The Long Haul. With Kids.

This past weekend, while on a hike, Ali and I were talking about our Hiking Club Summer Bucket List. I told her I’d asked the other moms what they’d wanted to do this summer, and asked her what she wanted to do.

She lit up.

“I want to hike farther than I’ve ever hiked. I want to hike ten miles.”

“Okay! We can do that sometime this summer.”

“Actually I want to do it as soon as possible.”

It was supposed to be a pretty week and I’m a total enabler when it comes to a gorgeous hike, so I checked with our hiking club, warned that this was going to be the most we’d ever done and please only consider your oldest children for the hike, and began gathering supplies.

(A ten mile hike is no joke – especially when you’re going somewhat slow. You’re talking hours on the trail, and it requires water and snacks and provisions and probably a few band-aids.)

But somehow we got it all together AND convinced a few friends that this was a good idea in less than 48 hours, and on Monday morning, we met at Oak Mountain ready for the hike.

Five Moms. Four walking kids. Two riding babies.

We can do this.

I mean, maybe. Who knows.

No, we can do this.

We started out from the top of the ridge so that we didn’t have to climb any serious mountains, and gazed down from the cliffs at Peavine Falls, the bottom of which would be our glorious ending point.

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The first few miles were lovely and uneventful – the white trail at Oak Mountain is one of my favorites, as it is full of wildflowers and also runs by a stream. The peacefulness is on point.

When we got to our first trail crossing at 3ish miles, we decided it was time for snack. And also there was a good rock and fence post for a group photo – I could put my camera on the post, control it with my phone, and actually be in a photo. I didn’t know Noah dabbed right out the top of the photo, and I also wasn’t doing a good job hiding my phone. But it’s as good as a trail group photo gets.

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We took five photos.

This is the last photo.

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Notice Noah’s dab has morphed into a point-and-scream. But the rest of us haven’t changed a bit. Because his screams of “SNAKE!!!!” and pointing at our feet hasn’t made it to any of our brains yet.

(I don’t know how dabbing helped Noah see this unbelievably camouflage snake, but I will never complain about dabbing my pictures up ever again.)

A baby timber rattlesnake was somewhat perturbed at our rowdying up its rock, and had crawled out in a huff, then a minute later curled up in a ball and had his head up showing his decisively bad mood.

(I took pictures, of course, but as many people do not appreciate my snake photography, if you specifically want to see our one-rattle baby friend, you can click here.)

(You’re welcome, rest of y’all.)

We moved on quickly. We weren’t sure where his family lived, and since he was already so extremely irritable at such a young age, we could only imagine how special his mother’s moods must be.

Our next finds were much more amenable to our attention and presence. Or at least they didn’t have man-killing venom waiting to share, so we enjoyed their company a little bit more.

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In total, we found six toads (and only two peed on us), and this lovely dragon-esque Fence Lizard – note how his belly glows blue.

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He definitely had some leftover prehistoric fire and scales.

We kept moving, through the reeds, enjoying all of the vastly differing views of Oak Mountain. We took a couple wrong turns – one that was clearly the map’s fault, and the rest were most likely my fault.

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…And I did a hiking club first and fed a baby a bottle while walking through the woods.

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(For the record I was never a chill enough baby mama to hike with a baby. I am constantly amazed that Sarah is totally that person.)

We finally got back around to the Peavine Falls area. The original plan was to hike an extra half mile to come into the gorge from the side we were familiar with, and that was slightly less steep. But everyone was tired, we were already at 10 miles, and a shortcut is a shortcut is a shortcut even if it leads out with a sign like this.

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We followed the path down, but it looked just a bit off from what I thought should be there. We reached what should have been Peavine Falls, but instead it was a chute – a gorgeous, flowery, chute of water that was dying to be intertubed down, if we were slightly more daring than we actually are, and also had an intertube.

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I made the executive decision that the kids should play in the water while I tried to figure out where the crap we were. I didn’t know if we were upstream, downstream, around a bend, or exactly what from Peavine Falls, and I needed a minute.

The kids were happy to oblige.

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With some frantic texts to Chris and the studying of my exercise map on MapMyRun, I finally reached the conclusion that we were just *barely* downstream of Peavine Falls, and clearly I’d singlehandedly discovered Peavine Chute, which wasn’t so bad.

