I almost die. Again. Because I clearly think I’m 25. And fit.

It’s no secret that I hate living in the Bay Area. But that isn’t because of a deficit of natural beauty. In fact, some of it is strikingly gorgeous, abundant with glory. So, about once a month, my girls and I pack a few snacks and water bottles, and head off for a day in the woods, the beach, or the mountains. We spend a few hours walking, we see all kinds of pretty, and we come away having spent some quality family time.

And then there’s the thing that happens about once a year, where I think I’m ten years younger than I am and a lot more fit than I’ve ever been. And this nearly leads to my death.

Okay, not literally to my death, but I do push myself too far in significant fashion. The bad thing is that my girls are now teenagers. Unlike times in the past where I can play off my realization that I’ve clearly put myself in a bad sitch, they totally see through the BS now. This weekend marked my annual “Don’t kid yourself” self-realization adventure. The intention: a 2-3 hour hike with my girls to see a waterfall in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The reality: a 5-6 hour epic failure of my ability to estimate the conjunction of time and distance. It went something like this:

1. After a breakfast in Saratoga Village and a 45 minute car drive into the Santa Cruz mountains. The words, “Oh! I love waterfalls! Can we take this route?” are spoken by one whose name I’ll withhold to protect the innocent.
2. At thirty minutes in, I try to curb D2’s enthusiasm that the trail so far has been predominately downhill, telling her it won’t all be so. I don’t realize how gruesomely prophetic these words are.
3. Thinking we’ve got a mass of ground behind us, we take a water and snack break at the one-hour mark. This trip also marked the first time we used our new camel pack. We had one pack between us. We thought this is plenty. We are so, so wrong, but won’t know this for two more hours.
4. Wanting to speed up the pace, I convince the girls to jog down the parts of the trail that are smooth and downhill. Secretly it’s because I want to stop by the thrift shops in Boulder Creek, but I tell them it’s so I can take them to ice cream and coffee before the shops close.
5. We see our first steady-flowing stream on the forest floor. The waterfall can’t be too far away now, can it?
6. Two hour mark. This is when the first whining occurs. Again, the whiner(s) shall remain nameless. Her age shall also not be identified as 12.
7. Double waterfall across the ground!
8. This is where, leading my girls, I took us on a wrong turn. I won’t admit this for another hour.
9. Remember that scene from Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise is dangling off the side of a cliff and his hand slips, nearly leading to his death?
10. At 3.5 hours, we run out of water. Hope is not far behind.
11. This is where God sets up his practical joke. After spending a little over an hour climbing 600 vertical feet, the trail begins to take a downward slope.
12. In the back of my mind, I wonder if my husband, sitting with ample drinking water in our house thirty miles away, will miss me when I’m dead.
13. God pulls the punchline. The trail starts to look like an escalator with trees. Ha, ha, God.
14. The phrase “I need to sit a moment and catch my breath” becomes my new catch phrase.
15. Not for the first time, D1 comments about the beauty of the mushrooms that grow wild in the area. Realizing she’s to leave for college in less than six months, I ask her if her interest in fungi should concern me.
16. This is the point at which I instruct my children to go on without me, giving them the keys to the car and telling them to rehydrate themselves once they get back to the park lodge. I’m hoping it’s not the last time I see them.
17. Not only is the trail steep and climbing, there’s a thousand-year-old redwood tree that’s come down on it. I shimmy over it as gracefully as I can, but I’m convinced I’m now guilty of adultery after our encounter.
18. At five hours, this experience is now as long as my second labor. Guess which of the two events involved less pain. I look like an extra from The Walking Dead at this point.
19. I hear voices, and think that my dehydration is getting the better of me.
20. At 5 hours, 30 minutes, I stumble from the woods. D1 has refilled the camel pack and runs across the parking lot to me. I collapse in between an Escalade and a Volvo, and swear I will never do this again.

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