I didn’t realize my strength, and insecurities, as a mother and a women until this week. On Tuesday, I took two bags and my four year old son on a train out of the city to hike and camp for two nights. While I have camped so many times I can’t count, I have never done so with just a backpack. Or a four year old. Or by myself. I carried a tent, two sleeping bags, changes of clothes, bathing suits, canned beans, apples, dried fruit, granola, and various other snacks. Vedder carried the first aid kit (which we already had to use on the train ride up state), more snacks, water bottles, phone charger, bathroom incidentals, bug spray, suntan lotion, and Baby Penguin. And we were off!
We took the train up to Cold Spring, NY and a taxi northeast to Clarence Fahnestock State Park. As we exited the car and strapped on our packs, I could see the campsites. I could also see nothing else. Well, let me rephrase that. I could see nothing else except the vast and amazing world of Mother Nature ready to swallow us up. No buildings, no beeping cars, no lights, no stores. Instead the smell of fires, the sounds of bugs and birds chirping, and the sight of tall green trees filled the clean, crisp air. I know that one sentence is like a sensory overload, but seriously, none of those words even begin to describe it. I texted my husband that we had arrived at the site and would try to call him tomorrow. Then I put my phone on airplane mode, and officially began my trip off-the-grid. (We did at points turn the phone back on to keep my husband updated that we were safe, but that was all.)
My first proud moment came immediately as we stepped on to our primitive camp site. I am doing this! I took the tent out of my pack and pitched it while Vedder played around the site. Then of course I made him take a picture in front of it like he was so proud of me, too. At that point, I was the only one I was trying to impress. And, boy, did I!
It was still early, so after we were all set up, we took a small hike around the grounds. There was a beautiful pond right next to our site with a trail around it. We began exploring. Vedder so badly wanted to go swimming, but the pond didn’t offer it, so he settled for sitting by the water. We sat and talked. I will take that moment, and every moment from this trip, with me every day. That’s the type of moment I will look back on when he’s screaming and crying and throwing an epic tantrum in the middle of the sidewalk because I won’t let him go to the bodega that gives him free lollipops. And while I take a deep breath in my strong stance against what seems to be the entire spirit of the Lollipop guild rolled up into one little boy, I will remember that moment by the pond, where he asked me to sit and talk with him for a bit. I will remember how my little boy just wanted his mumma to listen and answer all his questions of the world around us. That one, beautiful moment.
Soon that moment had left us, and we were back at our site, ready for dinner. This is when I found myself challenged, and losing.. terribly. I had planned beans and apples, yams and crackers for our dinners. I quickly learned something that would hault me from ever really ever being able to survive in the woods alone. I couldn’t start a fire! I tried and tried and tried. Nothing. A hungry and anxious boy calmly cheered me on. “Mumma, you can do it!” I keep telling myself that too. I can do this! No I couldn’t. I quickly cut apple slices and carrots for V to keep his supportive chants coming. And after what felt like an hour but was probably only fifteen more minutes, I gave up. I felt so defeated. But I had enough dry food for us to enjoy for the first night, so I smiled at Vedder, strapped on our head lamps and told him we were going to eat by “headlight.”
After dinner, we settled into our tent. I unzipped both of our sleeping bags so we could cuddle and keep warm. Even though it is 90 all day, when it gets down to 65 at night, it’s a bit chillier than you would think. Thankfully my family is made of avid campers and my brother had warned me of such. So we laid down, took turned telling bedtime stories, and Vedder slowly dozed off.
One would think, I too would be relaxing and resting up for the next day of hiking and swimming I had planned. It was quite the opposite. OH MY GOD! WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING ALONE IN THE WOODS WITH MY SON?! WHAT IF A BEAR COMES?! WORSE YET! WHAT IF A CRAZY PERSON SAW THIS MOM AND SON ALL BY THEMSELVES?! EASY TARGETS! AHHHHHH!
Seriously. My crazy brain thought all of this all night long. In between what was maybe 20 minute catnaps, I kept waking up paranoid. This is insane. I need to sleep. THIS IS NOT INSANE! SOMETHING OR SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET US! Why all of a sudden was I doubting myself? I had been waiting for this trip forever. It was our first trip alone without anyone. No husband, no family, no friends. Just me and V. And instead of falling asleep next to the peaceful boy next to me, my brain was freaking out! Well, obviously we survived that night just fine. No bears or random serial killers. Vedder slept 11.5 hours! I slept maybe 2. But like I said, we survived.
