By Michael Lanza
On a morning when the late-summer sunshine sharpens the incisor points of every peak and spire in the jagged skyline of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Nate and I step inside the Sawtooth National Recreation Area ranger station, south of the little town of Stanley, population sixty-three. I chat with the ranger behind the counter, mentioning that my son and I are heading out to backpack the 18-mile loop from Pettit Lake to Alice and Toxaway Lakes.
The ranger sizes up my six-year-old, 40-pound kid, and frowns skeptically. “You know, that’s a pretty rugged hike,” he tells me.
Over the years to follow, I would become accustomed to seeing that expression on the faces of well-intentioned people worried about what I was planning to do with my children. I would also get used to hearing the tone of voice someone uses when what they really want to tell me is: “You, sir, are a crazed lunatic, and coyotes will pick your child’s and your bones clean before we even find you.”
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Alex on the New Hance Trail, Grand Canyon.
I try to explain that I know these trails and the little boy with the stuffed dolphin has done a fair bit of hiking already—for someone who weighs less than the backpack I’ll carry for the next three days. But as we leave, I doubt I’ve allayed that ranger’s concerns. He’s probably made a mental note to check for my car at the trailhead in a few days, to make sure that the overzealous dad and his bear-snack-size kid made it out of the wilderness alive.
On the trail a little while
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