I had my heart set on one more day outdoors with the boys. You know, before the long, long winter sets in. It seems that unless we are well away from home and all the chores and messes that seem to envelope us there, we cannot enjoy each other's company. At least not fully. My first choice of day and destination was rained out; I was determined that the second choice was going to work--even if the temperature was hovering close to but not quite 50 degrees and the clouds couldn't decide if they wanted to be light and fluffy or dark and menacing. I bundled the boys in jackets, scarves and mittens so we could head for the nearest nature preserve.
My first and biggest mistake was not printing a trail and park map. The area had three parking lots and five or six separate trails. We got out of the car in one parking lot and found that the concrete "trail" was 0.25 miles long. It circled a pond and an open area that lent itself to wicked gusts of wind. Even I was willing to admit that this was no fun. Plus, there were at least two guys behind the wheels of parked pick-ups just staring at us. I have no idea why one would need to dress in full camouflage just to sit in a bright red Ford F-150 but it made me nervous all the same.
We climbed back in the car and started to head back home but before we could exit, we passed another gravel parking lot framed by beautiful trees, picnic tables and several day hikers. The sun had come out so I thought we'd try once more to experience the last of Mother Nature's fall splendor.
There were two trail heads, each labeled with a different color. I remembered reading that one trail was 1.8 miles and the other was 1.5 miles long but I had no idea which was which. I figured, either way, they'd both make a loop and we'd return to the parking lot in an hour or so.
Three hours later we were back safely in our Honda. I think the boys had some fun--I know they were tired when we finished the hike. The temperature didn't seem to bother them as we kept moving the entire time. They found two huge, rocky hills and loved climbing up and running down. During the hike we saw just five other people on the paths.
After we had walked for over two hours, the sky began to darken ominously. The trail snaked back and forth across a meadow and then...ended. We found ourselves walking on a dirt road next to an abandoned factory. This is not good, I said to myself while encouraging the boys to walk just a little faster. Fortunately, we found the trail again. Unfortunately it quickly separated at an unmarked fork. I let Henry choose which way we'd go and tried to ignore the first fat rain drops. As I followed him, I tried to be optimistic but the trees and path sure did look like one we'd walked before.
I began to mentally prepare myself to take shelter with the boys until the storm passed...but where? We were certain to be soaked, cold and lost forever (okay, panic was starting to set in). At the very least, they'd lock the gates at sunset leaving us trapped overnight. I had my phone but I wasn't sure I'd get reception and I didn't know who to call. What would a 911 operator say? Serves you right--didn't you bring a map or watch the weather report? You brought two little kids out there? What kind of mom are you?
Henry kept marching forward oblivious to our dire straits. Liam wanted me to carry him because he really, really, really had to go to the bathroom. Just when all was lost, I heard voices. We rounded the bend to see three adults and two little girls in the middle of a photo shoot at the trail head near the edge of our parking lot. I've never been so glad to see a professional photographer in my life! Liam ran to the bathroom facility and I sat on a picnic table practically weeping at the sight of my CR-V.
Would I do it again? Yes. Maybe. With a map. In September.