One good sustaining tactic is to talk about the funny paint on some of the trees. And once a 3- or 4-year-old has the new word “blaze” in his or her head, then you can get a good little chunk of walking done by making that the charge: Find us the next trail blaze to make sure we don’t get off the trail.
Our first hike, as another grandchild ages into semi-readiness for such, is the Star Trail up the back side of Mill Mountain. It’s less than two miles, the climb is not steep, there’s a bench or three along the way, and you have the Star as a destination. Or even the zoo if you feel that ambitious. Plus your own picnic table to spread out lunch and rest before heading back down. (Or, if one small hiker or another isn’t ready for the return trek, a great spot to have a parent come pick him up.)
As the concept is understood by a person on the cusp of or just into elementary school, there are certain aspects that need to be emphasized and some that can get downplayed a little. Certainly the walking itself – often a great lure for the grandparent – is no attraction at all to the small walker. Which is why the lower Hoop Hole Trail (off of U.S. 220 just north of Eagle Rock) is our second-challenge hike for tikes.
The lure? This jump-in hole where the rock is right at the point where a 6-year-old, say, has to work a bit to get his nerve up to jump off the eight-foot drop into very cold stream water. A summertime hike, obviously, and the loop is, at four miles, only a tiny bit longer than the about-three of the up and back on the Star Trail. But the trail is rockier, and steeper in spots, and if you do the longer section of the loop first (gotta earn your fun and your lunch), then you walk about three miles before you stop. The swimming hole is a little obscured, and down a sometimes-muddy steep hillside. But it’s worth it for the 6-12-year-old in many persons of, especially, the male persuasion.
Beyond four miles and beyond maybe 9 years old, the picture can change, and seems to go in one direction or the other: I’ve had enough dumb walking; or, I sort of get this, at least, and I am willing, even if mostly just to please Papa and Gigi more than anything else, to go longer, and even for a less kid-oriented payoff. Which is where you oversell to heck the difficulty and challenge of the Appalachian Trail up to McAfee Knob or the Andy Layne and AT up to Tinker Cliffs, at each of which the payoff is, uh, a dumb view. Well, some pretty cliffy rocks too, on which you can scare your grandma all to heck.
Both of those hikes are just under 8 miles up and down. But by this point, the younger hikers are carrying not only their own backpacks, but also their own choice of supplies for lunch, which can include – hey, they’ve earned it – candy and soda! Having your own water bladder – with ice – is a good help at this step too.
You get them to the point of having done that set, then you have them on the edge of where our oldest two are now: Possessors of overnight packs, pads, layers and more, and ready to go out into the daggone wintertime, up to 4,000 feet through the snow to an AT shelter to sleep overnight outside.
With their dads, of course, as Papa and Gigi will be walking to dinner and back to the warm house.