For the past two years my kids and I have participated in the Hike Lake County Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to hike seven of the 12 designated trails in the Lake County Forest Preserves. The trails range in length from one to two miles. The hikes need to be completed between Aug. 15 and Nov. 30 of the given year. Once you complete the hikes you can turn in your travel log to get a free commemorative shield for your walking stick.
Now, we don’t have any walking sticks, but my kids are determined to get those commemorative shields. Last year we hiked only five of seven trails and they were rather disappointed that we didn’t meet our goal. But, we hadn’t begun our hikes until mid-October. This year, we started in August and only have one trail left to hike. We will get our shields this year.
We’ve experienced extremes in weather over the two months that we’ve participated. Last week we struggled through a 1.6-mile cloudy, cold, windy hike with our hoods up and gloves on. In September, we hiked on one of the hottest days of the year. It was 95 degrees in the afternoon sun at Cuba Marsh.
It was on this very hot hike that my sons got lost.
My sons, ages 9 and 7, got ahead of my daughter and I and apparently turned the wrong way on the clearly marked path. She and I followed the markers and made our way back to our car. The boys weren’t there. They had no water with them and a storm was approaching.
I wasn’t completely freaking out because the park isn’t that big and it’s not heavily wooded – more prairie-like than forest. But I was worried about setting off to try to find them, only to have them come back to the car and not see me there. Would they get back on the trail again, leading us to follow each other around in circles until we were dehydrated, drenched from the rain or electrocuted from lightning?
As I walked back on the path toward the first turn, I decided that I would call my husband in five minutes if I didn’t find them and then I would call the police. I felt confident that we would find them, but needed a second person to meet them if they came from the other direction.
We continued walking on the path, rounding curves as we went. No sign of them around the first curve. No sign of them around the second curve. No sign of anyone around any curves. Then my mind started to really worry. What if one of those hikers that we passed earlier took them? No stop that. They’re fine. They’re just wandering around.
At that moment, I saw them round the next curve. They appeared hot and tired, but OK. We had only been separated for about 20 minutes, but it’s amazing the thoughts that can run through your mind in such a short period of time. We discussed how dangerous it is for them to walk so far ahead of me and that they should keep me in sight at all times. They were scared enough to heartily agree. We left the forest preserve just as the rain and lightning began.
We’ve hiked five more trails since that hot and scary hike. They have stayed close by on every single one. Seems we all learned a good lesson the fairly easy way.