“Your mission, Suzanne, should you choose to accept it, is to accompany your parents on a vacation into the wilderness. You will be responsible for their well-being and returning them home safely. At times, they will ignore you and will perform acts to thwart your efforts. However, you must persevere. There will be no Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage. So, you are on your own. This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Suzanne.”
I hear you saying, “Come on, Suzanne. How bad could it be? It’s a vacation!”
Clearly, you have no prior knowledge of our family vacations. Unless we were in peril and almost died at least once, it was not a good vacation.
This adventure took us into Montana and Canada—Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, Kootenay National Park and Glacier National Park. The highlights included Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Glacier, Going-To-The-Sun Road, as well as countless waterfalls and numerous smaller lakes. And we had to hike to many of them.
I had forgotten how primitive National Park Lodge rooms were compared to regular hotel rooms. Most are historical landmarks and will never be upgraded. The beds were full or twin size. Forget about elevators. Get ready to hike up a lot of stairs. With your luggage. Dad got quite a workout on check-in and check-out days. Poor Dad.
The accommodations were nice and clean, albeit cramped. I have been living alone for five years. So, I have not had to share a house, let alone a bedroom and bathroom, with two other adults.
These are the times that try a woman’s soul…
Let me start by saying I was thrilled there were bathrooms in our rooms. That’s not always a given. Occasionally, the sinks were in the main room, which had its pros and cons. Electrical outlets were scarce. There was no place to put anything when getting ready or taking a shower. So, we resorted to layering Kleenex on the toilet seat cover and rested our items there. Who says we’re not resourceful?
Since we were all in one room, and had to take clothes on and off, we spent our fair share of time staring at walls.
I did all of the driving, so Mom and Dad could relax and enjoy the scenery. Dad was the navigator and tour guide. They visited these parks twenty-five years ago. So, he knew the best places to hike and the sights to see.
Before each hike, we had the same conversation.
I asked, “Do you have your hats and water?”
Mom replied, “I hate hats. You know I hate hats. And I don’t need water. I’ll drink some when we get back.”
Dad responded, “I have my hat. I’m not bringing water. I don’t drink warm water.”
As the only properly prepared person, I secured my hat, threw a bottle of water in my pack and headed out.
Dad has always hiked faster than Mom. Back in the day, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named would hike with Dad. I would hike with Mom. Since my ex-husband was not with us, Dad hiked ahead by himself.
Hard to keep track of him when I can’t see him!
I stayed with Mom. The higher altitude impacted her more than expected. But she was a trooper and after rest breaks, we kept going.
A couple of times, the inclines were too steep to hike safely. On one trail, we hiked about halfway up, and Mom and I decided to stop. She looked peaked. I handed her my water. She drank it.
And you know I could not resist making a comment. “See? You should have brought water.”
Hot, sweaty and out of breath, she acquiesced, “I know. Maybe next time.”
Sarcastically, I complained, “Nobody ever listens to me.”
She rolled her eyes and drank more water.
Unfortunately, no matter where we tried to rest, there were bees everywhere. They kept landing on us. I am deathly allergic to bee stings, and my Epi-pen was back in the car. So, I guess I was not as prepared as I thought.
Dad was determined to continue. So he kept going.
On our way back down, Mom and I told a group of young, physically-fit hikers to look for my dad. We described him and what he was wearing. They asked for his name and said they would look for him and make sure he was okay.
That made us feel a bit better.
A short time later, we saw another hearty group of teenagers and gave them the same spiel. They said they would look for him.
Dad joined us at the car about twenty-five minutes later. He told us that both groups greeted him and checked on him.
There is hope for today’s youth after all!
A few days later, we encountered the second steep incline. It was on the way to view a waterfall. But we could see the falls from the spot right before the insane part of the incline. I have to point out the distinction. The first part of the incline was about 40-45 degrees and that was tough enough.
By my estimation, the incline ahead was at least 60 degrees. I suggested we stop. Dad insisted we could do it.
He went first.
A side note: He was wearing hiking boots. Mom and I were wearing sneakers.
“Why weren’t you wearing hiking boots?” you ask.
Because we weren’t supposed to do any strenuous hiking!
Dad tried to help Mom up by one arm. I stood behind her.
She could not get a foothold. She fell and slid toward me.
Dad hoped he could still haul her up. But it quickly became obvious that was not going to work. So, he released her.
I grabbed her hips as she slid down the dirt/pea gravel hill into me. Her feet came to rest on my shins.
Thank God I was firmly planted. I was less than two feet from a sheer drop-off into a deep cavernous abyss. Had I not been firmly planted, I would have gone off the edge of the cliff. Guaranteed.
In a firm, definitive tone of voice, with my hands punctuating my words, I declared, “We’re done. No more of these dangerous hikes. We’re done!”
I helped Mom to her feet and brushed the dirt off her clothes. Luckily, she did not break anything or end up bloody. Being bloody in bear country would not have been good. Unfortunately, she did pull a muscle in her back.
We decided to rest until she was ready to go back down.
Dad was already past the most difficult terrain, so we told him to go on if he wanted to.
When he rejoined us, Dad reported, “The ironic part was that in hiking to the top, the view of the falls was obstructed. So, the best view of the falls is right here.”
Dad helped Mom down. I followed. The grade was about 45 degrees at this point. But the dirt/pea gravel mix was loose, and I was sliding fast. There were no trees to hold on to. And there was that stupid freaking cliff.
I was terrified I would fall off the side of the mountain.
You must understand that although I have been in perilous situations many times before, I had confidence that I would be okay. This time, for the first time, I was not sure. And the feeling of impending doom overcame me as the cliff edge neared.
My mother looked back and saw what was happening. She told my dad to help me. He turned and started back up toward me. I wanted him to stay with Mom. I was worried I would take him down with me. I shouted back for him to stay with her.
The quick, loud exchange that followed was enough to scare off any wildlife for miles.
I resorted to half-sliding/half-crawling down on my rear end.
I couldn’t die—I was in charge!
And most importantly, I had the car keys.
Stay tuned for the next exciting vacation episode, “My Dad: Wildlife Whisperer.”
Text and photos – Copyright © 2016 by Suzanne Purewal