My husband made several attempts to kill me while we were dating. First, he dunked me in the Connecticut River, during the course of an early-April canoe ride against both tide and current. Next, he took me home to meet his mother, who made me a pot of soup thick with wild mushrooms, which everyone knows are poisonous.
Then there was Mt. Moosilauke.
It's just a quick forty-five minute hike to the summit, he assured me. A mere stretching of the old joints. No need to weigh ourselves down with unnecessary items like windbreakers. Or lunch. Or water.
Turns out, that forty-five minutes represents the record time posted by the Dartmouth ski team in its annual race to the top. For those of us hiking without the benefit of months of intense aerobic conditioning, it's more like three hours. Each way. By the time we scaled the final monstrous New Hampshire boulder, wind flattening the alpine vegetation, my tongue was furry with thirst. By the time we staggered back into the lodge, my so-called boyfriend's trachea remained intact only because I was too weak to lift my hands.
So when my husband proposed taking the family up Mt. Moosilauke for a bit of a summer jaunt, I resisted. After all, this was the same man who once cheerfully suggested I slake my thirst in a mountain stream clogged with Giardia. But eventually his persistence wore me down, and I agreed with two conditions: one, we update our wills before the attempt; and two, we carry enough water to float a minor navy.
About a mile into the hike, I regretted my cave-in. Our five-year-old, after an enthusiastic start, sat himself down on a rock and refused to continue. My back was aching from a night spent on the plastic slab of mattress provided by the lodge bunkhouse. Plus, all that water was getting kind of heavy.
And then I looked over at my husband. Spine still unbowed, despite last night's granite mattress and the twenty-four-pound toddler strapped to his back, he took our five-year-old's hand and coaxed him onward with a bribe of yogurt-covered raisins. Our other two kids followed along in agile leaps, already veterans of New Hampshire hiking trips with Daddy.
So I took a drink of water and trudged up the trail behind them, watching out for little stumbling feet and smiling with pride when the older two, playing a game of "favorite things" to pass the time, never once mentioned TV.
Two hours later, I stood on the wind-whipped summit and watched my nine-year-old son point out the peaks he'd climbed with Daddy in previous summers. They reared up around us in acute angles and forested slopes, the weather shifting uneasily about the crests. I put on my windbreaker and sat down to eat my lunch, and though it took the unprecedented lure of a full can of Sprite, all to himself, to drag our five-year-old all 3.6 miles back down the mountain, I wouldn't have traded a moment.
Even if it killed me.