Outdoor Fathers Series: "The Enlightening Powers of Darkness" by Michael Byrd

In honor of Father's Day coming up on Sunday, June 16th, I will be featuring three outdoor father's favorite experiences with their children.  First up! Michael Byrd is a devoted husband, fun father of four kids, avid hiker, future novelist, excellent cook and amateur photographer, Michael feels lucky to live in the shadow of the Nantahala Mountains in western North Carolina. With literally hundreds of miles of hiking trails in his backyard, Michael is doing his best to explore each one of them. You can keep up with his progress at ATatdusk.com
Posted on December 17, 2012

It’s not every day I get invited on a night hike. And as much as that sounds like a simple statement, it’s actually a veiled request for more invitations – hint, hint.

I know. It’s not very subtle, but night hikes are fun. In fact, in my opinion, which is what you’re going to get since this is my blog, they’re the second most fun thing you can do at night.

What makes this night hike so special? Glad you asked. It was my oldest daughter’s idea.

Photo by Rob Gasbarro
She’s my outdoorsy kid. Well, all my kids will go outdoors and on hikes – when I ask, but my oldest daughter will ask me to go on hikes. It’s nice. She loves hiking and being in the woods. And I love seeing her excitement.

So, last week, she came to me and asked me to go along with her on the Outdoor 76 Night Hike. She read about it on Facebook. I didn’t have to think about it. Of course, I would go.

I’ll admit, though, I was a little surprised that she was interested in a “night” hike. This is the girl who won’t take the dog out after sunset even with all the outside lights on. Or walk into the dark garage. It’s a big step and I was absolutely not going to let slip by.

But I wondered what could have motivated her enough to hike in the dark?

You know, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was more to this invitation than just a chance to hike at night. It’s possible she knew her brothers and sister would never consider doing a night hike and it would give her some individual, quality time with Daddy.

This isn’t unique to her. They all do it. I’m just grateful they think I’m still cool enough to hang out with.

Anyway, I asked her to gather all the details and we carved our plans in stone. This date was not going to be broken. So, Friday night, December 14th, we were hiking to the top of Silers Bald in the Nantahala Mountain Range – not to be confused with Silers Bald in the Smokies, although it is the same family.

Reservations were required, so my daughter made sure I was the first one to call. All that was left was hammering out the details. (You can see our Fourteen Essentials for a Night Hike here.)

We made a trip to Outdoor 76, our local, community oriented outfitter, so she could pick out her very own headlamp. It was an event. You would have thought she was picking out a prom dress – or, at least, how I imagine other 16 year old girls are about picking out prom dresses.

She inspected every detail and component. She tried them all on – in front of a mirror, looking at herself from every angle. She tested the lights and moving parts. She even read the packaging. And in her ever practical way, she picked the medium priced headlamp that provided the most options and output. See. Not your typical teenager.

While we were there, three of her friends, who were window shopping for clothes, saw her and came over to chat. My daughter’s not your typical girly-girl. Sure, she loves clothes, and dresses, and fashion, and being a girl, but it’s not her whole life. She also loves camping, getting dirty and following the trail less traveled.

Her friends had a hard time understanding why in the world she would want to hike…at night…in the dark…on a Friday…with a bunch of grown-ups. It didn't bother my daughter one bit.

Photo by Rob Gasbarro
She actually looked very pleased by their reaction. I could tell by her piercing blue eyes and her confident, yet gentle smile she was thinking to herself, “You silly little girls.”

Yes. The force is strong with this one.

The day finally came and it was the best hike ever. There were about 30 of us in all. Spirits were high. The temperature was great. The campfire was toasty warm. And zillions of stars were twinkling in the sky.
I’ll never forget the cool mountain air on my cheeks. I’ll never forget the view of the lights of Franklin, shining in the valley below. I’ll never forget the new friends and hiking buddies we met that night.

But there’s much more I’m taking away from that night. I knew my daughter was amazing, but the whole process of planning this trip, climbing to the top of Silers Bald, the way she was with people of all ages, the strength with which she carried herself and overcoming the dark, left an indelible image in my mind.

It was one of those rare experiences where you get a glimpse of who your child is going to be as an adult. And, I like it. She’s going to be even more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

See ya’ on the trail