Not the kind of day hike in which you venture out to the mailbox in fuzzy slippers or take a walk at a neighborhood park, but actual hikes in national parks with packs and first-aid kits and the possibility of being eaten by bears.
What defined these excursions was the ability to drive there, hike for three or four hours, and get back to civilization in a single day. This was serious stuff, with gear involved, detailed maps, liquids, GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts), stiff hiking boots and, worst of all, an extremely early wake-up call on a weekend.
In addition to dragging the young’uns into the wild blue yonder, my parents loved to turn other people on to their favorite trails. (My dad took copious notes on each hike, including the attendants, trail conditions, flowers and wildlife spotted, and miscellaneous entries on terrain, elevation gain and suspicious forks in the road that would make a general proud.)
This meant we’d often be carpooling or caravanning with some of their more outdoorsy or adventurous friends. (According to one of their friends, a doctor, hiking with a martini shaker is good for both hydration and as an antiseptic, though he clearly seemed to be using it as a pain killer).
My Aunt Bessie was one of my favorite guests, not only for her caustic remarks and sense of humor, but for at least one guaranteed face plant somewhere along the trail. If I was lucky, I also got to take a buddy from school along, who had no idea what he was in for … tennis shoes and a headband does not a hiker make.
Sleep was a major priority for me in the 1970s. And 80s. (Still is, there just isn’t any to be found.) Point is, I wasn’t nearly as happy to be getting up as my insane father, with his exuberant shouts of, “Isn’t nature wonderful!?” and “Don’t you just love the smell of Deep Woods Off in the morning!?” Mom knew it would take bribery, and that’s where the Cadbury came into play.
|Extremely early weekend wake-up calls? That requires a Cadbury.
The night before a hike, Mom was there to show us the goods. You could smell the giant Cadbury through the casing, all sweet and milky, with four cubes across and six down — a lot of yum for your buck.
There’d also be a personalized sandwich (peanut butter and honey for me, and, oddly, salami and peanut butter for Pops), chips (which we were never allowed to have on school days), pepperoni sticks, sunflower seeds, Tang orange-flavored soft drink, fruit roll-ups and trail mix (unfortunately not with M&M chocolate candy) for the stops along the way.
Not to be too Zen about the experience, but I did learn all sorts of things along the path — the concept of packing it in and out, leaving nature as you found it (no matter how much you wanted a pet sea slug, red-backed beetle or baby fern), and that, if your mother tells you to pack a sweater, you better, because you can freeze your bottom off in the mountains, no matter how warm it seems back at the trailhead.
We learned semantic lessons, too, such as how Weyerhaeuser might call themselves “The Tree-Growing Company” in all those ads, when we could see from the clear cuts that their emphasis was clearly something else. (Why they couldn’t chop down every other tree was — and still is — beyond me.)
This is not to say that my pals and I were eco saints; as kids will do, we sometimes destroyed (perhaps disturbed is a better word) the eco-system in our excitement, overturning any rock that could be lifted, snagging moss strings from branches and draping them like shawls or Rasta wigs, kicking decaying logs (yup, that’s fun!), and skipping the switch-backs altogether to run straight down hill.
But our elder nature guides patiently discussed co-existing with nature and respecting the trail. (“How’d you like it if you lived in one of those logs and someone came and knocked the stuffing out of your house? What are ya? King Kong?! Now go find me two pieces of garbage!”)
Once we reached the pinnacle of our climb, there would be a photo op, and admiration of looming Mt. Rainier; Spray Falls; Barclay, Rachel or Annette Lake; or some other natural wonder of the Pacific Northwest. My folks and their friends would snooze at the top, somehow finding a way to nap on a rock bed with flies and mosquitoes swarming.
And we’d let them for a half hour or so — after all, it took that long to eat the GIANT CADBURY BAR. Plus there’d usually be some fantastic lagoon to stick our toes in (Oh, that melt-off is cold!), meadow to roll in or giant valley in which to chase the surprisingly fast mountain gopher or his bionic cousin, the black squirrel.
Walking sticks were a fun part of the downhill climb, something to jab into the trail. Though we’d hear the yells from the back of the pack about getting too far ahead, we couldn’t help ourselves — the feet were flyin’ and the folks were tired.
We learned, over time, to run ahead while hiking uphill, then wait at a good spot for them to catch up, smiling at them still on the way up, and lying about the distance to the top. (“Oh, you’re at least half way, but we saw some nasty clouds coming in over the last cliff you’ll have to climb, plus about 50 Boy Scouts just passed us, so it’s gonna be crowded up there. Have fun!”)
|As it turns out, those childhood hikes weren’t so bad.
The mellow ride home usually involved stopping in one of the seemingly ancient towns along the way — places with hairy, dentally challenged villagers dressed in plaid and swearing about the invasion of city-folk.
Mom and Dad would suck down a brewski and reminisce about the wild flowers or huckleberry hoard, and I’d find a pinball machine, dart game or bag of Doritos and wait to fall asleep in the car, sore from the outing, yet somehow refreshed and glad — not only that it was over — but that they’d dragged me in the first place.
Sure, I could say I only went because they’d put a carrot in front of me every step of the way, but the truth was I had plenty of reasons to join in — the quiet and solitude of the wilderness, fun chats with the parental units out of their normal element, eagle sightings, exercise, bug-finding and an understanding of what nature could have looked like before any of us came along.
Now it’s my turn to buy a bunch of SpongeBob Squarepants chocolate candies and start leading my own kids down the trail … Or maybe they’d prefer a big stick. Either way, it’s time to find out.