Ever since my kids could walk, hiking has been one of our favorite family activities. We have even had week long vacations in mountainous areas where we hiked to different lodges each day. We all had our special walking sticks which we whittled and painted ourselves. At each lodge we would buy the metal badges to nail on to our sticks. Actually, the girls and I did it – my husband refused. He said that was something for the German tourists and no self-respecting Austrian would partake. He also would start speaking in a thick German accent every time we walked into a lodge. (“Mensch! Hier ist es ja spitze! Und die Pfannkuchen sind lecker!”) We ignored him and kept collecting our badges and working toward our Golden Hiking Pins. And I am glad, because not only did these badges work as a motivation for the girls, but they also turned our walking sticks into little treasures that I will keep until I die.
When the girls were very young, one of our favorite routes was the Teichalm-Sommeralm route in Styria. It begins going uphill for the first hour – but nothing too strenuous – and then after the peak, there is a long slow downhill walk through the fields of happily grazing cows, forests and streams. The tavern at the end is lovely and has great food. We chose this kid-friendly route months ago when we were planning a hiking day with 6 other families, all with kids ranging from 2 to 15 years old. It was scheduled for today, but during the past week, one family after another bailed out for various reasons. The weather forecast did not look that rosy either. Yesterday, our girls worked up the courage to tell us they also didn’t really want to go – especially now that all the older kids in the pack had dropped out too. My husband is a sentimental family guy. He took it sort of hard at first, but then said he understood. Secretly, I wanted to bail too, but I didn’t have the heart to do that to him.
So this morning we got up early, and as our daughters slept happily, we got dressed, packed our provisions, put Dog Four in the back of the car (Dog Three is too old for a hike of this length) and took off. It was eerily quiet in the car. That was the moment of realization: we now, officially, were raising teenagers. It was the first time they hadn’t wanted to go along. Our life of being a twosome again was beginning. This was our future. Him, me, and our grandchild dog.
My husband repeated his statement from the previous evening that he understood why they didn’t want to come. I think he was trying to convince himself. We talked about the girls for the entire hour-long drive.
“Actually, we are lucky they went along with us for as long as they did,” I said to him. “And they still like spending time with us, you know. There will be more hikes.”
He was silent.
“And there will be grandchildren,” I added.
“Yeah, maybe. In about ten years from now.”
When we arrived at the starting point and met up with the other families, my husband put on a brave face and joked about our state of shock at being childless. He announced that this was our first tour as an old senior citizen couple. We let Dog Four out of the car and she promptly ran off, ignoring our calls. We wished, once again, that we had done a better job of training her. That Montessori-style Puppy School we took her to a couple of times hadn’t done the trick. I chased her around the tavern for a while until she pooped in the middle of the playground. I sighed and went to clean it up.
And then something happened. She came over to me and sat down, letting me put the leash on her. We set off and noticed that she was great with the kids, didn’t bother other hikers, and didn’t seem to even notice the cows. Could we risk letting her off the leash? We decided to try and from that moment on, she was . . . perfect. She came when we called. She never went more than 100 yards away from us. She even heeled when necessary. She approached other unleashed dogs in a carefully friendly way and played with them nicely. People actually made comments to us about how well trained she is.
My husband noted that she is only one year old, adding “so we should have her for at least another ten years.”