My feet don’t make much noise on the damp pine needles as I climb up the steep hill that marks the beginning of my favorite local trail, the one I used to run laps around when I lived down the street from the small state park, ten years ago. On this trail, I am used to pushing myself. The hills aren’t long, but they are steep, and covered with roots that make you dodge and weave. It takes complete focus to run top speed on a downhill stretch covered with pine roots and not wind up on your face, or worse, tumbling down a steep embankment into the tidal river.
Over the past week, I’ve returned to this park several times as part of my plan to take the Kid out for at least an hour a day to explore someplace wild. This is also part of my plan to get in pre-pregnancy shape as fast as possible so we can do some bigger hikes in the mountains this fall. The trail is longer than I remember, and the small hills are harder to climb, even though I’m walking and not running. It could be the ten pound meatloaf in a carrier on my chest, but I find myself gasping for breath and having to stop before the top of small climbs I would have powered up a decade ago. As I get further along, though, some of the old me kicks in and I find myself thinking ‘faster, go faster, push up this hill, go, go go’ . My pace quickens. My heart rate rises. I feel some of the same endorphins kicking in that used to keep me running till my feet hurt. I blow by a couple of women leisurely walking up ahead of me, and it feels good.
And then, I slip on a root. My reflexes kick in and I do an awkward tap dance on root tops until I catch myself. I stop, heart pounding, hands shaking a little, and take a deep breath before moving on. The Kid is still asleep in his carrier, no idea how close we came to falling.
There is a constant battle between the old me, who wants to push-push-push for the best workout, the fastest run up the hill, the hardest route, and this strange new me, the Mom, who has this tiny little creature sleeping against her chest and completely trusting her to take care of him. I’m going on instinct these days, and my instincts are screaming at me to slow down. So I do. We finish the hike at a more reasonable pace, and he finally wakes up a little. He stares, entranced by the light in the woods, and then turns and smiles right at me.