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    Take a Hike
    Family hiking trips were the brainchild of my husband. We started years ago, renting a cabin and going on day hikes. The kids climb rocks, throw stones, and pose for pictures in mist-covered mountains. I climb the walls, throw tantrums, and pose for pictures in a fog of bug spray.

    “Hiking vacation,” to me, is an oxymoron. Ever see postcards with people sweating? But marriage is about compromise, so when my husband makes reservations at the canoe rental, I make them at the lodge restaurant. After he builds the fire, I build the S’mores. While he plans hikes, I plan pay-back.

    I do go for walks at home, but there’s usually an incentive. Feeling healthy and enjoying scenery just aren’t enough sometimes. I walk to the shopping center because of Starbucks and use the bike trail because of the detour to McDonalds -- the quickest way to fill the empty space left from burned calories.

    Mountain hiking is no different, so my husband knows to bring incentive: Starbursts, the motivation of choice. Since he usually walks ahead of me, as do native turtles and slugs, he’ll strategically place the candies on rocks along the trail, a la Hansel and Gretel. It’s been years, however, and I’m getting immune to their affects. Next year he may have to kick it up a notch, maybe mini muffins.

    During our trip last year, my daughter saw a small black bear cross the path. Ever since then I’ve worn a whistle on hikes. It’s supposed to be a “non-threatening way for the bear to know that you’re nearby.” Frankly, if there’s a bear nearby, I want to be as threatening as possible, but I doubt a whistle will scare him off unless it’s attached to an Amtrak train.

    We started this year on a 3-mile trail. Within minutes my daughter spotted a bear 20 feet from the path. I began blowing my whistle, in between breathes urging everyone: “Don’t make eye contact!”

    Thankfully we passed the bear without incident. I stopped shaking at mile two and quit blowing the whistle shortly after getting in the car. People looked at me like I was nuts, but the bear, and my kids, stayed far away.

    Toward the end of the second day’s hike, my husband and daughter took the lead. I had just found a pink Starburst when my daughter turned, walked briskly toward me and said, “Don’t panic, but there’s a bear up ahead. It’s closer than the last one.”

    It was ten feet off the trail. I was beginning to think my daughter was a bear magnet and made a mental note not to hike near her in the future.

    I grabbed my whistle and she grabbed my hand, walking/pulling me down the path. I can’t say how big the beast was, since I didn’t want to make eye, paw, or big sharp teeth contact, but my peripheral vision saw it get up and start toward us.

    I figured I could probably slow it down by throwing a fistful of hoarded Starbursts. Worst case, tie it up with my lanyard whistle strap. But the bear sat back down and continued its snack. I think the whistle did the trick. Maybe there is something to music soothing the savage beast. Next year I’m bringing a five-piece band. You can never be too safe.

    The trip’s events made me consider the wonders of nature, the unpredictability of life, and, of course, pay-back. It’ll be hell.

    [July 26, 2006]

    For more Odd Angles, go to the Loudoun Times website and search keyword “Odd Angles”

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