Last month I took my oldest daughter for a hike on her day off from school. As we made our way to the fire tower on Bays Mountain, it struck me that it was almost six years to the day that my husband and I took her on her first hike. On the exact same trail.
Only six weeks old, we swaddled her tightly and covered her bald head with a cap. Snuggled securely in the Bjorn, she slept the entire time, her face turned to the skies.
Sleep-deprived and in dire need of the rejuvenation only Vitamin D and single track can provide, we made our way to the fire tower. I followed nervously as my husband climbed the rickety steps to the platform. We took in the view and shared a kiss over our daughter’s head, elated to share our love for hiking with her for the first time.
Six years later, my daughter runs ahead of me, her long legs eating trail with astonishing ease. We stop for photos, and she poses, hand on hip, a sassy smile spreading across her rosy cheeks. All semblance to the baby nestled against our chests is gone. Instead I see a heartbreakingly beautiful girl, eyes twinkling with mischief, sweet spirit radiating from within.
That night I reflected on the many treks my daughter has accompanied us on in the six years between those two hikes. From backyard jaunts on the AT to destination hikes in Hawaii and Costa Rica, my daughter has racked up the miles.
I remember the first time we bundled her up and strapped her into the jogger. With just her face peeking out from the blankets, she happily bounced along and promptly fell asleep.
At 11 months, she scaled the Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park on my husband’s back. Three years later, her little sister took her place in the kid carrier, and she climbed the rungs on her own.
At two, she hiked Indian Grave Gap to Beauty Spot on the Appalachian Trail. In a moment that has become family lore, our beloved dog stole half of a PB&J sandwich out of her hand.
Six months later, I ran alongside her as she completed her first mile race, in state record time. The experience completely changed my perspective on running, and I’ll never forget embracing her as she crossed the finish line.
As I reminisced on the amazing miles we’ve logged together, I also recalled the solo treks. My daughters weren’t physically present for those miles, but they accompanied me every step of the way.
I thought about hikes before sunrise, sneaking away while the girls slept to climb Mount Katahdin.
I recalled the Rocket City Marathon. The night before the race was the first time both my husband and I were away from our oldest at the same time. We ran the race in Boston-qualifying fashion and then suffered through a three-hour drive for a sweet reunion with our little girl.
Two years later and another daughter in tow, we ran the Richmond Marathon. When I saw my girls cheering for me at mile 21, a point in the race when my body and mind were breaking down, I stopped and embraced them in messy, salty hugs. My tears and sweat ran together, and fortified by their love and encouragement, I finished the race in a PR.
Whether they’re with us or not, we give the gift of miles to our daughters. It’s one way we share our love and passion.
We teach them that a day spent soaking in the scenery and celebrating miles together is the best day. That the burn of a hard climb is quickly forgotten when you reach the summit. That the sacrifices made to run and race are just another gift of health and happiness for our family.
As much as we’re giving our girls, I hope they read this someday and realize that they gave us so much more.
Every mile with our daughters is a priceless gift and a precious memory. A reminder of what’s really important in life.
With six years in the books, I can’t wait to see how many more miles and memories the future holds.