The Scene: Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Cast of characters: Me, Katherine, Emily, Eloy, Justin, and three small children: Ally (age 6), Nick (age 4), and Kora (age 4)
The Bad Decision: To walk 7 miles round trip across the hilly, sloping sand dunes to get to Lake Michigan (which we could have easily driven down the road to get to).
All of us adults had memories of going to Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan when we were children. We all thought that once you got to the top of the main hill, the lake was right there. Wrong. We couldn't even see the lake from there. Dipping into our faulty memory banks we thought, "it can't be that far." So we kept walking to the top of another hill. Still no lake. "It must be after the next one," someone said. Once again, that proved incorrect.
Wondering how our memories could have failed us so much, we decided to walk a little bit further, thinking that any minute now, the lake would appear. However, every time we reached the top of another peak, the person who reached it first would turn around and say, "Bad news, guys."
The kids were getting a little tired out, mainly from running in a zig-zag formation, thus prematurely draining their energy sources. But they said they wanted to keep going. Reaching the lake became our main focus. I vaguely remember someone saying, "I think I read it's a three hour hike to get there and back." But we chose not to listen.
Eloy had the opportunity to turn back at one point with Nick, who was getting worn out. However, after watching the rest of us continue on the path, Nick decided he didn't want to miss out on the "fun." Eloy took three deep breaths, said, "ok" and turned to face what was ahead.
And what was ahead, you ask? Hills and sand and hills and sand. But eventually... the beach. And it really was a gorgeous beach. Not that any of us adults could really enjoy it though, remembering those steep hills we'd walked down, and knowing how unpleasant they would be to walk up. Justin tossed around the idea of breaking his ankle so we could be carried back by helicopter. We all got behind this idea but in the end he chickened out.
With the kids on our backs, we faced our destiny, and headed back. Our backs could only take so much though, so we made the kids walk some. At one point, with Kora on my back, I thought I heard gentle sobbing coming from behind me. I turned around to see Ally walking along, quietly crying. I put my arm around her shoulders and told her she was doing great. She just said, "I know," kept crying quietly, and walked ahead of us.
Thankfully, we had brought water bottles with us so no one was dehydrated, but our muscles were feeling it. The walk back was a mental game. Lying to ourselves, "this hill isn't as steep as I remember it. As long as I don't look up, I'll believe I'm almost there. This child I'm carrying is light as a feather...."
By the time we reached the final hill, we reflected on what we'd been through. One thing we all agreed on was that we were different now than we had been before we'd begun this journey. As we began our descent to the bottom of that last dune, we wondered if we'd be able to relate to those we left at the bottom of the dunes - those who were smart enough not to continue past the first huge hill. Justin said, "I feel like I should have grown a beard in the time we were gone." "Me too," I said.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, we refueled on pb&j and other sweet snacks and once they had eaten, the kids ran around in circles as if the last three hours had never happened. We collapsed on the ground and watched them run, knowing we would never be the same.