Earlier this year my wife and I were trying to plan a vacation that everyone in the immediate family could be part of. It is not an easy task when we have one son that lives in Illinois, one working in Tennessee, another recently returned to the fold and working all over the place, and lots of their weeks and weekends were already designated for other adventures. Not to mention a grandson’s band practice and 4-H schedule, plus commitments my wife and I have.
Someone finally suggested Hocking Hills and we were able to squeeze in a four-day, three-night excursion. When I say squeeze in, that might be an understatement. My wife and I and one son and his wife arrived at our cabin early on a Thursday afternoon. Another son and the grandson arrived late Thursday night. And the third son arrived late Friday night.
It took some planning, but we all made it, and for the first time in many years the whole family was together. It was good.
I had heard of Hocking Hills, but had never been there, and for some reason I thought it was somewhere over by the Eastern Ohio border. I was happily surprised when I found out it wasn’t nearly that far. Then another surprise came the next morning when I learned that something has changed drastically from the time I was in my early 20s and three-plus decades later.
I knew a good bit of hiking through somewhat rugged terrain was going to be involved, and I was good with that. In my earlier years I did a fair amount of cliff climbing and repelling, and I was looking forward to the exercise. So on the first full day the youngsters picked out a route and off we went.
When we arrived at our first destination we started down a trail. Before long we came to a split in the path with two options – a 2.5-mile hike or a 1-mile hike. I had not paid much attention to the signs, and since I was all about getting some exercise, I suggested the longer of the two trails. The grandson was eager to start up a long set of steps heading in the same direction, so that’s the way we went.
The long trip up the stairs was just what I was looking for as I broke a small sweat. But I was not prepared for what came next. Little did I know that the trail led around the top of a gorge, and before long we were walking along the edge of cliffs – and when I say edge I mean at times the very edge – with straight drops ranging from 100 to more than 200 feet.
Back in my college days in the hills of Kentucky I free-climbed many tall cliffs, then would often repel back down, and only once remember having a true sense of fear. But as we walked around the edge of that gorge I found that in 30-some years something had drastically changed. Somewhere along the line, and I have no idea when or why, I acquired a fear of heights.
I think that if it had just been my wife and I, I would have been fine. But the youngsters like to get too close to the edge, and then look over, and watching them gave me a strangely uncomfortable feeling.
At one point, where the cliff was especially tall and my wife and I were staying as far away as we could, one of my sons suddenly jumped off. My wife screamed out loud, and even though I knew what he was likely up to, I was not a happy hiker. There was a second ledge not far below the first ledge, but far enough below that when he jumped he went completely out of sight. He thought it was really funny, but I thought it was way too dangerous and wanted to put him over my knee and give him a good spanking.
It made me snicker when he needed help getting back to the original ledge, but it did nothing to help the uneasy feeling I couldn’t quite shake.
From that time on it made me half sick to watch the younger generation as they made their way around the gorge. So, for most of the remainder of the trail, I took the lead and trudged well ahead so I didn’t have to watch.
“I didn’t know you were afraid of heights,” the grandson commented at one point.
“Neither did I,” I replied.
When we finished that trail, we came back to where the original trail had split. That trail led through the bottom of the gorge and then back. The scenery was spectacular – especially looking up rather than down.
The rest of the weekend’s trails were relatively mild compared to that first one, but I still had another surprise coming.
We decided to start our next day with a little zip lining. I had never zip lined before, but since I have some experience repelling, I figured it would be a breeze.
So, as soon as we arrived at the zip lining place a guy drove us to an 85-foot tower. Seeing that there were rails all the way up the tower, I was certain I would be fine. But when we got to the top, and got ready to take our turns, I was first in line and they walked us outside a gate and onto a small platform with no rails.
Once again, that strange fear washed over me. Then they started walking more of our group outside the rails, and I had to move closer to the edge, and then I was asked to stand on an even taller and much smaller platform. It wasn’t until then that I realized I’d been locked into the zip line before I walked past the gate and there was no danger of falling.
That eased my apprehension, and the ride was really cool.
Then we headed for more trails. Actually, they were mostly tame, and the scenery was stunning. I had no idea we have such natural beauty so near.
The rest of the trip was mostly spent eating, lounging around our hot tube, and visiting around a campfire.
Despite the heights thing, it sure was good having the whole family together again. And the look of contentment on my wife’s face from time to time was priceless.
But, the look the rest of the clan probably remembers is the one I must have had on my face as we walked around the edge of that gorge’s rim. They’re probably still laughing.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]