Larson, who is 7, is having a great adventure long before the stick appears in his right hand. When it does, though, the staff seems to push him over the top.
“Are you missing your video games?” I ask. Before the hike, his mom, Jayne Back, confides that Larson has quite the video game addiction.
Larson looks at me, incredulous, like 7-year-olds are want to do when confronted with a ridiculous question by a grown-up.
“The question is,” he corrects, using his stick for emphasis, “ ‘Why weren’t you on the Forest Trail?’ ”
Video games? What video games? We’re talking true adventure here!
Larson and Jayne were one of two mom/kid combos on a recent Hike NC hike on a stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Hillsborough. The perception is that in order to get kids away from their electronics and into the outdoors, you need to drag them kicking and screaming. In the case of the Backs, who live in Durham, it was more a matter of planting the seed in advance. Getting it in Larson’s weekly planner, if you will.
“I told him early in the week, we’re going on a hike Saturday,” says Jayne, who is 40. When the time came, he was ready, if not excited. That would happen shortly after setting foot on the trail.
Once in the outdoors, most kids love the experience. It’s just mustering the parental energy for that initial confrontation. That, adds, Jayne, on top of being drained by an exhausting week at work and the demands of daily domestic life, from getting the kids ready for school, to getting them home, to fixing dinner, to making sure they do their homework.
“Usually on Saturdays we tend to be indoor couch potatoes,” Jayne says of the family, which includes a 5-year-old daughter and Jayne’s husband, James, who is 51.
Of James’ absence, she says, “He said he was just too tied from the week to hike. And I understand that. But this is one thing that can energize you and restore you at the end of the week. The stress of the workweek, of dealing with the kids, it’s hard. It leads to stress-eating and a lack of energy.”
On this hike, the 3.65 miles goes quickly, with so much to see along the way. This section of trail includes a two-story stick-structure by artist Patrick Dougherty; passage by Hillsborough’s long-gone African American community (the only remnant of which is the row of hardwoods that separated the black and white sections of town; the even longer-gone Occoneechee native American village, currently being reconstructed; a sidebar to the Historic Occoneechee Speedway, a half-mile oval that hosted some of Nascar’s earliest races, from 1948 through 1968. And, Larson’s “Forest Trail.”
The Forest Trail was an option for the group’s more adventurous hikers. Larson, of course, was on board. So was mom. There were close encounters with the Eno River, a felled tree to cross, possibly a wolf. Larson, again, was incredulous that anyone would pass up such an opportunity. So, in the end, was his mom.
“I grew up in Aiken, South Carolina and we were always in the backyard playing,” Jayne says near the end of the hike. “This made me feel like a kid again.”
Hike NC is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina initiative to get more people hiking North Carolina’s beautiful trails. Learn about the program and sign up for a hike at gohikenc.com.