My old friend and colleague, Dick Homan, used to say about outdoor activities, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes." He was a firm believer that winter's cold or summer's heat should not be a deterrent for outdoor fun. He always has the best gear for all the 'Silent Sports' he participates in, such as cross-country skiing, biking and rollerblading. His words come back to me the most while I am toasty warm in the proper coat on a cold day while downhill skiing. Consequently, I've grown to feel a bit smug about how I'm usually comfortable during outdoor activities. So, when the kids and I got caught in the wrong gear on a summer day recently, I was thoroughly de-smugged!
It happened while exploring Vandolah Nature Preserve, just east of Tonkel Road. The kids and I have been trying to visit as many ACRES land trust preserves as we can. We had never been to Vandolah before and last week seemed like to perfect time to sneak in one more preserve before the start of the school year. Anticipating a short walk on a groomed trail, we put on some old gym shorts and t-shirts. Dogs on a leash are welcomed at these preserves, so we brought along our fabulous golden retriever, Genny. Due to the extreme heat, it had been awhile since Genny was in the woods, so she had a doggie perma-grin as she pulled my teenage son up and down the ravines at this beautiful site. The trail loop is 1.5 miles long, but it was such a nice day and none of us felt like that would be a long enough hike, so we decided to venture to the part of the preserve that runs under I-69 and follows the river. On the map, it appears that this part of the preserve has a trail along the river. The reality is that it starts out as a mere deerpath then disappears altogether. We are adventurous and we knew enough to stay by the river so as not to get lost. What we didn't think about are the massive amounts of poison ivy that are in the woods at this time of year. We felt like we avoided most of the itch-producing plants and were well on our way back to the 'real' trail when we encountered the only other hiker we saw that day: our orthodontist! He had never been to the preserve, so he asked us all about the 'unchartered' part we had just visited. We told him it was very scenic, but there was a lot of poison ivy to avoid. He had on some very snappy gear: thick hiking boots, all-weather pants, a breathable exercise shirt and an impressive backpack into which he said he put some weights. Oh, and he also had a pair of trekking sticks that put the ones I purchased at Walmart® to shame. After we warned him about the poison ivy, he looked down at his own clothe covered legs and assured us he'd be fine. I felt a little embarrassed that I'd been 'caught' dragging my kids through the woods ill dressed. (NOTE: since our orthodontist is very down to earth, I'm sure he didn't even think twice about it. It was just the crashing down of my smugness that made me feel inadequate!)
Back on the 'real' trail, we consulted the map and headed out. Unknowingly, we missed a turn and we were once again in an unfamiliar woods without a trail…and with LOTS of stinging nettle (or something nearly as bad). We had just blazed our way through a particularly nippy thatch of it when we all stopped dead. There was absolutely nowhere else to go and we were standing in weeds that towered over our heads. My eleven year old daughter burst into tears. This unsettled me because she is most definitely not a crier. Thankfully, my son held it together. He tried to comfort his sister by saying, "It's okay, we'll just head back to the car now." This brought more tears from my daughter because I could see that she realized that this meant we'd have to go back through that nasty nettle patch. What else is there to do when you are over your head in weeds and somewhat lost but to turn around and re-trace your steps? So, that's what we did. Twenty minutes later, safely back at the car, we compared war wounds. It turns out that my legs were the only ones with permanent red-streaks from the plants (probably because I was the trail-blazer). Once we got the air-conditioning on in the car and showers and clothes and dog washed upon returning home, all was well again with everyone. Now that days have passed since it happened, it has become the adventure of the summer as the story gets re-told.
However, I now have proof that the lesson of wearing the right clothes has sunk in more deeply with the kids and me. While packing for a camping trip this week, we stuck our heads into each other's bedrooms and gave reminders to, at the very least, remember to pack some nice hiking pants!