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Practice Hikes

My daughter jumps off a rock on the North Bank Tail

In June my family and I will travel to Maine for a week. Using the Every Kid Outdoors program as a thin excuse, we're going to spend a week between Bangor, Bar Harbor, Portland, and a few places in between. Also, my best friend Robert lives up there until he moves down to PA for his new professorship, so we’ll absolutely hang out with him as much as possible.

Acadia National Park isn't exactly the most mountainous, but Robert is used to hiking all over the pace doing field work. And I suspect we’ll have more fun in Acadia and elsewhere if we're all a bit more comfortable hiking for more than a few miles on moderate terrain. I wanted to make sure that my whole family understood that visiting national parks is more enjoyable when you can venture farther from your parking spot, so I decided we should start a series of family practice hikes.

The ironic bit here, for anybody who has known me for more than a few years, is that I may previously have been the least likely to suggest hiking at all, let alone a preparatory regimen. But since I ride my bike all the time now, I'm in quite a bit better shape to wander up and down hills than I’ve ever been. And these days, it’s actually the rest of my household that doesn't regularly get much exercise (excepting Maddie, but really only on Fridays at gymnastics).

With that, we parked by the Oregon Hill overlook and walked down the hill to the North Bank Trail, part of the James River Park system. For the first half of our adventure my daughter kept pace with me while my six-year-old hung back with Valerie, constantly talking about how "skinny" the trail was, and wondering why there were no railings. But he loves nature, so he wasn't complaining that hard.

my son saunters up a hill with my wife climbing up behind him on the North Bank Trail in Richmond

Once we reached the fork between the Texas Beach parking lot and continuing on toward the pump house, I gave the family the choice of walking up and back via neighborhoods back to Oregon Hill, or continuing on a little further and walking back the way we came. Everybody wanted to get off the trail and walk back through the neighborhoods, hoping for mostly flatter terrain.

Some mirror-polished balls nested in rebar structures - sculptural decorations - in a front yard of the Maymont neighborhood

The walk back through the Maymont area, Randolph, and Oregon Hill was pleasant in its own way, but at this point both kids dragged behind so much that I frequently had to stop in order to let everybody catch up. I'm no athlete, but I guess being regularly active gives me a bit of a speed advantage that I wasn't expecting.

A stone entrance pillar to Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill, with the name, "Hollywood" carved in a stone plaque

We finally made it back to the car, about 3.75 miles and 2.25 hours later, and I think Valerie agreed we needed more practice hikes ahead of our summer trip! But it was a great way to spend a brisk February morning outside with the family.