Another year, another family reunion, another long walk through the lush, jagged wilderness. Edges above us, edges below us, depending on which trail you’re negotiating with their intermittent, frequently incorrect trail markers and/or with their handy brochure map if you didn’t forget it in the car.
On the Sunday after every Labor Day my wife’s family (her dad’s side) convenes at Turkey Run State Park, an hour west of Indianapolis in the middle of nowhere and dozens of miles away from the nearest phone signals. No internet, no phone games, no instant Instagramming, no weather updates, not even enough of a signal to text each other or call 911 if we take a wrong step and careen over the side of any given precipice. Turkey Run is a great place for kids to develop a healthy fear of nature’s dark side and gravity’s basic laws.
This year I made the mistakes of leaving our copy of the map in the car and trusting my in-laws to play park rangers and guide us through the twists and turns. I have the park’s more popular, shorter trails memorized, but this time they decided to shepherd us toward one of the longer paths I’ve taken maybe once before. They’re good folks, rather healthy, used to hiking ten or fifteen miles at a stretch. My wife and I can do a couple miles here and there when properly motivated, such as when we’re at a convention and all the fun things are on opposite ends of the lengthy show floor, and our car is blocks away, and we also decide to crisscross the exhibit hall three more times in case we missed some nifty merchandise, and then we remember a booth we wanted to recheck in an entirely different hall, and so on. But convention center floors are flatter and less stressful than lumpy, clumpy, uneven, verdant, hilly, occasionally treacherous, all-natural ground floors.
Somewhere around the seventh cliffside crawl or the fourth mile — I forget which, because the afternoon is now a post-traumatic haze — I suspected they had no clear idea where we were headed and were basing our navigation not on logical compass directions but on whims that felt right to them and only them. When I sensed one fumbled intersection too many, I politely asked to see the map and quietly formed an action plan: follow the one big river back to where we started and refuse all attempts to turn away from it. Once we reached a crossroads where that very wrong idea was about to happen, we implemented Operation Schism, broke off from the main group, and got where we needed to go.
Most of the rest of the family had packed it in and left by the time we returned to the picnic site. Thankfully no one stole our stuff in our absence, though we were a bit less thankful that an anonymous donor left behind half a tub of uneaten, lukewarm cole slaw in one parting act of lazy kindness.
The long walk took two hours and hundred of calories, and left us basically bedridden for the rest of the night. We’re thinking for the 2017 reunion, which will be their 60th and probably cause for extra celebration or maybe several tons of biodegradable streamers, maybe next time we set a few extra ground rules, such as stapling the park map to the back of my hand just in case, or vowing only to take trails that promise to lead us toward 4G-connected civilization. That way we can enjoy the view from the edge of the trail without an edge in our voice.