King Of the Hill

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No. I am not going to continue. This is not my idea of a fun Saturday afternoon. This is not enjoyable. On the slope of the mountain, I was ready to give up. I wanted to turn back. 4000 feet was too much for my short legs. I was afraid to say it outright, though. But there was something I could do.

“Dad, I’m tired.”

“We’re almost there.” (Which in fact, we were not.)

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

“We’ll eat at the summit”

“Dad, my legs are sore.”

“We’ll rest at the top”

“Dad, I’m thirsty.”

“We’ll take a drink at the summit.”

“Dad…”

At that point I had run out of complaints. I had to go on. The misty landscape swirled around me, close-together pine trees dominating the pine-covered ground. I trudged on, stepping over roots, around rock, and under branches, but the trail went on. I felt like we’d been hiking forever, that this trail was never going to end. Suddenly, a steep rock incline appeared out of the mist.

“The trail goes up there?” I questioned, not very excited about it.

“Yeah, isn’t it cool?” my friend Rory, who had also come on the hike, replied.

We hiked ahead, me dragging my feet pitifully, and everybody else hiking like they were having fun. The rock was slick from the rain and mist, so I had to focus intently on staying on the trail and not falling and rolling down to the bottom. I pulled my bright green windbreaker tight around my body, trying to block out the howling wind that was joyriding around the mountain.

The rock continued for a while, steadily rising in elevation, and steadily dropping in temperature. Out of the mist, a ridge appeared.

“We just need to get up to that ridge, and then we can traverse to the summit,” my dad encouraged. Once at the top of the ridge, my dad was right—smooth sailing ahead.

On I plodded, up the rock face and up to the top of the ridge. The coniferous trees around me took on a creepy, otherworldly appearance through the mist blanketing the higher elevation. The group continued on, me falling behind, purposely stepping in puddles instead of avoiding them to get my shoes wet. I was feeling so down and so tired that I ceased to pay attention to the landscape around me.

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Back when I was looking forward to this hike, it seemed fun, especially on the way there.

In the car, driving to New Hampshire, my dad asked, “ Are you excited for your first 4000 footer?”

“Yeah!” I exclaimed, excited to get my first 4000 footer under my belt and do it with one of my best friends.

“We’re going to drive to the condo and sleep there for the night. We’ll hike up the mountain the following day. Sound good to you?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Sounds good to me.”

This is going to be the best weekend of all the weekends of my seven-year life! I get to have a sleepover with my best friend Rory in his winter condo and get to hike my first 4000 footer. This is so awesome!

We continued to zip down the highway, the mountainous terrain and fall colors making the New Hampshire landscape look like the photo on a postcard. This view would not be this perfect red and gold landscape for much longer. It would die, the leaves turning brown and falling from the branches, finally succumbing to winter’s wrath. But for now, the trees were in the beautiful dying stages of their yearly leaves.

The leaves would then bounce back up the next spring and be reborn. They would have a bad, bleak stage in their yearly life, then would come back with a second wind. This cycle is kind of like me. I have bleak stages, have boring stages, have stages that are no fun at all. Then I bounce back up, and make it to the end.

Some of the trees were also evergreen. They were majestic, standing tall, defying winter with their beautiful dark green pine needles that blended together to form and blanket of green around the tree, sheltering it from winter’s yearly rampage. As we sped down the two-lane highway, heading for the condo, I knew that the next day, I would be up in those trees, in those mountains, ruling over everyone like when my friends and I played King of the Hill on top of my snow fort.

Reaching the summit of any mountain, especially coming out of lowland trees and into alpine vegetation where it was barren and rocky, is the best feeling in the world. You feel as you could lift a mountain, wrestle a bear, tame a dragon. With the wind whirling around you, you feel like you are King. King of the hill.

You also are excited to finally go down instead of climbing up, but that’s only a minor detail. In my opinion, reaching the summit is the best part of hiking.

“Here’s our exit,” my dad says, startling me out of my thoughts. “We’ll get to the condo in a half hour.” We took the exit, the car swiftly zooming around the bend.

Half and hour later, like my dad said, we arrived at the condo, where we’ll be sleeping. I rush out, up the cement stairs leading up to the door, and barge in. I really, really have to go to the bathroom! After finding the bathroom and relieving myself, I go back outside and find my dad unpacking the car.

“Where are my bags?” I ask, ready to bring them in.

“Right here.” My dad digs them out from the pile of bags big and small, and hands them to me. I bound in and set them on the floor, waiting for Rory and his dad to tell me where they go. My dad then comes in, and puts his bags on top of mine.

Directly in front of us, a door opens, instead of to the right where the bathroom is. Rory and his dad walk out.

“You made it!” Rory’s dad exclaimed. “Excited for tomorrow? I am! We’ll hike up the north side, and hike back down the same way we came up. Sound good?”

Sure!” my dad replies. “Where are our rooms?”

“Right up here,” he said as he pointed up a staircase to the loft. “You can put your bags wherever you like, then come back downstairs. We’ll be having dinner soon.”

That night, laying in my bed, I had a hard time falling asleep. My excitement for the hike prevented me from falling asleep. This was going to be the greatest weekend ever! Eventually, the weariness of the drive won over my excitement, and I drifted off into a deep slumber.

The next morning, I woke up to find my dad already up and downstairs. After I changed into suitable hiking attire, I walked down to the first floor to find everything prepared for the hike, backpacks, water, and snacks all laid out, ready to be loaded into the car.

“Ready to head out?” my dad asked.

“Yeah! I can’t wait!” I called back. “Let’s go!!!”

