To those of you who have followed my No Regrets blog, or read the No Regrets Parenting book, it will not come as a surprise to you that our kids have had a, shall we say, mixed reaction to hiking over the years. We were a National Parks family when the kids were younger, renting RVs and spending school vacations driving from one “Wowww, Dad” moment to another. “Wowww, Dad” was the sarcastic (lovingly sarcastic, I say to comfort myself) response my kids would sigh in unison as I pointed out a natural wonder, beautiful sunset, or wildlife sighting on our drives and hikes.
It took some incentives to get the kids hiking on our excursions. Lollipops, Popsicles, licorice, competitive rock collecting, photographic contests, “I Spy” with binoculars…you get the idea. But we did hike, and only time will tell if our kids will have fond enough memories of our wilderness experiences to put their own kids through the the same someday.
But this is today, not yet someday, so we still occasionally get to play parents to our now much older kids and force them to go on hikes with us. Just like the old days but without the lollipops. Such was the case this past week when we captured our 3 (ages 24, 22, and 20 years old), our brand new daughter-in-law, and our son’s significant other (she suggested the title of this post) to take a hike with mom and dad. A rare few hours where we had everyone together in the same van, headed for a real family outing. This would be the hike to re-instill a love of nature to our urbanized crew. There wasn’t as much whining on the way to the trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park as there used to be, but there were enough grown-up groans to let us know they’d rather be playing tennis or golf or watching the Broncos preseason opener. Tough. We were going to hike today, come heck or high water.
Turns out it was high water. What was billed as a gentle climb to a beautiful mountain lake ended up being a pretty ambitious 6.5 mile round trip hike with a steep up and a steep down. At the top of the steep up was, indeed, a beautiful lake. Cub Lake is a pristine, lilly-covered glacial remnant filled with ducks and trout. A beaver dam precariously anchors the near end just before the water spills into a river outflow. Fed by winter run-off from nearby water falls, and surrounded by forests of Aspen trees, this should have been the perfect reward for our reluctant hikers. We could almost taste the turkey sandwiches we had packed for this moment. Almost.
We picked our picnic spot carefully, finding the big rock on the lake’s edge with the fewest ants. Our kids are not big fans of ants. Who knew ants would be the least of our problems? In a little cove of the lake right at the foot of our picnic rock was a single duck, paddling gently through the reeds. How amazing, we thought, this duck seems fearless. Swimming a mere foot or two from where we sat, the duck appeared oblivious to our intrusion. How fun to be able to watch a duck this up-close while we had lunch! It was even more amazing when the next duck appeared in the little cove, and then the next, and the next! That’s when things got out of hand. Having reached a critical mass, one-by-one, the ducks stepped out of the lake onto the shore, surrounding our picnic rock. And then they climbed onto our picnic rock.
Apparently, other humans have chosen this rock for picnics in the past and the ducks regarded it as a take-out diner. When we realized what was happening, we all stood up in something of a panic and moved off the rock toward higher ground – but not before one of the ducks nipped our son’s hand and grabbed his turkey sandwich. I assured him ducks don’t carry rabies (right?). As we climbed back up towards the trail, the ducks followed. Now 9 or 10 ducks in total, they followed us up the slope to the trail and beyond as we kept climbing to escape our avid avian attackers. That’s when we stumbled into the chipmunk village and discovered chipmunks like the smell of turkey sandwiches, too.
Like a scene Hitchcock would have filmed had he directed Disney’s “Enchanted,” the ducks and the chipmunks encircled us, blocking our access back to the trail. I kid you not. There was, I should add, a bit of human shrieking going on to add to the scene’s surrealism. We finally shed the bizarre blockade only after throwing pieces of Gray Poupon-smeared sandwiches back towards the lake, luring our predators in the other direction.
As we ran (ran!) down the trail to get past Cub Lake, we passed a young couple walking with their two-year old. We yelled something like ” watch out, there may be ducks following us!” The mom calmly replied, “Oh yeah, they tried to eat Taylor but he picked up a stick and showed them who was in charge.”