For most families, Thanksigiving is a time to come together, eat turkey and stuffing, and watch nine-to-ten hours of televised football. For my father, Thanksgiving is simply another opportunity to force his children to hike. First, it was only Dad's birthday that meant a mandatory forced march. Then he announced the first Father's Day hike a year later. Finally, just because he loves seeing his children sweating, complaining, and wearing dorkass fanny packs, Dad added the annual Thanksgiving Day hike. While the rest of the nation enjoys C-list celebrities and inflatable cartoon heroes at the Macy's Parade, the Keanes lace up their hiking boots and start complaining about leg cramps.
Everyone has tried to avoid the hikes at various times. Oversleeping, injuries, and suspicious "on-call" shifts have thinned the ranks of hikers in the past. I missed one birthday hike by going to the Winter Olympics. My little sister tried the dangerous gambit of Wednesday night binge drinking a few years ago. She got out of the hike, but also slept through most of the holiday and vomited before dinner. My new brother-in-law is a habitual non-hiker, because he only pretends to enjoy hiking so he can meet women.
Dad wanted to do a longer hike this year. We generally hike at Briones Park, along with our beloved dog Cassidy. Sadly, Cassidy passed away in May, so our little dog kennel would be empty on the way to our hike. We might have to carry someone for the last part of the hike, but it would be Dad and not the dog.
I guess that dead dog had been holding us back from our mountain-climbing destiny for years. Dad thought we'd pay tribute to our deceased pet by hiking somewhere new: "With Cassidy no longer with us (except in spirit, of course!), we are free to do Mt. Diablo State Park (where dogs are not allowed)."
We remember Cassidy by going somewhere that wouldn't allow her in. It's kind of like golfing at a whites-only country club in the South for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Later, we would feed turkey scraps to raccoons in our backyard, and let the neighbor's cat sleep in Cassidy's old bed, just to show how much we loved that old dog.
Dad's email went on to describe how easy this year's hike would be:
"Although MDIA includes this in its "Ten Demanding Hikes" section (as opposed to its other two sections, "Ten Moderate Hikes" and "Ten Easy Walks"), it isn't really that hard. It's only five miles round trip, and only steep for a fairly short period."
However, a website for Mount Diablo says it is "arguably the steepest trail in the park", with a climb of 2200 feet. Luckily, most of that climb occurred over one single arduous mile.
Man, did this hike suck. Our legs got cut up by branches, it was cold, I kept twisting my ankle, Kelly hurt her hip, Dad almost slipped and skidded into a ravine, and we were all extremely cold. Dad even neglected to bring his usual hiking bribes - slices of salami and animal cookies. Yes, even though we are all adults, my sisters and I are motivated by the same things as an elementary school soccer team.
We got to the car, shivering and barely able to stand. As we cranked the heater, I asked Kelly is this was indeed the worst Thanksgiving hike of all time. She said yes. And yet, we were already laughing about our misery, our sore feet, and Dad's silly floppy hat.
Perhaps this was Dad's plan all along. Some people dread the holidays because they worry about spending time with relatives. We only fear mountains, loose rocks, and a shortage of snacks. Some siblings fight with each other at family reunions, but my sisters and I bond every time, united against our father and his insane devotion to the outdoors. Maybe, just maybe, uniting against both nature and your parents is the true meaning of Thanksgiving after all.