Monday, May 29, 2017


I'm counting it as a mark of parental success that when I told Ali I was thinking of going hiking on a girls' trip, she didn't just nod as if she'd heard me, she said, "That sounds like fun. Can I go?"

Some 16-year-olds would gag a little bit if they were invited on an overnight hike with a bunch of old ladies. My kid said she'd go along.  And we actually had fun!

Sure, she got to play a couple of card games not really designed for mixed company of youthful and those who pretend they're still 20.

We went with Tracy Wiseman, Susan Kessler and my new great friend Melissa Miller, staying at Grand Bear Lodge. We visited Matthiessen and Starved Rock state parks in Illinois. Both were awesome, in part because we went during the rainy season so the waterfalls were in full rushing glory.

Starved Rock is allegedly the state's No. 1 tourist attraction, a factoid greeted skeptically by most of us. "Was there an asterisk for attractions outside the city of Chicago?" I asked.

We had planned to check for more detail about that but got sidetracked. We'd neglected to tell Alison that we were going to a park that was famous for a grisly murder in the 1960 that featured three middle-aged ladies. We three middle-aged ladies decided that with the addition of our youngster, we'd be OK.

We survived Starved Rock with only one small fall and were at dinner Saturday night at Casa Mia  when the secret got spilled. Phil, the owner, had stopped by and was asking how we came to drop by his charming little house-turned-bistro.  A charmer, Phil mentioned something about the murder site.

"The what?!" Ali paused while cracking a crab leg open.  She stared accusingly at me. "You took me to a murder park?"

It may have been about this time that Phil switched the subject to asking if we planned to visit Matthiessen State Park while we were in the area. We had been planning to return to Starved Rock but Phil's description changed our minds, and we were glad we did.

We were stopped before we got started down into the ravines and caverns by two men who seemed concerned that we "ladies" were up to the task. "It's pretty greasy down there," one said.

"Excuse me?" one of us asked.

"Greasy," he translated: "Muddy. You ladies best be careful."

We nodded. It WAS muddy. But we were nimble and in fine shape. Well, Ali was. We got to the bottom and came across a solo male hiker.  "You ladies be careful," he said. Before we got back another kindly gentleman had advised us to be careful.

I refused to feel matronly or out of my element. Yeah, maybe, there were a few times when one of might have shrieked a little as we slid down a slope perilously close to the icy creek.  Or gasped as we crossed said creek using rocks and logs to keep out of the drink. And when Ali climbed up a ravine, risking a slide over jagged rocks and stumps if she lost her footing on the way back, I might have grown a few more gray hairs.

But it was super cool.  We had a little fun scaring ourselves by wondering if the random animal tracks we came across were from hungry bears or rabid raccoons. We postulated on why the murder over at Starved Rock hadn't used some of the Matthieson nooks and crannies, which seemed like much more effectives areas to hide a body or three.  But mostly we just enjoyed the really beautiful parks.

And I loved chatting with Ali along the trails and watching her chat with my friends, all of whom seemed perfectly happy to have the next generation along. Maybe because we thought she'd be able to go for help if we did fall victim to our aged limbs and feeble ways.

That was before she reminded me that if a bear really was chasing us, she would likely leave me for dead. "I don't have to run that fast," she said. "I just have to run faster than you, and Mom, let's face it, that's not going to be hard."

If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend every place we stopped. Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge has an indoor water parked that seems sized for the 12-and-under set, but there are separate cabin/villas you can stay at as well.

If you have a teenager, drag him or her even if the initial response is less than enthusiastic. Bring "Cards Against Humanity" and a game of "Chronology," if you can.
Accept that some of the more outrageous words/reactions that will ensue are within a cone of silence. If you're lucky, you'll come away with a new appreciation for a portion of Daniel Radcliffe's anatomy that will afford you years of hysterical laughter that no one outside your hiking party will get.

And yeah, maybe the bear WILL get you. But I bet your teenager will at least go back for what's left of your body.

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