A few weeks ago, we had a holiday. The children had finished school the week before, so we decided to celebrate by doing something fun. While discussion what to do, Eleanor suggested we go hiking. We have done almost no hiking the entire time we've been here in Tashkent. The mountains are at least a ninety-minute drive away from our house, and being pregnant, having a small baby, and COVID have also dampened my adventuring spirit.
So I thought that we'd take it easy and go on a fun hike. A few winters ago, a new ski resort opened up in the mountains. There are several Soviet-era skiing areas (I say 'areas' because calling them resorts would be laughable), but the chair lifts are things that Brandon would never let the children get within fifty feet of. We had friends who were riding chair lifts at a skiing area one summer, the lift got struck by lightning, and they ended up getting down from the lift via ropes.
This new resort, however, has brand-new lifts and a gondola to the top. The weather has gotten hot down here in Tashkent, but the temperature looked delightfully cool up in the mountains. So we loaded the kids in the car, headed up to the mountains, and looked forward to a nice, easy hike that only went down.
I had checked the website before going, and the hiking page mentioned two routes at the top of the resorts, and specifically mentioned one as 'long but easy.' After an exciting ride on the gondola, everyone tumbled out, eager to enjoy the lovely view and perhaps a little less eager to start hiking. It's pretty safe to say that my enthusiasm for hiking is at least double anyone else's in the family.
After looking around and taking a few pictures, we started looking for the trail. I had thought (in retrospect quite foolishly forgetting that - despite riding a European skiing gondola - we were still in Central Asia) that the trail would be clearly marked. After all, the resort had an entire page dedicated to hiking at the resort, complete with scenic pictures. However, everything going down from the summit looked both steep and scree-covered. There wasn't anything that looked like trails and no signs pointing toward trails either.
By this point the children were all ready to hop back in the gondola and ride back down to the bottom. No clear hiking trails clearly meant that there didn't have to be any hiking. But I stubbornly insisted that there had to be some way to get down from the top - all resorts have an easy cat-track down from the top for the poor fools that get in over their head. Besides, we had to spend a little more time doing something in the mountains. I have a personal rule that you have to spend more time at your destination than it took to get there.
After a little scouting, I found a ski trail that looked promising, and herded everyone over to start the fun. "It will be fun," I told them, "and besides, how hard can it be? We're just walking down the hill!" Insert ominous music.
At first the trail was flat and gentle. After five minutes of walking, we came to a split. One route was listed as blue, the other orange. I did a lot of skiing in college, so I knew what blue meant - intermediate route. But I'd never heard of orange, as US resorts label their resorts as black, blue, and green. So I figured that orange should be easier than blue and we took the orange route. Ominous music again.
Pretty soon we came to our first downhill. In addition to being reasonably steep, it was also scree-covered. But it wasn't too bad, and it was an orange - and not blue - slope, after all. Everyone scrambled down the slope, working hard to not turn their descent into an uncontrolled tumble. Brandon had Elizabeth on his back, and I led William down. The only thing worse than scrambling down a scree-covered slope is scrambling down one with a toddler. But everyone made it down the slope and we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding slopes. And another slope.
This one was at least plant-covered, so the scramble wasn't quite so bad. But it was followed by another one, and another, and another. After three or four slopes, Brandon asked if perhaps we should just climb back up and ride the gondola down. He had injured one of his knees years ago while working at a Stouffer's frozen food factory in the early years of our marriage. It only bothers him while hiking downhill, and it's made worse by carrying a 25-pound baby on his back. His knee was starting to bother him and he wasn't sure if he could make it down the rest of the way.
I looked at the slope we had just scrambled down, and thought about scrambling back up it while hauling a four-year old. Then I thought about scrambling up three more of them. Then I looked down at how far we had to go to the bottom of the resort. I made the third bad decision of the day and insisted that it wouldn't be that much longer until we got to the bottom.
Several slopes later, Brandon was climbing down backwards on his hands and knees, William had skinned his knees, and everyone was shaking from exhaustion. As I scrambled down the steepest slope, I imagined what it would be like to ski down it. There was no way that this slope was easier than a blue, and it looked about as steep as some of the blacks I had recklessly zoomed down during my young and irresponsible college years.
By the time we reached a meadow with a lake in it, Brandon was done. William had developed blisters on both toes. So Kathleen strapped on the baby carrier and took Elizabeth while I piggy-backed William. After scouting on ahead, Brandon and I determined that we had made it down the worst of the slopes and we had a pretty easy route back to our car.
Half an hour later, we finally emerged from the mountain dusty, exhausted, injured, and triumphant. Everyone hobbled back to the car and gratefully climbed back in, happy to be through with the 'fun' that their sadistic mother had subjected them to on a holiday.
While driving home, everyone wanted to know if they would ever have to hike like that again. "No, no," I assured them, "that wasn't hiking. That was scrambling down black ski slopes. Nobody hikes like that." They sighed in relief. And then Joseph piped up from the back, "See, Mom, I told you that we should have just ridden the gondola down! You should have listened to me!!" Hopefully I'll remember this next time and listen to the advice of my nine year-olds. But honestly, I probably won't. Some people never learn.