We slowly made our way up the trail to the falls, at which point all of us mothers were thrown back at once by a smell.

An overpowering, thick, we’re-about-to-step-in-something smell.

“Is that a skunk??”

“That sure smells like a skunk!!”

I looked around frantically. And then I saw it.

A group of hammocks, some wandering-slowly people…a zombie-ish look to the place.

“That’s not skunk. That’s weed.”

I scouted ahead to check it out.

It was, it seemed, a portable artist enclave. There were painters. There were aerial ropes with people hanging upside down. There were emotionless men with Hawaiian shirts hanging open. And there was a LOT of smoke.

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We wandered carefully into the falls area, completely killing their buzz, while they did likewise for us.

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That Peavine Chute had been a gift of quiet serenity just for us. But we managed to get in the falls and stake our claim, having a little fun before we hiked up and out.

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Our last find of the day happened nearly at the parking lot, and Noah was the spotter once more.

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A massively huge Luna Moth, who was more than happy to let us observe her from all of her magnificent angles.

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Our final mileage was 11.2 miles. It took 6 hours. And these four kids never once whined. They even THANKED me for the hike.

180430 Oak Mountain 11.2 miles IMG_6792 s(But enjoyed sure sitting down for a Pokemon trade afterward.)

It was all a true hiking miracle.

Ali logged our hike as she went along in her Trail Notes book, and this was her summary page of the day. IMG_1481

Yup, I think she covered everything.

The Prodigal Fitbit Daughter.

I had been a happy FitBit wearer for three years. It motivated me, gave me beautifully geeky tracking tools, created new friendships, and fed my obsession with statistics.

Yet, at the beginning of October, I replaced my FitBit with an Apple Watch.

And then, on December 22, I found myself 126% overjoyed because I convinced Apple to give me a full refund for my Piece-Of-Crapple Watch (even though it was way out of its return period), and I bought myself a new FitBit.

Here is the story of that massive life turning point, if you happen to care.

I am an Apple person. I have a MacBook Pro, Chris has bought me every new iPhone since the 4 (except this year because what was the stupid deal with the 8 and X? And what if I wanted a 9??), and we have a couple iPads in the house. I love Apple products. So this year, instead of getting a new iPhone (8 or X, 8 or X, how can I make that decision?), I decided to try the watch. It was the first year that the watch had cellular, and I dreamed of being able to run, and track my runs, and answer texts and calls, without my giant iPhone 7 Plus strapped to my arm.

And after all – it’s Apple, so it has to work even better than a FitBit, right?

I almost changed my mind due to the heart rate monitoring. Although Apple said they gave this watch the feature of being able to let you know if you had heart issues (sounds like it’d have to be pretty accurate to do that), it also said it only checked your heart rate every ten minutes (how is that helpful.) For someone who had become accustomed to her FitBit checking her heart rate continuously (and for someone who has an illness that can be partially managed by tracking the heart rate and adjusting life to “fix” it when needed), this every ten minutes bit seemed stingy.

But surely Apple was better than FitBit. How could it not be? IT’S APPLE.

I’m sure the Apple watch is just lovely for people who use it for other things. Or for people who are not used to the supremacy of FitBit. But if you’re a FitBit loyalist and think you can get the same brilliantly simplistic tools out of Apple, you will be disappointed.

The first weekend I had mine, I could not get anything I wanted.

…It was checking my heart rate even less than it advertised – sometimes going 45 minutes between checks.
…The cellular didn’t work most of the time.
…The app I used to track runs (MapMyRun) didn’t get along with the Apple Cellular, and the app Apple preferred you to use (Nike+) didn’t get along with my app, which had all my historical data in it.
…The heart rate monitor would be wildly inaccurate, giving a reading of 220, immediately followed by 53. How are they supposed to be able to let you know if you have unusual spikes in heart rate if a.) they hardly ever measure it, and b.) when they do, it’s insanely wrong? FitBit figured my calorie burn based on my heart rate, whether accurate or not, and I loved that. How possibly could Apple even think they were doing that?
…The information the watch offered was both way too detailed to be useful and not giving the easy details I was used to, and therefore was not in the least bit motivating.
…The apps I use while I run, such as Spotify and Audible, did not have watch apps. So no music or books on tape while running.
…I had to charge the watch every…dang…day.

