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What Not to Do When Hiking with a Toddler

Sometimes, when people meet me in real life, they're a little unsure if my enthusiasm is authentic. But as one of my co-workers told me after we'd spent three weeks sharing the same room on an overseas trip, "You really are that upbeat!" I am optimistic to a fault when it comes to most things (my wardrobe and athletic abilities are not two of these things), and I will go out of my way to be friendly or smile or use another exclamation point. (They're just so fun!!)
Because of my sunshine-y attitude, I really enjoy 99.9% of the stuff that life throws at me. Even though I've had some worrisome moments in my travels, I've been delighted at the people, places, and sites that I've encountered along the way. Thus, most of my posts are happy and honest accounts of what I see and do. 

This post is not going to be one of those. Well, it will be honest since I think that's always really important, but what follows is about as dour as I get. (Unless I'm hungry. Then watch out because I get uber hangry.)

While in Lake Lure, this one trail had been recommended to me several times, so I headed over to the Buffalo Creek Trail near Bill's Mountain. The day started out cool but sunny, and my fellow travel partners and I were ready to get a little hiking done. 

As you might have come to find on my earlier Lake Lure posts, I was more than a little enamored with the gorgeous fall leaves, and I was excited to get even more pictures of the forest ablaze. 

Buffalo Creek Trail, Lake Lure, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

I'd done a little research before heading out on the trail that morning because I don't do anything without a healthy amount of research, and I knew that the trail was a big loop of 3.5 miles, and that there were plans to eventually extend the trail to an even larger 7-10 mile loop. There were parts of the hike that were steep-ish, according to the Buffalo Creek trail website, but it was far from being advanced. 

Buffalo Creek Trail, Lake Lure, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Neither my dad nor I are terrible unfit people--we can (and have) walked for miles in Charleston, in Europe, in Disney World. We have zero physical maladies, and we're semi-experienced hikers since we lived in the foothills of South Carolina when I was growing up and would hike in the many state parks in the lower mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. Britton's usually really adventurous and is always super energetic, so I figured that she would be fine to walk a good portion of the trail. 

So, things should have gone well by all accounts. We were all happy, well-rested, and wearing comfortable clothes and shoes. 

At 10:00 a.m., we set off. 

By 11:00 a.m., Britton decided that she needed more breaks from walking, so my dad and I took turns carrying her when she didn't want to walk. She's only 17 months old, and those tiny legs can only go so far! We were still having fun at this point, looking for nuts and pointing out squirrels to Britton and taking lots of pictures. 

By 12:00 p.m., my stomach started grumbling, and I realized that we'd been two hours on the trail without seeing any trail markers. About this time, Britton started signing "more" (her cue that she's hungry) and saying, "Cracker! Cracker!" She'd completely given out of steam and my dad and I were taking turns carrying her in intervals of five or so minutes (that 25 pound toddler gets heavy!). 

By 12:15 p.m., Britton started kicking us because she was exhausted and hungry, and my dad and I started becoming alarmed that we'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. Britton's kicking and screaming wore my dad and I out as we tried to continue our hike (which was all up hill at this point). 

Hiking with a Toddler, Buffalo Creek Trail, Lake Lure, North Carolina
This is when all of the trees started to look the same (to which my Susie Sunshine self wants to say, "But at least they were pretty trees!"). 
At 12:30 p.m., we were both getting a little desperate since Britton was just wailing uncontrollably. We were worried that we were going to have to loop back another 2+ hours to get to the trailhead, but we figured that going back was better than going forward. 

We'd turned around and started walking for about ten minutes when we saw something that might or might not have been another trail, and we got very, very worried and confused. Were we even on the right trail? Had we somehow wandered off the 3 mile loop? 

I decided to scoot down the might-be-a-trail path while my dad and Britton stayed on the original trail. At the bottom of the might-be-a-trail, I saw a rake that one of the trail workers had left and called my dad down. I figured that if the rake was there, that meant that the trail workers couldn't be too far off--they could help us find out way out of the park! 

My dad looked around at that point and immediately recognized the spot as one that was very near the trailhead, so with happy hearts, tired legs, and an exhausted toddler, we headed back to the car as quickly as we could. 

Looking back, I broke several hard-and-fast rules of hiking. 
1) I didn't bring food or water. 
2) I didn't bring a trail map.
3) I brought a toddler. 

It's a fairly new trail (about a year old), and they're still doing some upgrades on it (we saw the trail boss and workers that morning), but I would have felt SO MUCH BETTER about the entire thing if there had been trail markers. It's easily to get turned around in the woods, so to know that'd we'd been one mile or three miles or were completely off the trail really would have made this a completely different experience. I really hope they put up markers as the trail gains popularity. I also hope they offer trail maps at the entrance to the park (as many places do), so visitors can have a better idea of where they are on the trail. 

After we'd gotten back to the Geneva Riverside that night, I looked up a trail map online and found out that the trail does indeed make a big loop, and that we weren't lost--we were actually about 2/3 of the way through the loop. The circle gets much narrower in the middle, and that's where we were able to cross over and get back to the trailhead without completely retracing our steps. I felt a little silly after seeing the map, but, in the moment with a screaming toddler and with woods that looked all the same everywhere, I know why I'd gotten a little panicky on the trail. 

So, there. That's my not-so-great experience on my most recent trip. It turned out in the end, but I hated not knowing where I was while I listened helplessly as my child begged for lunch. 

Make me feel better about the entire thing, and share your worst travel misstep in the comments below! :)

If you want to experience the beauty of the great outdoors, check out what else is around Rutherford County!

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