Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life Lessons

             The other day I was thinking about a special time that occurred in the summer of 1991. For my youngest daughter, Jenny, it became one of those life lessons that would be character forming.

I had just finished a year of study on my doctorate when the family and I flew to Alaska to spend some time with my brother and his family in Anchorage. We had lots of things planned during this visit. We spent several days at Denali Park camping out and hiking through the spectacular terrain around Mount McKinley. But the trip that capped it all off was a five-day hike on the Resurrection Pass Trail.

My brother, John, had been helping with the youth group at his church, and every June they would take this 39 mile jaunt down the Resurrection Pass Trail North, camping each night at a predetermined location. During this hike the elevation changed from 500 to 2600 feet above sea level. Each person packed their own stuff, which included clothing, bedding and food.

The church youth group consisted of about a dozen or so high school kids. My brother’s son, Josh, was in high school, but his sister, Abi, and my girls, Laura and Jenny were several years younger. The question was, could our girls hang with these older kids on a very challenging trek through this rugged wilderness area. Laura and Abi were twelve with Abi celebrating her 13th birthday out on the trail. Jenny, on the other hand, was nine. We discussed all of this with the girls and they said they wanted to go.

Departure day had us all gathering at a remote location where the trail began. There was nothing else around. After taking pictures of the whole group, we said our goodbyes to our wives and waved as they drove off. The teens immediately took off running down the trail. Jenny slipped into her backpack and started walking. I knew that the two of us would be bringing up the rear, so I was in no hurry. I noticed that after about 50 yards Jenny had stopped. As I walked up to her she looked at me with a look of consternation. “Oh Daddy,” said wailed, “this pack is so heavy!” “Well,” I said, “you’ll get used to it. Let’s go.” I made like I was going to continue down the trail, but Jenny wasn’t having any of that. “Oh Daddy, it’s so heavy!” she moaned. “I’d be willing to trade backpacks with you,” I said, “but yours weighs about 25 pounds and mine weighs about 70.” Tears were forming in her eyes, so I stopped and said, pointing back to the parking lot, “Your mother and aunt just drove back to Anchorage going that-a-way. We’re hiking this-a-way,” pointing toward the mountains in the opposite direction. “When we get to the end of the trail in five days that’s where your mother and aunt will be waiting to pick us up.” “But Daddy . . .” she pleaded. I said, “If you like, we can just sit down here and wait with the hope that someone will come along and rescue us, or we can hike this trail and catch up with the rest and have a good time. I’ll let you decide.” And I sat down on the trail to wait. After a bit she realized I wasn’t kidding, so she mumbled, “Okay,” and started down the trail.

The rest of the morning was a constant complaint of the pack being too heavy, and the trail is rough, etc. We arrived at our first camp in time for lunch. Jenny saw the kids running around and playing so she dropped her pack and joined in the games. After lunch we headed out again. The moaning began once again and lasted throughout the afternoon until we broke for dinner. She played with the kids again before we hit the sack, only to start the process all over again the next morning. “Oh Daddy . . .” it began and lasted until our noon break. At that point she seemed to realize she wasn’t going to die out here, and she decided this was kind of fun.

While we were plodding along we were coming through what is known as “The Devil’s Pass.” The wind was blowing very hard and it was cold. Then we were pelted with hail. Since Jenny and I were still pulling up the rear, we decided to sit down and take cover until the hail stopped. John wandered back down the trail to check on us, but we were fine and enjoying the whole experience.

A special moment was when John baked a birthday cake over an open fire for Abi. It was something you had to see, but it worked and everyone helped polish it off. Delicious!

On the final day we stopped for lunch alongside a river with a cascade of waterfalls creating a pristine setting. But we had about five miles to go to reach the end, so we stepped out smartly knowing Isaura and Lynne would be picking us up soon. Jenny took off at a run trying to catch up with her sister and cousin. She suddenly stopped. I noticed the pack was hanging off her shoulder. The strap, which attached at the bottom part of the pack, had detached. I fiddled with it and finally jury-rigged it so Jenny could carry it, albeit, awkwardly. But she soldiered on without complaint.

The trail ended in a series of switch-backs through trees down into a parking lot. When Jenny saw that parking lot she took off running down the trail. As I watched her I also saw Lynne and Isaura drive into the parking lot. Fortunately, Lynne had the presence of mind to grab her camera. She took a picture of Jenny just as she broke out of the trees racing full tilt toward the car.

It was a wonderful experience for all of us. But what made it so special was the lesson Jenny learned. Since that day she has never hesitated to tackle difficult challenges. Today she’s married with two kids, and she is in a business partnership. And in her spare time she runs half-marathons!

That’s my girl!

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