Knowing we survived, I felt like I could rule the world our second day. I woke early, got biscuit cookies and apples for breakfast. Tried to start the fire again. Failed again. But not as knocking to my ego as the night before. I woke V and we sat and enjoyed the quiet morning air. A father and son we had met on our hike the day before, came to our site to see if we wanted to join for another. So we did! We hiked the entire lap around the pond, seeing beavers swim and sunbathe on their damn. We stumbled upon miners using pulley and drill tools to test the soil deep below. We found trees downed all over the outside of the pond with teeth marks that we linked to the furry sunbathers. Frogs and other creatures were spotted throughout our morning as well. I felt like I was ten again, when I loved science before it was a subject I repeatedly failed in school. The middle part of the day continued to be filled with adventure of swimming with fish in the lake and taking a rowboat out around the water.
After using our cash at the beach concession stand for hotdogs and grilled cheese (because let’s be honest, a “warm” meal for dinner was not something to bet on with my fire skills), we contemplated trying to hike a little of the AT. There was a path from the lake up to meet the Appalachian Trail, and I had specifically picked this area for it. Vedder and I had hiked a small section earlier in the year at Bear Mountain, and we wanted to add another part of the trail to our list. I was so torn. We were both obviously tired. Hiking, swimming, boating for already at least five hours that day, in 85◦ heat was enough for us. But with Vedder’s unexpected, and possibly misunderstood, declaration of having “one thousand energies,” we started stepping.
It was obvious very early into hiking up the blue trail that he was tired. And so was I. That’s why when I kept us going, it really pulled on me both ways. While part of me hated that I was pushing him (and myself) beyond our limits, the other part of me thought, push harder. I have read tons of sites that say to have the kids lead. And I usually do. I want Vedder to see the trails through his eyes, not just as my back. But this time I pushed. And pushed. There were tears, people. And my heart felt awful, but I didn’t stop us. And it wasn’t until we reached the peak and I lifted him and he gasped, that I finally felt ok with my decision. I stood there holding him. Our heads being able to look over the tops of trees and we both took deep breaths. “Wow, mumma. You can see… everything!”
Looking back at this, I want to cry. Tears and gritted teeth guiding us over rocks, up paths that were the width of my boot, stumbling over roots, and loosing footing over shaky gravel. And as we looked all over the other mountains and lake, stepping on the AT marker, I thought “Wow, I can feel it all too.” This was definitely not the longest hike; it took us maybe 45 minutes. However, it was the most challenging.
And for me, it spoke volumes beyond the actual moment. How often do we push, or not push ourselves, through the tears and skinned knees of parenthood. Sometimes I give in too quickly or don’t pursue something different or difficult because I am afraid of how it will affect me or Vedder. I didn’t this time. And that view, that step to the top, was the most rewarding moment of this whole trip. I can still feel the breath we took at the top deep in my chest.
Needless to say, Vedder and I both slept like babies the second night. No! I take that back! Babies don’t sleep!! We slept like.. two people who had hiked and swam and boated and hiked and conquered the world in nine short/long hours.
Oh I forgot one thing! We DID have a campfire the second night. No thanks to me being able to light one on my own. However, part of life is sometimes asking for help from others. So that’s what I did. I went to the site next to us and asked for someone to help me light the fire. Their fourteen year old daughter came to our rescue.
After dinner, we “washed up” as well as we could, and fell asleep telling stories.
This morning I woke with a stiffening pain. I have PCOS and Endometriosis. And you can just imagine how amazing I felt after living in the woods for two days and waking up to severe cramps, my period, and knowing I wouldn’t be back in my own home for another 10 to 12 hours. No drugs to help, or anything for that matter, I knew I would just have to deal. Vedder woke up around 8:30, we ate granola for breakfast, tried to “wash up” again the best we could, and began packing our stuff.
F, YEAH! I thought as I folded and packed up the tent. I did this. I did it on my own. And with every challenge that could have sent me home, I didn’t go. I stayed and accomplished everything I could do on my own, and showed my son how strong I am too.
We finished packing back up our two bags, headed back to Cold Spring, ate a nice lunch (and drank hot yummy coffee!), walked around the town, got ice cream, and headed back on the 3:20 train to NYC.
I have no clue if Vedder’s four year old brain will remember this weekend. That’s why I photodocument our entire lives! We will have the photos to look through and remind ourselves of this trip. But I am so thankful for what it all unexpectedly showed me. I honestly feel like this weekend has made me a prouder woman and a stronger mum. And that’s what the photos will remind me of, the time I rocked it off the grid and on my own!