Carys and I have been back from Wales for a week now; we hiked about 90 miles and 18,000′ of elevation gain over 9 days on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I’ll post more detail about what we did and saw in the near future but for now I just want to reflect on the transition in front of us.
It was a good trip, but a hard one. Carys is more keen to walk herself than she’s ever been before, but when she says “walk” she actually means “meander at a snail’s pace stopping to look at every flower, snail, and rock.” Entirely developmentally appropriately for a toddler, but difficult to cover 8-10 miles a day at that pace, especially on a cliff-top hike where wind was often a factor.
And she talked almost incessantly. At times it was awesome – like when she pointed out butterflies and birds and fell absolutely in love with lighthouses and I was able to show her seals barking at each other on a beach hundreds of feet below us. But at times it got pretty annoying: “Blackberry bush. Blackberry bush. Blackberry bush. Blackberry bush.” “Baby Bear, Baby Bear again” (meaning she wanted me to recite the book Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See from memory literally 10+ times a day). There were times when I wanted to say “Could we please just not talk for five whole minutes?” but I didn’t bother because I knew she wouldn’t understand. I got better over the course of the trip at timing my snacks so I’d be well-fed over the period when I’d typically eat lunch because that’s when she’d nap, and I really needed that time to hike in peace rather than sitting waiting for her to wake up.
One day she fell asleep 10 minutes before the end of a hike, which was at a beach where I’d anticipated she could get some good play time. I got the pack off on a park bench and waited for her to finish her nap, which she did after an hour – but she awoke in tears, as she sometimes does, and couldn’t be consoled. She ended up falling asleep again in my arms as I sat on that uncomfortable bench – for the next ninety minutes.
As my back got more and more twisted and my ass got more and more sore I reflected on the fact that it was more difficult than it’s ever been to balance Carys’ needs with mine on this trip, and I realized it was likely the last of these kind of long-distance hikes where I carry her. Even with a baggage company transporting the majority of our luggage from one B&B to the next I was still carrying around 40lbs of our day gear – 26lbs of Carys, plus backpack, water, food, full rain gear, diapers…I think the weight contributed to some kind of nerve problem in my left foot which was quite painful for the majority of the hike. By next summer she’s going to be unmanageably heavy for me so I think the long-distance trips are now a thing of the past. Even our local evening and weekend hikes will likely wind up over the next couple of months as Carys starts full-time preschool in September (its own very large transition, about which I am highly ambivalent; more to come on that in the future…).
There are a lot of transitions involved in having a kid, and I find I’m not always that good at them. In the olden days (pre-baby) there were few big shifts in my life – the last major ones probably happened in late 2010 when Alvin and I got married and then bought our house. While I love our home I was very cognizant of the doors I was closing by opening this one – it’s likely we will never spend lengthy periods of time living in other countries, for example. It took me a while to accept that that pipe dream would probably go unrealized. But after that we pretty much meandered through life with the largest transitions being the ones between ski and bike seasons.
And now when my friends have babies (as a couple of them have over the last month) I find myself mourning those days in the beginning when I could stuff Carys in the front pack and hike as far as I liked. But then I slap myself in the face and remind myself just how hard those days really were, when I would snap at Alvin as he walked in the door “I don’t care how stressful your work day was or how bad your commute was, it’s your turn,” as I shoved Carys at him. So maybe it wasn’t really easier, but in some ways I sure remember it that way.
But hiking was my savior. Our savior. It got me out of the house on a daily basis, and some exercise when I didn’t have anyone to leave her with. In the long period when she was trying to drop her third nap but wasn’t really ready, the only way she would take it was in the backpack. She’s learned so much about the natural world already (she can distinguish between moss and lichen, between seagulls and crows, and she can tell when blackberries are ready to eat).
Carys is growing up into an awesome little lady and I know there are amazing adventures in our future (Nanny Meg tells me that when they went to the park yesterday Carys got into a toy car, closed the door, and announced “Going on adventure!”), but practically speaking I’m not sure what they will be until she can walk in a straight line for more than a mile. Or sit in a kayak for several hours. Or ride a bike.
Maybe the next adventure will be a solo one for me – which would be exciting and refreshing in its own way. But right now, thinking about that is making me more than a little sad.