We all piled into the car, dad in the front and kids in the back. First, we put packs and supplies were in the way-way-back. Then we drove the short drive distance to the trailhead. As we drove, I was giddy with excitement. Finally, a 4000 footer! This was going to be the best hike ever.

We turned onto a gravel track, and parked next to the sign that announced the “Greeley Pond Trailhead.” That was the trail we were to take to climb Osceola Mountain. I put on my bright green wind blocker, and the dads got on the packs that carried our food, water, and supplies. We then started up the trail.

As we started through the forest, the trees went from a mixed forest to all evergreen. The mist swirled the valley between mountains on the invisible wind, and made the trees look hulking and creepy. The dark clouds loomed overhead and the trees towering over me. The pine scent was blocked out by the moist scent of the mist and water. Pine needles littered the ground off the trail, a brown blanket over a cruel ground. My legs were growing sorer and sorer. Rory was up ahead, so I scrambled up the trail to him.

“Hey,” I said. “The mist makes the trees look creepy, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah!” he exclaimed. “It makes them look like huge monsters looming over us. Isn’t this so fun? You get to do your first four thousand footer! This is so amazing!”

“Yeah, I guess,” I mumble back. However, I thought this was anything but fun. I started to fall back, as I become more and more weary. Soon, I’m in the back of the group, dragging my feet and wishing I could teleport to the summit and back. While Rory was having and awesome time in front, I felt much different. I wanted to turn around, my little seven year old legs not up for the huge challenge of a four thousand footer.

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Rory has more experience with this to begin with, I thought to myself. He probably thinks this is no big deal. It is for me! Hiking a huge four thousand footer while seven years old? That is just crazy! I rarely even hike 3000 footers! At the back of the pack, I pouted, mad at my dad for making me do this, mad at Rory for being so good at hiking, mad at the world for being so cruel. I have to do this. I forced into my mind. If Rory can do it, then I can too. I have to do this. I have to be as good as Rory.

Even though my feet were killing me, I kept with the group, still at the back but not falling behind. I have to do this. I need to beat Rory.

My feet pounded the trail, sluggishly dragging the rest of my body along. I barely noticed my surroundings. I was so tired. I couldn’t go on. This needed to stop. I was not happy. Would I even make it? It sounded extreme, but it really was possible to me in that moment. Suddenly, I realized, all around me, that different species of birds flew all throughout the trees. The winged creatures chirped and hooted, the cacophony of shrieks and calls seeming never to cease in volume.

Suddenly, something I had learned in school popped into my head. Oh no, I thought to myself. No no no no no. Dad said he heard this trail will become steep and rocky, almost vertical, on the climb up to the ridge. Oh no.

“Um, dad?” I asked my father, who was a little bit in front of me. “What is the weather supposed to be today?”

“I don’t know,” he replied as he turned around to face me. “Why?”

“Because, at school, we are learning in science what signs of a storm are. And we learned that birds are very active before a storm, to look for food before sheltering up to wait out the bad weather. Dark clouds, like the ones above us, also suggest bad weather.” I started to shiver. “Is there going to be a storm?”

“We’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it,” he comforted.

“Okay,” I replied. I still didn’t feel good about it. Luckily, the weather in that moment never became worse.

On the top I worried about the rain and wind, but down in the valley heading up to  the summit, it wasn’t as bad. Torrential rain poured onto my bright green windbreaker in short, powerful bursts, but that was all. Up top, the weather would get much, much worse.

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Up on the ridge, I plodded on, splashing into puddles and stepping across mud holes. I felt the hard, packed soil under my hiking shoes, the hard track left by previous adventurers. The stunted coniferous trees grew on each side of the trail, short and stubby, a result of the wind and cold. The mist went on. The gray clouds let only enough sunlight through to illuminate the ground under the trees that lined the trail. The trees (they could almost be called bushes) that covered parts of the trail with high elevation were stunted and scrawny, adapted to be tough, to fight the howling winds and cold temperatures.

Out of the mist, a short incline appeared in my vision. Could that be the summit? I questioned myself. It has to be! Yes! Finally!

I bounded ahead.

“Is that the top?” I asked.

“Could be.” I bolted up the hill. My feet pounded on the rocks. Come on. Come on. Come on.

Suddenly, out of the mist, The trees disappeared, rock appeared, and there was no more land above me. I was at the top.

“Yes!!! Yes!!!” I exclaimed, spinning around to get a view of my kingdom. The rest of the group joined me at the summit.

After a small lunch and lots of scrambling around the rocks, we turned around and hiked down the mountain. On the way down, I bounded down the trail, vaulting over logs and sliding under branches. As I emerged through the trees into the trailhead parking lot, out of breath, I felt such a feeling of accomplishment that I would have never gotten by sitting at home and being a couch potato. Specifically, if had I hadn’t listened to my dad when he said it was going to be fun. I felt the best I had felt the whole trip.

Back in the car, heading home, I was ready to get home, dive onto my bed, and fall asleep.

“How did you like the mountain, king of the hill?” My dad questioned.

“It was good,” I replied with half-open eyes. “It..was…good,” I whispered softly as I drifted off to sleep.

In my dreams, I dreamt about mountains, and mist, and sore legs. I dreamt about kings, and hills, and towering trees. I dreamt about accomplishment, and success, and summits. “I can do anything…” I mumbled in my sleep. “If I just...try hard enough...and put effort into it.”

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Author’s Note:

At many points in this hike, turning around was mentioned seriously among the dads, because of the weather and the terrain. We got lucky, because the weather didn't get worse. If it had, we would have had to turn around and go back. Hiking a four thousand footer at seven was a huge deal, and it definitely felt that way. The pictures of the hike were taken by my dad during the ascent.

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