Metolius River wandering
Learning to appreciate hiking with 13-year-old daughter

My 13-year-old daughter, Caroline, turned off the radio and said, “Can we just talk?”

It was nearing noon, and we still had a ways to go until Sisters and the Metolius River, our destination for a Saturday afternoon hike. I didn’t protest (the broadcast of news quiz “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” was over anyway). It’d been my intention for us to take a morning hike, but when you have a 13-year-old daughter like mine, you patiently wait around filling water bottles and throwing extra layers in the car as long as it takes, and you plan for a late lunch.

We’d also downed peanut butter sandwiches and guzzled our coffees from Java Jungle. Sure, 13-year-olds don’t need coffee, but that was part of the bribe that got her to hike with me, along with the promise of a post-hike (late) lunch in Sisters. My wife and our twin daughters were walking in the March of Dimes 5K, which afforded Caroline and I some rare time alone together. What better for a father-daughter activity than a gorgeous hike on a mild, periodically sunny Saturday in late April?

In a way, I associate Caroline with walking. When she was a colicky baby, walks were among the few things that soothed her. I remember taking her on two or three per day for what felt like a long period, but probably wasn’t more than a couple of months.

Throughout her childhood, she’s preferred walking to bicycling. And her default daily activity is grabbing the leash and taking our dog for a walk. Now she walks him two miles a day.

So a hike seemed like not just the right choice, but the only one. I chose the Metolius because, to my thinking, it’s one of the best hiking spots in Oregon. If someone were to take on the impossible task of making a top 10 best Central Oregon hikes list — send me your favorites at the email below, and maybe we’ll attempt such a list — the Metolius River had better be included or it’s invalid.

There’s just something about this place, where the Metolius burbles from the base of Black Butte and flows north toward Lake Billy Chinook. It’s not any one thing about it, but the sum of the parts — the racing, icy-blue waters, the giant firs, the darting robins, the shady bank on a hot day or sunny spots on a cool one — that makes this spot special. I don’t fish, but I’d venture to guess from all the fly-fishermen you see around there that the fishing is pretty good.

There are other spots where we could have parked and picked up the Metolius River Trail, but as usual, we were drawn to Wizard Falls Hatchery, where we’ve gone as a family with some regularity since our kids were toddlers. I have a getting-old photo of me sitting with my three daughters on a bench one cold Father’s Day at the headwaters of the Metolius. In it, I’m squinting, tired, not entirely happy-looking. They’re cute as can be, and I look resigned to the fact that the adventure the day held in store would consist of toddling back to the car and then toddling around looking at fish in pools. Some tears would probably be shed along the way.

Shaky start

Saturday’s outing seemed like it might be off to a bad start, too, when, a few miles shy of the hatchery, a bird flew in our path — and, credit where due, we drove in its path.

I was looking off at a section of forest and wouldn’t have noticed anything had Caroline, an animal lover of the first order, not begun screaming. It was our second animal victim in the last six months, so I had immediate flashbacks to November and our family’s first vegetarian Thanksgiving. (Caroline had stopped eating meat and convinced/coerced the rest of us into stopping, too.) After a post-lasagna dinner, we took a hike and hit a deer on the drive home. Laugh all you want at the irony, but believe me when I say you haven’t heard hearts breaking till you’ve heard three well-intentioned young girls realizing the vehicle they’re in had just ended a deer’s life. My ears are still ringing.

She recovered surprisingly quickly this time, and the hike went well. Though there was a time we couldn’t have dragged her away from the hatchery’s open concrete pools, we skipped the fish tanks altogether and headed upstream, a bit more wild and wet than the opposite direction. As we made our way, we paused here and there to take photos or to discuss a particularly interesting moss-covered rock or tilting tree.

Appreciation

We did a two-mile out-and-back hike for a total of four miles. We may not have covered a lot of ground, but we sure discussed a lot of topics that day, including religion, divorce and other heavy matters of concern to an intelligent 13-year-old. I find quiet more restorative than long conversations, personally, but after a while, we stopped talking about world superpowers, started talking about superhero powers instead and I became alert again. Whatever impatience or resignation I had in me back when that Father’s Day photo I mentioned was taken, it’s pretty much washed away at this point. All that’s left is appreciation.

Because I’m here to tell you, would-be-active fathers of young children, your kids are going to grow up on you, and it’s true: The days drag, but the years really do fly.

Before you know it, they’ll willingly be able to cover more distance, and their conversational skills will dramatically improve — enough so you’ll miss them as babies and toddlers only occasionally, like when you find an old photo of you looking cranky, surrounded by little kids on Father’s Day.

With Caroline starting high school in the fall, I can see the day when I’ll look back and wish for these conversations, and time together on the trail.

And I’m sure some tears will be shed along the way.

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com

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