As we rounded the final corner of the trail, I fully expected that angels would sing from the heavens once I saw the teahouse. I assumed I’d feel a sense of accomplishment, not unlike those marathoners barely able to limp across the finish line whilst convulsing from fatigue.
[And yes, I am comparing myself to a marathoner. In fact, during the entire arduous journey, I decided that from now on I would tell people I’ve run a marathon. ‘Moderate six mile hike with small children in adverse weather conditions equals marathon.’]
But there was no ‘oh man was that worth it‘ moment. Instead, I looked up, saw the brown-stone-and-log-structure and kept going until I reached the [incredibly steep] stairs leading to the second floor of the teahouse.
Here’s how I wanted the experience to unfold. I wanted to arrive at a teahouse that looked like an upscale ski lodge. I wanted to sit down with our friends near a roaring fire and laugh – wearily – about our folly. I wanted to order fat slices of the best cake on the planet, and drink cafe au lait from a bowl bigger than my head. I wanted to consume baked brie with apples and crusty baguette. And then, when I was stuffed to the gills and thoroughly warmed from the fire, I’d figure out how to get a job so I wouldn’t have to leave.
Instead, the teahouse, situated at 7000 feet above sea level was more ‘nondescript and rustic’ than upscale. And all (25?!) seats inside were taken up by other weary hikers. Which means we had to sit outside. In the freezing cold air I’d hoped to escape. I glanced at the posted menus for the ominous ‘cash only’ verdict, but found nothing. So I ordered sweets and beverages for the four of us. And I ordered soup for our sedentary, semi-frozen baby.
And then we found out it was a cash-only-establishment. And we ‘only’ had $72…for four adults and five kids. Our friend kindly asked the girl who’d taken our order to run a total for us. She came back and delivered the news: we’d ordered $81 worth of food. Which means we had the embarrassing task of ‘canceling’ parts of our order.
No soup for you!
We ate our decidedly average cake in hurried silence. I was so desperate to get out of the cold, that I willingly left the teahouse. Some of the hiking party availed themselves to the restroom. ‘It’s a [literal] pit,’ my friend warned. And I decided I could wait until we got back to the parking lot.
Unfortunately, Percy could not wait and I had the distinct privilege of changing his poopy diaper. Outside. (No debit machines and no Koala Bear changing stations.) The Hen, who’d been a champ at potty training, suddenly announced he had to pee. ‘Sorry, honey, you’ll need to pee in your pants,’ I told him, undoing in one moment what had taken me a week to accomplish. Luckily I’d ‘secretly replaced’ his Spiderman underoos with a Huggies #5 at the start of our hike.
We had neither raingear nor proper footwear, but at least we had mittens and diapered children!
Thus we Johnsons began our descent. The professor got the privilege of pushing the Hen in the stroller. I got the privilege of carrying the 21 lb baby in the Bjorn.
And the Gort and his five year old friend got the privilege of walking. A hiker passed us on his way to the teahouse. ‘Look at all these great kids!’ he exclaimed, motioning towards the four boys. ‘And your husband is a jock!’ he told me. ‘He’s not ours,’ I pointed to our green-slickered friend, lest the guy think we had FOUR kids. ‘I mean, he’s great, but he belongs to our friends,’ I restated, ‘and my husband is crazy.’
Several minutes later, an older German woman passed us on her way down. ‘You’re doing this hike with four boys?’ she asked incredulously. I smiled and shrugged, accepting her admiration (judgement?)
While stumbling down the mountain, I racked my brain to come up with a suitably affordable incentive to entice me down the hill. Fudge, I decided. When we got back to the car, I would drive directly to Banff and purchase a chunk of fudge from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate shop. And consume the whole thing without feeling a semblance of guilt.
‘If you walk all the way back to the car I will buy you fudge’, I promised my oldest, who didn’t know what fudge was, but assumed it would be tasty. In an effort to keep momentum going, I made up a chant for my sidekicks.
Fudge….and horse-poop. Horse, poop, and fudge. Fudge…and horse-poop. Horse, poop, and fudge.
Because the five and six-year-old set may not know what fudge is. But they like to say poop. And, goodness, knows, that trail had an abundance of it.
So, why not combine the two things into an awesome chant? I needed something besides ‘The Locomotion’ to spur me on.
Fortunately it takes less time to climb down a mountain than it takes to ascend one. Unfortunately there is the tiny matter of aging knees and shins, and feet ensconced in ‘fashion sneakers’, all balking at the un-ergonomical business of walking on an uneven downward slope.
By the time we reached the trail by the Lake, I could barely walk. And my arms were numb from holding up the Bjorn in an effort to relieve my throbbing lower back.
We ran into the German woman, again. ‘You had four and now you have three,’ she exclaimed. Clearly confused by the conspicuous absence of our green-slickered friend. ‘No, he belongs to our friends who are walking behind us,’ I clarified, losing her admiration in the process.
When we got to the car, it was 5.46pm. We had walked for five hours. My six year old had walked six miles. ‘I never want to go to the mountains, ever again,’ he announced.