She disappeared into the ancient grove of giant trees, following the trail as it twisted into the drizzly forest. It all felt like a dream from which I hoped I would not awaken. I felt an inner sense of joy, relief, awe, and pride. As hard as it was to believe, the lithe, tanned-skin, beautiful young lady running through the woods, strides ahead of me, was indeed my daughter, Angela.
Angela will turn 25 next month. She returned just last week from having spent 27 months in Madagascar, serving in the Peace Corps. As I sit here in the dappled spring evening sunlight, I view the picture she just sent me on my phone, of her in front of a lovely tulip field in full bloom. Some of my earliest pictures of her capture her amongst flowers, trees, mountainscapes, and streams. She is a nature lover. She graduated with a degree in Environmental Science, and her service in Madagascar was as an agricultural volunteer, helping to grow food in the small village where she served. She specialized in Soil Sciences and taught the Malagasy people she lived amongst how to improve their soil to optimize the quality and quantity of foods that could grow in their surroundings.
When she returned home, she suggested to Ras that they arrange a surprise for me, by having her show up at the trailhead where I thought Ras and I were just going for our regular afternoon run. I should have known that our reunion after two years apart would be at a trail.
Before Angela was born, I spent afternoons taking long walks. I was strong and healthy during my pregnancy, giving birth to a 9 lb. 21 oz. baby naturally. I remember putting her in a stroller and taking her on a packed gravel trail, about two weeks after she was born. When she became unhappy, I lifted her from the buggy and hugged her close to me. This little one was going to have positive experiences on the trail, and comforting her was the upmost priority to me, to ensure this. She relaxed into my chest as I pushed the stroller clumsily with one hand. This first four-mile hike together, along the Padilla Bay Estuary in the Anacortes area of Washington, was the beginning of a relationship with Angela that, to this day, still includes shared time on trails.
My husband, Ras, and I, took Angela on her first extended backpacking trip when she was seven years old. We took on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that circumambulates Mt. Rainer. We allowed 21 days for the hike, taking two complete rest days in camps so that she could just simply play and explore all day long. Before this, our young family had enjoyed riding bikes together and shorter day hikes, but we had not yet taken on overnight hikes seriously. I had always been the one to initiate family outings like this, and I spearheaded this Wonderland Trail thru-hike. I envisioned gentle trail meandering through lush forests that broke out into mountain views, reading a paperback book out loud to the family in the tent at night, and enjoying camp food after a long day of hiking. All of these experiences did happen, and so much more.
Angela hiked along humming gently and soothingly to herself. She carried her own pack with her clothing and trail food. She used a walking stick that she had made in summer camp. Ras helped her fit a rubber foot on the bottom and she hand-drilled a hole in the top so she could pull a piece of red webbing through it. She collected discarded bamboo trail marking wands from the alpine zone; she was given sunglasses by an older mountaineering couple after crossing the permanent snow fields caused sun damage to her sensitive, doe-green eyes; and she lost one of her two front teeth while on the trail, making it so the Tooth Fairy came in the night for a visit. The trail took us by a couple of the National Visitor’s Centers and she chose a canteen in a suede satchel for a souvenir. She carried that on many hikes to come.
We went on to hike the Wonderland Trail as a family six more times. The summer when Angela was nine, she and I hiked the trail together with family friends while Ras was away working on a tugboat. Angela worked on trail crews during the summers throughout high school and college, followed suit when Ras and I started trail and ultrarunning, and continues to find time to share the trails with us when she is around. When she took off for college, I knew I would miss her like crazy. I started training to run ultras so that I could fill that empty spot, to overflow it with the strong thread that had always been a part of “us.” Ultrarunning expanded into long trail thru-hikes and going after Only Known Times. As a 51-year-old mom to this amazing young woman, I can honestly say that she has been my underlying inspiration for wanting to spend my time in the outdoors.
Kathy “OBAL Unbranded” Vaughan is a Gossamer Gear Brand Ambassador, an adventure runner, and a thru-hiker who loves moving through beautiful and challenging places. Kathy and her husband, Ras, published their first book, 98 Days of Wind: The Greatest Fail of Our Life, documenting their ill-fated attempt to yo-yo the Grand Enchantment Trail. It is available here.