Thank god he was as tall as me now, with a wiry, tensile strength. The thirty extra pounds I lugged around were bad enough without adding in my day pack’s weight. Which now dangled from my young son’s arm, waving jauntily to me as he disappeared around a bend, little puffs of dirt exploding under his feet. If I were him, I’d be relieved to run ahead, too.
Earlier, he had carried most of my weight as my hip kept giving out at the worst moments, those moments usually involving narrow ledges with deep ravines. After I slipped on shale for the third time, my son looped an arm around my waist, holding me upright over the slippery stuff. I had hesitated to take his help before deciding this was no time for pride or there would be a fall. A long one. And painful. Besides, I had certainly carried him often enough when he was little. turn about was fair play, yes?
The last tricky passageway navigated, with only gentle forest trail remaining for the last mile or so, he fairly vibrated with eagerness to keep moving. I shooed him ahead, pulling out my water bottle. The slosh was reassuring, but once I held it up, I could see how low the level was in the bottle. Just enough for a nip, no more, I decided. The water was warm and flat, but even so, it was still nectar to my parched mouth and throat. It trickled slowly down, landing in my startled stomach which gurgled in — I hoped — delight.
I sighed in relief. Just to stand still for a time was a blessing. Even with the weight of the late summer heat pushing down on me. Between the heat and the stillness, I had the sense of being slowly baked in an oven. The scent of rising sap, sure sign of a forest preparing for its long winter nap, did nothing to dispel the notion. Instead, it brought to mind the morning’s long digested pancake breakfast, smothered in butter and maple syrup. My stomach gurgled again, this time in protest of imminent starvation and I patted it ruefully.
My shirt stuck in a damp, sticky mess to my belly, and I pinched the cloth between two fingers, pulling it off my skin and tying it into a knot under my breasts. It was hot enough that the birds had gone to ground. While the fir and pine trees offered shade, they also had the curious ability to hold in the warmth, as well as all obnoxious, biting bugs. Consequently, every few steps, I would encounter yet another swarm of gnats or stinging insect.
Of which, a particularly persistent one was dive-bombing me as I stood still on the trail. Irritably, I batted away the critter hovering in front of my nose. Time to move on before the thing landed and bit.