Something More Than A Gift

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long…nearly nine months. But it’s not like I haven’t thought about it practically every day since the hike.

I guess some things just need time to process.

It was my youngest son’s birthday; his thirteenth. That’s an important day for most kids – “Woohoo! I’m a teenager!” – and a pretty significant “coming of age” birthday in many cultures.

I wanted to get it right.

My hiking buddy, River.

This is my buddy, River. He’s always game for a hike.

The Plan

My youngest son, River, is a good kid and I wanted to do something special for him; one of those memorable father and son things you hope your kid never forgets. Only time will tell if I accomplished this…for him. I mean, I know I’ll never forget that day.

It had to be something fun and exciting; something more than just a gift. It had to be something special so we could use code words and wink at each other like we had a secret. And it had to be something where I could weave in the talk – you know, as in, THE talk. He’s thirteen after all.

Then it came to me. A hike! What a great way to spend the day – dirt, snakes, creeks, backpacks and, best of all, no Xbox, no TV, no distractions and no girls. (No offense, ladies, but you can’t have THE talk with a girl around.)

I remember when I got THE talk. Everything was very serious. “Sit down, son. It’s time we have the talk.” It was heavy, significant, mysterious, cold and clinical. There was no room for levity. Both my parents were present and there were things I wanted to ask that I wasn’t comfortable asking around my mom.

You understand, don’t you?

The Nantahala River running through Standing Indian.

The Upper Nantahala River at Standing Indian, Nantahala National Forest

Anyway, I wanted something different for my son. It was going to be a conversation – not a talk. It was going to be safe for him to explore any topic. I was going to listen to him as much as I spoke.

Making it part of a fun activity seemed like the perfect way to approach it.

Since it was his day, he was part of the planning process – although I reserved a few surprises for him. He chose Standing Indian for our hike. It’s not very crowded and there are tons of trails to choose from.

For my part, I read about “rites of passage” in different cultures; what they did and what it all meant. And I think I came up with a good plan.

Besides our hike, my plan included some fun things, a surprise picnic and some extra special snacks – you can never have too much food for a teenage boy.

I polished my talking points; the things I wanted to cover. And I made room in the plan for spontaneity.

But I still had to come up with the perfect gift – a gift that would be the BEST GIFT EVAH.

Bearprint in the sand, Upper Nantahala River.

Finding this bear print was one of the big highlights of our hike.

It finally dawned on me. I scrounged around looking for my old pocket knives. He’s wanted a pocket knife for years, but his mother kept telling him he needs to be a little older. I would have given it to him when he was ten – that’s when my dad gave me my first pocket knife, but that’s another story.

I didn’t mention the pocket knife to my wife. You know the old adage, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Besides, he had to be old enough sooner or later.

His birthday finally came. It was the most beautiful November day I’ve ever seen. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the leaves were still in color.

My son, River, decided he would like to take the path that followed the Upper Nantahala River. Now, before that lands on you like, “how apropos,” I don’t think it had anything to do with his name. The trail is flat. He’s not much into hiking up mountains…yet.

After 45 minutes, we came upon a nice spot in the river – rapids upstream, slow moving pool downstream and a fairly level rocky, sandy area.

I wanted to ease into my talking points. Give him a chance to play, let loose and be a boy before I talked to him about being a man. So we poked around here and there, exploring the sand bar. We collected some garbage that someone else left behind, found a big bear print and I taught him how to skip stones on the water.

The Main Event

Eventually we sat down on some boulders to watch the water dance through the rapids. Quiet time.

At one point he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome. The big one-three. Know what that means,” I asked?

“Yep. We’re gonna have THE talk.” And he smiled at me as if to say, “I’m ready.”

And that’s how it began; me wondering how he knew we were going to have THE talk.

It turned out easier than I thought. Being prepared helped a lot, I’m sure. And my son’s disarming humor and charm certainly lightened things up.

We talked about responsibility – both to himself, his family and his community. I answered his questions about what it means to be a man – to the best of my ability since I’m still figuring it out myself.

He asked questions about all the changes going on with his body. And, yes, we even talked about sex, love and relationships.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I pulled out a handful of pocket knives. His eyes got as big as a harvest moon. I said, “You’re ready. Pick one.” He looked at all of them, touched them, opened them, turned them around in his hand and finally chose one.

A handful of pocket knives. Choose.

Guess which one River chose?

He suddenly sat straighter. He seemed taller. His shoulders suddenly got broader. He batted his eyes, fighting back the overwhelming sense to cry. He doesn’t know, yet, grown men cry too. I forgot to mention that in THE talk.

He gave me a big hug and said, “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, my heart melted as I said, “I love you too.”

River jumped up and hopped around the sandbar, whooping and hollering. He just couldn’t contain the excitement any longer.

Turning back to me, he said, “Let’s go home. I can’t wait to show Mom my new pocket knife.”

I swallowed hard. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

See ya’ on the trail,

I’d love to hear how you’ve handled or plan to handle this special time for your children. Let me know in the comment section.

S’more Good Hiking Posts – The Sweetest Reads of the Week #2

It’s time for a campfire, some good company and S’mores – S’more Good Hiking Posts, that is. Here’s a collection of some of the sweetest reads I’ve found around the web this week.

One Foot, Two Foot, Wet Foot, Dry Foot

Whether you step in a stream or get caught in the rain, if you’re going to hike, you’re going to get wet boots. Sometimes it can’t be helped. And wet boots aren’t comfy. But how do you safely dry your boots? Greg Christensen over at Seattle Backpackers Magazine shares this ingenious boot-drying method.