The only benefit I’d seen from the watch was the ability to text from the watch. And that was not worth what I’d paid for it and what I’d given up for it.

But I had made this decision, and I wanted it to work. I spent at least eight hours on the phone and on chat with Apple support that first weekend, methodically walking them through all of the problems with the watch interface. I had thrilling conversations such as when they told me to change a privacy setting so they could do a test…

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And…

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For some reason I believed them when they told me that it would get better, and that the heart rate data was accurate, and that the data was saving even if it didn’t show on my watch that it was.

I spent money on at least eight apps just trying to get the simple interface that FitBit had always given me so effortlessly.

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Most of the apps were wildly information-overload with little actually useful information. I’m not a car. I don’t need five odometers. I want graphs.

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One App even had a man who got fatter and skinnier throughout the day based on your activity – not the feeling I was going for.

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The app called Healthview nearly gave me what I wanted,

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But not a single app in the world could take the ugly Apple Watch heart rate data and give me the nice, simple, daily graphs that FitBit gave me.

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I adored those graphs. I loved seeing those periods of red and knowing that I had run, and run well. I loved seeing every day stacked on top of the ones before it.

This was Apple’s idea of a weekly heart rate graph:

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HOW is that helpful??

And the weird daily bar graph just wasn’t the same.

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It did nothing to satisfy the desires of my over-analytical needs. And it just made my heart cry out for its old companion.

But I had paid a lot of money for that watch and I had missed the return window trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, so I tried my best to have a good attitude about it, and to convince myself that I liked it, that it was useful, and that I did not miss FitBit as if it were my soldier husband who was gone on a twenty-year deployment.

It was grocery shopping for Christmas that finally did me in. Noah and I had a lot to buy, and we were in the grocery store for a record long (for me) 45 minutes. As we walked up to the checkout line, I glanced at my watch. It hadn’t taken my heart rate the entire time.

Which meant I got no calorie burning credit for ALL THAT SHOPPING.

And if you can’t have an app tell you that you burned calories, did you even burn calories at all?

I quickly went into the raw data in the health kit of the phone (as the techs had taught me to do, when they were proving my data was there all along), and “AHA”’ed with malice.

 

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My data was not there. The watch was useless.

I threw the groceries in the car in angry passion and immediately called Apple support. I told them their watch didn’t do what it was advertised to do and I just wanted to go back to FitBit SOOOOOO bad and please please please give me my money back.

The very kind and understanding Apple Senior Support Specialist put me on hold to confirm what the advertising said. She came back and said “Well they’ve changed the advertising to no longer say that it checks your heart rate every ten minutes. Now it says that it checks it regularly while you’re sitting, and occasionally while you’re active.”

(What even is the use of that?!)

She put me on hold again.

By the time that I had driven home, unloaded the groceries, cleaned out the Thanksgiving leftovers from the fridge to make room for the Christmas groceries, she returned with The Best News.

“The sales department has agreed to let you return the watch as a one-time courtesy since it doesn’t do as it was advertised at this time. You will get a full refund.”

I had tried not to allow myself to dream of this moment. But I had, and in my dream, I imagined that I would feel some sadness toward losing the Apple Watch.

But that imagining was wrong.

I whooped with joy and immediately got online, ordered myself the top of the line FitBit Ionic watch (I had given my former Altra HR Chris), set it to be picked up at the local Target, went to Target on the Friday before Christmas, and had my new FitBit Watch on as I drove to FedEx to ship my worthless Apple Watch back to whence it had come.

And I had $130 left over.

I am overjoyed to be reunited with my pleasing graphs and charts and my FitBit friends and challenges. The Ionic can do nearly everything I used my Apple Watch for, except better. AND now my FitBit system is significantly upgraded to be able to GPS track my exercise. The only two things I lost were the ability to talk to Siri (I can do that on my phone) and my ability to text from the watch (which I rarely used.)

And I am SO happy.

