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So.

Um.

We survived.

The kids and I. Our single overnight in Mount Rainier National Park on Sunday at Cougar Rock Campground. We’d been back from Alder Lake long enough to drag the sleeping bags to the wash machine, grab dad around the waist and repack the cooler.

The sun was hot. August hot. And without attention to how beat up our bodies already were from limited sleep and gravel beds, I blew a nervous kiss to Husband and eased out the driveway giddily wracked with anticipation about what we’d find or what we wouldn’t. With cell coverage at zero, we’d be ridin’ it out like the olden days.

Bring on the mountain.

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Where Alder Lake, 48 hours before, was like camping on our concrete driveway with our six nearest neighbors, all avoiding eye contact, Cougar Rock, gave the semblance of privacy, even if was just the addition of a few skinny trees that made us think so.

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Now this one.

Maybe not the most helpful person in a pair of flip flops to unload the van. But certainly the most single-minded on building a fire.

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Only we weren’t lighting a fire yet.

Because.

Because it seemed reasonable–at the time–to hike to Narada Falls 3 miles away. Just me and the the kids. Beginning at 5 p.m.

Hit me with a hammer. Now.

The trailhead for both Carter Falls (1.1 miles in) and Narada Falls (2.7 miles in) begins across the main road from our campground.

Here is the start of the trail, which first drops down into the Nisqually River bed and, via this bridge, crosses the Nisqually River.

Lots of people make it this far (200 yards from their car), take twenty pictures and then turn around.

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And…there’s something to that. That take a picture and turn around bit. At least late in the afternoon. With weary children.

We weren’t ten inches into the hike–I was still reading the trailhead sign–when this one lost her footing on the rocks, exchanged her elbow for a goose egg and then sobbed harder when the cuts on her leg started to bleed.

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Which didn’t seem like reason enough to stop before we’d really started. Heh.

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And so we made it first to the Carter Falls sign.

Which is truly just the sign…

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As you don’t even get a peek at the falls unless you keep walking.

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And we made it past a few bridges.

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But fifteen more minutes beyond this bridge, we succumbed.

Victory to the bugs.

When whatever winged things dive-bombed, we swatted. And when we took off in a zig-zag, they pursued.

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And so with just a half mile from the falls, we turned our backs.

Which may have been the only wise thing I’d sanctioned all afternoon.

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It was in this setting sunshine that I realized how much I’d asked of these two. How much their legs had given. How little left they had to give. And how close to the edges of their eyes their tears were.

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Around the last corner, it’s these familiar rocks–that without any formation–spell, “Welcome Home!”

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And it’s the rush of the Nisqually that shouts, “You made it!”

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And it’s true.

Even for the parts of us that look kind of bleak.

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But the day’s isn’t over until there’s flame.

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Brought to us by this one.

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And the morning isn’t morning without a similar flame at 6 a.m.

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We aren’t hiking today. And one of us isn’t even changing his shirt. But we are visiting the bridge again.

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And all these rocks.

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We’re even momentarily clinging for dear life to the ones we can’t live without.

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And we’re putting effort into one last smile.

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Because when we turn this last time, it’s to leave the rocks, the river, the mountain for those who follow in our wake.

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