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Friday nights are easily one of my favorite times of the week. Everyone flocks home from school and work and we’re about to plunge into a weekend together–some work, lots of play, and plenty of rest. Originally, Jack and I had a date planned but when arrangements for the kids fell through, Jack didn’t miss a beat and invited them on our own little adventure: a haunted hike.
Peter l-o-v-e-s his seat in the hiking backpack.
It’s no secret that I love Halloween and October–it’s the cool weather, the changing leaves, the slightly spooky feel, dressing up, and enjoying a lot of time outside (I don’t mind the unending supply of candy either). Jack has embraced this weird part of me and likes to indulge me, so instead of a regular old hike which we could do any other time, he found out that the Morgan-Monroe State Park, which is just a short drive from us, has some haunted history. As much as I enjoy the eerie feeling of the hair raising on the back of my neck, I’ll also say, I don’t actually believe in ghost stories, hauntings, or apparitions. Still, it’s fun to pretend. If that makes any sense at all. 😂
Loading up our supplies.
The hike wasn’t totally to get into the Halloween spirit, either. One trip Jack would like to take as a family is a backpacking excursion. We love camping, but it’s generally pretty mild–one night in a tent, a couple of meals over a campfire, an easy walk around a well-maintained trail…then we’re back home in time for a nap. But a backpacking trip would require everyone pulled their own weight, a lot of time away from home, and lots of inconveniences and hardships (sounds fun, right?). So, while we watched for ghosts and listened for creepy things in the forest, we all tested out what hiking gear we have, and our resolve to walk really, really far.

As it always is, at first, everything went splendidly. The kids were excited, everything was new, and the yogurt raisins Jack bought them fueled their every step. Jack tested the kids’ knowledge of plants and wild edibles, and they did pretty darn good. Then, Jack spotted a tiny chicken of the woods poking out of a dead tree stump and our expedition was put on halt while he practically hugged the tree. It’s the first chicken of the woods he’s found while mushroom hunting. In case you’re wondering, yes, he picked it and yes, it really does taste like chicken when it’s cooked, down to the fibrous feel of meat. We did a blindfolded taste test and even I was fooled.

Our first destination on the trail was going to Draper Cabin, which is–you guessed it–supposedly haunted. After we’d parked the car and walked about a mile, we found the marker pointing us to the cabin and started walking down the hill. Jack had called ahead and asked if it was available to rent to spend the night but was told it was closed except for a few days of the month. Though the road down to the cabin was chained off, it was accessible via the walking trail, so we decided to go look even if we couldn’t go inside. But, when the cabin was almost in view, we stumbled upon a cluster of cars parked nearby. No ghouls or bigfoot or zombies deterring us this time–just not wanting to interrupt someone else’s gathering.
We decided to turn back and find a place to have a little picnic dinner. The only problem with that was the cabin was a walk downhill, which meant it was an uphill walk between us and dinner.
Notice how Zoey is still smiling and walking ahead of her older sisters.

The kids had been happy and patient hiking, gnawing on protein bars and sucking water from the camelback backpack but the uphill climb about killed them. Claire raced back to the front (there’s no end to her competitiveness), while Henry and Zoey held my hands and Peter contently watched from his throne in the hiking backpack. Long story short, there was some crying, some giving up and prostrating themselves in the middle of the road, a bit of threatening, some carrying younger sisters who are almost as big as they are, and you know what? We all made it to the top of the hill unscathed.

A little Lord of the Rings moment when Kate couldn’t take another step, so Evelyn carried her.
It was very interesting to see how that kind of tribulation brought the kids closer to each other. Where they might have bickered and given up, they were more patient and concerned with each other and the other person’s needs than their own. Huh. Maybe we should go hiking more often.
Evelyn making sure Kate was okay after Kate totally biffed it. Poor klutzy Kate.
On the way back via the same trail we’d taken to the cabin, Claire could not help but climb just about everything she could get a foothold on. You know what? No dirty foot smears on my walls? Go ahead and get your urge to climb everything out. 
Pretending she’s a jaguar in a 300 +/- year old tree, I guess.
Since it was getting late, we decided to drive over to a small shelter area that claimed it had a park so we could get dinner ready. Part of backpacking would be eating a lot of dried foods reconstituted with water. You know how excited the kids were about getting their own cup of mac ‘n’ cheese? It might as well have been Christmas morning.
Peter is ever the observant baby.
While Jack used flint and magnesium–yes, flint and magnesium–to light a cheerful fire to boil some water, the kids played on playground equipment that has been deemed dangerous in every other corner of North America. But, since so few people actually know the Morgan-Monroe State Park exists, that rickety old playground equipment, complete with a teetertotter that would leave splinters in a kid’s rear end if not for pants, and a metal slide with crude patches where it’d rusted through and a handle at the top to ensure maximum velocity on the way down, is still there. It was like my kids were living out of a page of my childhood and it was a reminder that kid really don’t need much to be happy and thoroughly entertained.
Fire, baby!
The water boiled as quickly as the sun set, so we gathered everyone around to enjoy their meals in the quiet darkness that pervaded the forest. There was the occasional passing car but by in large, the place was very secluded.
The kids ate their mac ‘n’ cheese soup (the boiling water method didn’t require as much water as we dumped in, apparently) and Jack and I ate our grown-up meal of Clif bars and packaged red beans and rice, while Jack regaled the kids with spooky stories of the area. Most of the kids enjoyed it, though Evelyn wafted back and forth between being fascinated and downright horrified.
All in all, it was an amazing evening. The weather was p-e-r-f-e-c-t–no humidity, cool, sunny, and clear. The scenery was beautiful and interesting, and a good time was had by all. Zoey’s favorite part was sporting her kitty cat jacket and learning to go potty in the forest. Yay for potty training and learning the vital skill of going potty behind a tree.
Henry’s favorite part was constructing his own excessively long walking stick, realizing he looked like Gandalf and running ahead of everyone so he could yell, “You shall not pass!”
Kate, after scraping herself off the gravel road and putting one foot in front of another until she made it to the top of the hill–in between hitching piggyback rides with people–gave an honest effort at flint and steel fire lighting. She didn’t light an entire fire BUT she did get a spark. It’s the small things, really.
Yes, Claire really did try to climb everything. Her spirit animal is 100% cat.
Evelyn discovered she has a knack for modeling and acting out in the woods.
Jack’s favorite part was…mushrooms. Surprised? Not me.

Peter didn’t say a word the entire time but gave lots of smiles–he loves being eye level with his siblings. And me? It was just fun to have everyone together, even if it was occasionally annoying to hear nothing but their whining echoing in between the trees.

It was a wonderful evening and I think the kids passed the test. We’re all in the mood for Halloween and now, I’m totally on board with a family backpacking trip. Now, to figure out when and where, ’cause we’re ready.

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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