The gap between the rocks was too wide.
I knew I could leap across, but I couldn’t tell if the rock I’d be landing on was slippery. Though my son and his long-legged male cousins had taken this route, I turned back. There is always another way across the Pigeon River in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, if you’re patient enough to find it.
Besides, the theme for the day was “three points of contact,” a tip from Rowan’s friend Jessica, who learned it in a hiking class in college. Earlier in the day, when the boys ventured off the familiar trail to Laurel Falls to explore what appeared to be a workable route into the gorge below, I used this method to follow along, always keeping at least three limbs in contact with a solid surface, so that if one gave way the other two would help provide balance.
Leaping across those river rocks definitely didn’t fit my new rules of operation, so I looked for another route that did, and eventually I found one. There’s almost nothing as satisfying as problem solving on the river rocks, and I joined Rowan, Colleen and Jessica on a rock island on the far side of the river to celebrate our perseverance.
Only trouble was, dusk was approaching fast. “Can we please get off this river before a bear comes along?” I said about half a dozen times. Nobody moved.
“Aw mom, we just want to chill for a while,” Colleen said.
“I want to see a bear,” said Jessica, an environmental science major who wouldn’t mind working in a national park some day.
They’d just started to rise from their perch when it began to rain – hard.
Suddenly all our ideas about getting around on this river – honed over decades, in my case – vaporized. Now every rock was slippery.
We crawled on hands and knees over a few boulders before abandoning that plan and plunging into the river, shoes and all.
“Hang onto the rocks as you go!” I shouted. “Remember, three points of contact!”
We could feel the bottom with our feet, but were wary of blundering into a drop-off. Rowan did step into a hole, but it wasn’t deep enough to pull her under.
A few minutes later we were on the river bank, soaked but laughing. My nephew Riley handed me an umbrella, which I declined. What was the point in trying to avoid the rain now?
“That was awesome!” said Rowan. Scrambling over these river rocks was something she’s done since she was a toddler, and it was at her insistence that we fit this in before she heads back to South Carolina today.
Even I had to admit this unexpected adventure was kind of fun. But as a parent, I wouldn’t mind a little less drama from here on out.