This past Sunday we decided to go on a short hike with some friends. It was a decent winter day and we were ready for a hike; it had been awhile. The hike was at Wildcat Ridge Hawk Watch, a 4.5 mile loop that would bring us through hills and valleys, past remnants of mining, and up to a lookout/hawk watch with great views of the surrounding area. We met in the parking lot and on went the hats, gloves, and winter coats on top of the two or three layers of clothes I had already made the kids wear. My husband just shook his head, but you can always take off layers… Next we got out our Kelty backpack, ready to be used when our youngest got tired, and out came the items from our last hike: 5 rocks, a half empty water bottle, unidentifiable crumbs, and what I think was once a flower; either that or a dehydrated caterpillar. We then packed it with the essentials: water, granola bars, space blanket, first aid kit, wipes, lighter, and a bag of toys for our geocaching. I put the 30 pound, childless pack on and off we went on our nice little hike. But it turns out we had more of an adventure than we bargained for. Thirty seconds into the hike we made our first stop as the kids (six ages 3-12 between the two of us families) discovered treasure, aka 20 pennies someone dropped. After shoving them into coat pockets with gloved hands we were off. Five minutes later my three year old was lagging behind because her “knees were broken”. Seven minutes in we were stripping off layers of clothes. But better to be able to take off layers… After adding ten more pounds of winter gear to the pack we were off again, hiking up and down the rocky hills and valleys that make up the landscape of the area following the white trail markers of the four birds trail. The kids had fun scrambling up all of the glacial erratic boulders that dotted the trail, and after a photo op on one such rock I knew it was time. Into the pack my three year old went. So heavy, but now we could increase our pace with miss “broken knees” on my back.
My friend was using a trail app on her iPhone and the kids had fun asking every once in awhile how far we had hiked. We reached the overlook eventually and were treated to a nice view of the surrounding area and as far away as Lower Manhattan where we could see the Freedom Tower which is already towering above the other buildings.
Our family decided to introduce our friends to geocaching so we went looking for a nearby cache and had a really difficult time finding it until I realized I was reading the wrong description, oops! We finally found it and off we went, hiking on the white trail to finish the loop.
About a half hour later we had just finished winding down a rocky hill into the valley below when my friend pulled out her iPhone to check progress and realized we were way off track. Not only were we way off track but had turned the wrong way immediately after leaving the hawk watch! We had followed the white trail markers, but, thanks to technology, had not really bothered to research the trail before starting. We had an iPhone and a gps after all, why bother researching. So, that left us not lost, we could see exactly where we were, but in the opposite direction of where we thought we were heading. After looking behind us at the hill we had all just picked our way down, we decided to keep on hiking the way we were going, it was still the white trail after all!
After awhile we came to an old road, most likely left over from the mining that was done in years past. With the road came the big question, do we take the road or stay on the trail? We, totally going against what survival shows teach, got off of the white trail and onto the road, but this is New Jersey after all, how lost can you really be (okay, so I’ve seen The Blair Witch Project, really lost). The hike on the old road was pretty interesting because it brought us past what was once a mining camp. We hiked over ground littered with slag, a by-product of iron ore, and saw foundations, old electrical lines, train tracks, the old furnace, and finally an opening in the woods. Out we walked into a deserted parking area on the complete opposite side of the park! So close, just the wrong direction! There was now a half hour before sunset and the winter clothes were put back on (see, layers are a good thing!). We continued on, my five year old now riding on my husbands back, until the ground changed to pavement and the trees gave way to houses. New Jersey suburbs. A quick check on the iPhone (remember, we were never lost!) whose battery was quickly becoming depleted showed that we still had a quite a way to go the get back to the cars. We needed help.
Help came in the form of “Brad” , a very nice homeowner whose door we finally knocked on after swallowing our pride enough to do so. He laughed and drove my friend, my husband, and our two littlest to retrieve the cars while the rest of us hiked on. It was, at this point, too cold to stop walking. As we passed house after house, we discussed how we could have survived a night in the wilds of New Jersey. We had all we needed, we were set, we owned the mountains (okay, hills)! Eventually, my husband and friend made it to us with the cars and we were saved! Rescued right in front of a nice colonial with a SUV parked out front. We rubbed it in that we had hiked further than them (6+ miles in the end), while we, again, took off those layers and loaded in the warm cars off to find pizza.
All in all it was a very fun day. The kind of day the kids will always remember. They all had a great time and said that they could not wait to tell their friends at school about it. We did not just go on a hike, we had an adventure! Plus, remember we were never actually lost and had all of those layers…
So, have you ever had a regular hike turn into an adventure?