Inuit Boot Drying Trick

“My friends and I had been on the trail three days when the rain hit. It started as drizzly rain, then changed to a fat-drop rain, then to a misty rain and then to a sprinkling on- and-off rain. We’d been hiking in an open valley, and by the time we reached the relative shelter of a distant pine forest, we were….” Read more…

Thanks! But I Think I’ll Walk

Looking for adventure in the Himalayas? Here’s one trip where the flight in and out may prove to be more adventurous than your hike. From his blog, Words From Swaziland, Steve shares his personal experience with the Lukla Airport in a humorous – and slightly anxious – fashion. I was certainly on the edge of my seat and I wasn’t even on the plane.

Flights of Fancy

“Aside from the lady who was throwing rice over her shoulder as an offering to whichever Hindu deity deals with flying, the passenger complement comprised nervous trekkers, one cheerful chap and one morose chap from the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority, a Buddhist Monk and a Flight Attendant. I know that the Flight Attendant is obligatory and have a sneaking suspicion that the Monk is also on the airline’s payroll….” Read more…

A Family That Hikes Together…

One of my favorite things is to see families hiking together – or rather, families who enjoy hiking together. Jeff, from The Path Less Beaten, is gracious enough to share his family’s love for hiking with insight, wit and a whole lotta great pics. Thanks, Jeff, for another great trip.

Backpacking To Kinney Lakes

“We originally started off the year with the goal to hike the entire Tahoe Rim Trail before year’s end. We started off with good intentions, hiking from Big Meadow to Echo Summit. As the summer progressed though, we started to realize some of the challenges that the trail posed.” Read more…

A Stroll Through The English Countryside

Ok! I’ll be honest. Until recently, England was not the first place I thought of for adventure hiking. No offense to my British friends, but I’ve never been to the UK. My primary experience of England comes from watching British TV shows, like Inspector Lewis, Luther and Sherlock which only deal with the British countryside when someone’s been murdered. So, you can see it’s not my fault. But that’s all behind me now. I’ve repented. And I owe it all to Martin from Adventures Close To Home. Here’s another one of his great posts that makes me want to hike through the English countryside.

Hit the North! – Stage 8 : Melton Mowbray to Grantham via the Grantham Canal (with thrilling wild camp!)

“After some time faffing about in the suburbs I found Melton country park from where I could join the Jubilee Way which in turn would eventually lead me to the village of Stathern.  My wild camp for the night was to be just beyond Stathern in the woods of the Vale of Belvoir.” Read more…

How Far Would You Go?

Whoa! That’s some serious desire. But I’m not surprised by David’s plans. Hardcore hikers will do just about anything to go on a special trail, especially if there is a lottery for spots. We wish you well, David! Looking forward to your follow up report on An Epic Adventure.

Why Go On This Hike?

“The Enchantments is a place I’ve dreamed of going ever since I first heard about it back on Monday. It’s known as the hike in Washington; as in the best. Permits are next to impossible to get and are…” Read more…

That’s it for this week. Thanks for visiting.

See ya’ on the trail,

Spilling The Beans On Secret Falls

Don’t let the name of this waterfall fool you. It’s not really a secret. And I’m not breaking any local “code of silence” by telling you about it. Thank goodness.

It’s just so remote hardly anyone knows of it, including plenty of locals.

How remote is it? Let’s just say you have to really be committed to visiting Secret Falls. It’s literally out in the middle of the wilderness. After you’ve survived the numerous, curvy switchbacks out of Highlands, NC, you head down a long, poorly maintained, one lane gravel road.

But that’s all part of its charm.

For when it comes to waterfalls, the more remote they are, the less popular they are…and this is a good thing. As the tourists hit Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, you should plan to spend your day at Secret Falls.

How To Find Secret Falls

I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so instead of providing detailed directions, I’m simply going to refer you to a couple of friends of mine, Matt and Melinda, over at Stay And Play In The Smokies. Besides providing great directions to Secret Falls, they’re also a great resource for travel and vacation information about western North Carolina.

The Trail

This relatively short trail, less than a mile from the trailhead, is very level and wide. You’ll have to cross two streams, but they both have sturdy log bridges that are easy to cross.

Once you reach the side trail to Secret Falls, there’s a short drop in elevation to the lower part of the falls. Just watch the steps – a couple of them were wobbly.

Level and wide, this trail is easy to walk.Stream crossing with log bridge.Beautiful Rhododendron tunnel.Side trail to Secret Falls marked with a blue blaze.Staircase down to the lower part of the falls.Lower Falls

This is where you get the best view and photo ops of Secret Falls. If you visit in warmer weather, you can even take advantage of the great swimming hole.

Secret Falls, NCRefreshing, cool and private.The beach at Secret Falls.A great swimming hole for the whole family.Upper Falls

Being relatively easy to get too and fairly safe if you keep your distance from the edge, you’ll find an incredible view looking down Secret Falls and beyond. And I imagine this would look spectacular when the fall colors are at their peak.

Falling water is everywhere at Secret Falls.The view looking down Secret Falls.

You can visit Secret Falls anytime of year. Go for a day or spend a night or two. Swim, fish, camp or take lots of photos. There’s so much to see and do here. Just remember to keep it nice for the next visitors and pack out anything you take with you.

See ya’ on the trail,