We Aren't In Kansas Anymore Toto!
Twenty-five year of living with diabetes. "How much longer, Mommy?" asks my 7-year-old- daughter.
Every parent gets this question hundreds of times. Being a parent who travels, lots by car, with my kids, perhaps it is thousands. When he was two, my son played the "why" question game often. Being my first child, I had no idea how intelligent he was or wasn't for his age. All I knew is the "why" game was tiresome. I asked him to cycle through the other five questions words before cycling back to using "why" a second time. I made a song out of why, when, where, what, who, and how. He adapted quickly, and whatever this kid ends up doing in his life, his questioning capability has always been excellent. He likes facts, knowledge, and lives much in a black and white world. Things are good or bad, right or wrong, fact or lie, and often he will go to great lengths to defend his truth. His tenacity will serve him well; most of his teachers agree. It has been a journey to watch him develop several skills beyond his peers, and he is taking his own sweet time in some other ways.
"Mommy, when will we get there?" asks my 7-year-old- daughter. This time she stopped mid-trail on the switchback corner and turned to look in my eyes.
"How are you feeling, honey?" I respond.
"Tired!" She answers.
"Would you like a hug?" I ask.
"Yes, please," she answers.
I place my trekking poles next to a rock. I pick her up and hold her for a minute or two. It is a bit awkward to do this while wearing my pack but taking it off and getting it back on seems like more of a hassle. We looked at the ever-darkening sky; the clouds were gathering quickly around peaks and ranges, we could see the rain falling in the distance. She takes a few sips of my Camelbak hose, and we exchange generous squeezes and kisses. I remind her how hard this is, that we will get there, and I understand why she is tired. She asks for a snack, and I let her know we will have our full lunch on the summit. She received enough of a reset to wiggle out of my arms and begin on her trek. Her brother never slowed.
We were on day three of a five-day backpacking trip. We woke up that morning next to the pristine Thousand Island Lake, watched by Mt. Ritter. The day before, our evening wander made evident the many ground squirrels and marmots that lived in the grasses next to the water. We swam in a shallow outlet to rinse before bed.
I knew today was going to ask a lot of her little legs. Our itinerary tried to accommodate her needs as best we could. I had learned two years prior that putting a pack on her limited our mileage. Her brother was eleven on this trip and in his 7th year of carrying a pack. He enjoyed backpacking quite a bit and even more so if he doesn't have to wait for anyone. The compromise I made kept her free from a pack, allowing her to trek along with us. Her brother and I carried all the necessities for our five-day adventure; food, sleep systems, bear canister, clothing, headlamps, stove, mosquito nets, etc. It's an endeavor, planning, prepping, organizing, packing, and remaining enthusiastic while executing a Mommy & Littles only backpacking trip. We were in our third year of this tradition, and I am happy to say in 2020, we have enjoyed at least six incredible trips together, just us three.
There comes a moment in coordinating and during each backpacking trip where I question if it is worth it. For some trips, I asked this more than once. Their opposition typically surfaces when I ask them to help with the packing, and the timing isn't convenient or in the last hours of the effort for the day. The resistance didn't appear when I was braiding hair while sitting in the stream, sipping hot cocoa as the morning sun warmed the rocks, reading books cuddled up in the tent by headlamp, playing the harmonica on flat sections of trail, or taking in the breath-stopping views and vistas. It took a long time in my parenting to realize the moments their complaining had me doubt my actions were the moments I needed a hug. With backpacking trips, self-compassion wasn't difficult; I knew I was biting off quite a bit. My love for being active with them in the outdoors always tilted the balance scale in favor of any adventure. Backpacking with my kids demonstrated that when my "why" was clear, the momentum in what I desired barreled right past the barriers and resistance.
Though our morning brought clear blue skies, the afternoon brought in something entirely different in typical Eastern Sierra fashion. It was mid-day, and our skies were quickly getting dark grey. My encouragement and support for each of them was spot on during our ascent to the summit. My mountaineering experience taught me the peaks are always three times further than they appear. I knew telling them wasn't going to teach but being in the experience would. I validated feelings and held space for them to process the climb in a way they needed.
Eventually, we reached the summit of Donohue Pass, 11,066 feet in elevation. We stopped and had a quick lunch as winds picked up and blew our stuff everywhere. Kids are great like this, somehow finding reserves of energy to jump from boulder to boulder chasing a stuff sack when minutes prior, they contemplated their ability to take another step.
Our next goal was to descend and find a place to camp for the night. The approaching rain was going to add an element to our logistics. The moisture started as we took our first steps down. In a short amount of time, it picked up significantly, and then the hail began. The abrasive crackle of thunder and flash of lightning was now in sync, providing the reality it was right overhead. My job - KEEP IT FUN! As my concern grew about our circumstances, I was in control of how I responded to it. Since they were born, a value of mine is to give them tools to navigate life. An attribute to my personality is doing so in this kind of environment. I had my son stop to capture him and how high the hail was bouncing in a photo. I welcomed my daughter to lead us in silly songs.
People, it was raining SO hard.
We kept a sharp eye out for any place we could call home for the night; it was quite some time until one became apparent. To this day, I am not sure how we set up a two-person Bibler; all three climbed inside, blew up two NeoAir Thermarests while piled on one side, and all changed into whatever dry clothing remained. That 23-minute reprieve in the rain was welcome. We didn't waste a minute; filtering water, making our warm drinks, and devouring dinner.
All night long, it rained.
All night long, it rained.
All night long, it rained.
Our five-day itinerary was re-considered. We had twelve miles to the exit trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows. It was downhill and flat trekking. To make the last afternoon shuttle back to Mammoth, she would need to keep moving at a pace she rarely kept. I recall laying in bed that morning listening to the rain on the tent and going thru my options for us. After safety, my number one priority was to keep them interested in backpacking after this trip. I didn't want the uncomfortable circumstance to taint their experience. This one desire framed all my decisions. In our last miles that day, watching my daughter skip down the trail playing her harmonica and both their excitement to stop and talk to the group of people on horses, I knew I had succeeded.
We arrived at the Tuolumne Meadows Store, and they were allowed to go in and pick out any drink, snack, and book for the ride back to Mammoth. We enjoyed our treats sitting at a picnic table with others while waiting for the shuttle. My daughter played her harmonica for the crowd, and my son offered his encouragement of her performance. JMT-thru-hikers surrounded us. I can't help but think this experience planted a seed for my son. He completed the JMT thru-hike in July 2020, two weeks with a friend and 1-week solo. He executed the planning, prepping, organizing, packing, and remained enthusiastic while doing it.
Once I gained cell reception, I saw the numerous concerned texts and phone calls about our safety. Our friends from Mammoth had contacted my husband, and he was considering driving from SB to initiate a search. He knew my experience, and I appreciate his trust in my ability to manage the situation with our kids, keeping them safe. It was a lovely moment to share, "She rallied 12 miles today!"
The following year we backpacked from Tuolumne to Yosemite Valley and climbed Half Dome to the top on the trip. The scenery on that section is some of the most beautiful in the world, and I highly recommend it to anyone of any age. Yet to this day, both my kids speak about this trip with more awe and enthusiasm. I guess I feel similar.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, diabetes is a 24//7/365 disease. There is NEVER a 23-minute reprieve. Never.
Photo: Kids and I on the summit of Donohue Pass Summer 2015