So, FitBit, I am sorry for ever leaving you, and for ever doubting that Apple could do it better. It was wrong. You are my Fitness Father. It won’t happen again.

A Journalled Year.

This delightful kid turned eleven yesterday.

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Ali recorded her year much better than I did, so I thought we’d tell the story together.

January 2017: her tenth birthday, and when she finally allowed me to start calling her a tween.

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Also, she made sure to record her little brother’s fairly impressive abilities.

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February: She’s always up for a craft project of any kind. In fact, she may craft harder than anyone has ever crafted in the history of craftswomanship.

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She also ran her third 5K (and began feeling eerily close to me in the height department.)

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In her February writings, she took the time to express her lifelong displeasure in the Chick-Fil-A cow’s ability to spell. (She has long told me that she thinks it’s just awful that they teach little kids how to spell wrong. I did not know, until reading her diary, that she uses them as a scapegoat for her own spelling missteps. It’s fair.)

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March: She’s always excited about any adventure and more willing than ever to take risks and try new things.

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She also recorded this fairly quirky moment.

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If you can’t end a story of inexplicable mouth bleeding with TTYL, are you really tweening?

April: She’s a model oldest cousin,

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She’s cool enough for awesome sunglasses but not too cool to bury her Dad,

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And she doesn’t believe in spoilers. Even in one’s personal diary.

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May: Who needs water shoes to walk on a rocky riverbed? Not ten year olds.

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Ali finished her Alabama History project with flourish,

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Our last field trip involving standing under one of Alabama’s finest accomplishments.

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She always loves reading,

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And, when necessary to tell the story correctly, she believes in a good, solid illustration of crying and injured children.

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(And, if you cannot properly see the injury due to scale of drawing, by all means show a magnification.)

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June: She’s an angel. Especially when compared to her competition.

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She’s still 100% committed to her literal lifelong best friend, AJ.

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And she realized that she likes having a pictoral journal of herself, so is willing to pose for any picture, including holding a giant peach that most believe to actually be a giant peach-colored butt.

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Also, ants are the worst, no matter what your age – mainly because it only takes 180 seconds to go from digging up sassafras roots to being the proud owner of a cluster of ant bites.

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July: Ali decided she was going to become a woodcarver when she grew up, so Pop took her to get whittling tools (with which I managed to mortally wound myself but she uses still unscathed), and she began her career on soap, as one does.

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…Which is less dangerous than her backup careers – snake charmer,

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or supervillain.

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She also managed to record her brother’s most humiliating moment of the month,

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Along with a total stranger’s:

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August: She continued being a helpful cousin,

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A helpful photographical muse,

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And a helpful sister.

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She also recorded her once-in-a-childhood opportunity to experience a partial eclipse (I know, I know – we should have driven up to the total eclipse. I still have regret.)

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September: Ali started the Fifth Grade, which sounds super old.

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Her excitement for adventures-in-the-woods went a bit manic like mine does every fall, which was quite convenient.

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And, lucky for her father, her joy from football also grew twelve sizes. Except when she gets stung by mysterious creatures.

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She also realized The Way Things Are with Alabama Football.

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October: Our multi-weekly hikes kept her a step ahead of her friends,

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And she cracked the code to happiness.

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November:

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She volunteered at Habitat for (Fairy) Humanity and built a house from the ground up,

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She discovered the joy of coffee (when liberally creamered),

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And she truly Became One With The Fall.

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Also, her football commentary and illustration abilities became ESPN-Ready.

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December:

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She perfected the art of climbing a tree that clearly wanted to be climbed,

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She got to make a fantastic December snowman,

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And she helped me get kids to smile for Christmas photoshoots,

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Including when that kid was just simply her brother.

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Also, her nonchalant ability to move on after documenting illegal residents is a lesson to me in not sweating the small (and furry) stuff.

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January 2018: Her basketball career is flourishing.

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Our long bout of sub-freezing weather has fascinated her, making her eager for a daily adventure to experience this wild and wonderful Natural Ice.

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She is and will continue to be my eager adventure partner,

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Along with my equal-sharing partner in pants, socks, shirts, jackets, hairstyles, and very nearly height.

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I, for one, am quite excited to see where the year of eleven takes us.