Every weekend for the past 12 weekends, we have taken a Lange Family Hike, during which family members have fallen in a shallow river (repeatedly), nearly walked into deer, and been so late in returning that we had to send out a family search party to find them (and by "them" I mean my wife).
Here, then, are six of our favorite area hiking trails (and some 2-minute hike videos).
The park: Beaver Creek Valley State Park (70 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Plateau Trail
After soloing to the top of the Plateau Trail, I try texting my family to warn them to avoid this trail, which is muddy, narrow and very difficult. Dangerous, even. They don't have cell service below me.
I am, though, able to text my family back in Michigan to tell them where I am, just in case.
"Not sure I can make it back down," I text. "Air is thin. Water almost gone. Calves cramping badly. I'm afraid if I lie down I'll never wake up again. But I so want to lie down ..."
My older brother responds almost immediately: "Goodbye, Steve," he texts. "Just lie down and let go. It's fine."
My sisters ask if they can have my motorcycle and computer when I'm gone.
"Don't let anyone know," my dad texts, "that you are my son."
Eventually, their motivational pleas inspire me to somehow stand up and attempt one last push down the mountain.
After making it 100 feet back down the trail, I pass my two daughters coming toward me.
"Oh, you found this trail, too?" says Emma, 13. "It's fun!"
They are basically jogging up the route.
The park: Whitewater State Park (30 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Hiking Club Trail
The five of us split up into four different groups. Although it's only Week 3 of Quarantine, almost everyone, for whatever reason, decides they want some alone time on the hikes.
Hadley follows the river along the flat, wildflower-lined Trout Run Creek. Henry takes off on some questionable trail, a straight-up crawl along the bluffs. Lindy, as she often does, opts for the Hiking Club Trail, which is State Park-speak for "the best trail we could create that older groups won't yell about it being too difficult."
Emma and I climb the steep, 100 steps of Chimney Rock then follow it up to the overlook and down to the sandstone. Then Emma wades across the Whitewater River, then falls in with her clothes on. Repeatedly. It will be a long car ride home for her.
The park: Carley State Park (25 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Overlook Trail
On the drive over, we each make up quizzes about ourselves to see which family members know the most (and least) about us. This seems like a bad idea from the start, and I say so.
The family starts the quizzes anyway. Favorite colors and bands and best friends. Stuffed animals from childhood. That sort of thing.
Somehow, I answer the fewest questions correctly. On every single family member's quiz.
Anyway, I take the Overlook Trail, the perfect mix of water crossings and an excellent overlook.
On the way back down, I see our firstborn, daughter Hadley, on an adjacent trail. "Hadley!" I yell. "Hadley Jean!"
"Oh," she yells back. "I'm surprised you even know my middle name."
The park: Frontenac State Park (60 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Lower and Upper Bluff loop.
I rarely watch TV series, but, during quarantine, I have gotten sucked into "Law&Order." I watch it late at night, after everyone has gone to sleep. It's a real before-bed pick me up.
Anyway. After the grueling Lower to Upper Bluff loop -- 90 minutes of hiking with plenty of stone staircases -- my daughters and I make it back to the van. Son Henry, who takes off on his own rogue trail, shows up soon after our 4 p.m. meet-at-the-van deadline. Wife Lindy, who often opts for the tamer "Hiking Club" trails, is still not back. She's usually the first one at the van, and the air conditioning is often blowing so cold that I secretly wonder if she even left.
By 4:05, I go looking for her. As I head down the main trial, two questionable characters -- a man and a woman -- are heading toward me. The guy says something like "We have some Brill-o pads and dish soap in the car. We'll see if that will get the stains out."
Which, I swear, is a line straight from "Law&Order." So, with my wife missing, here's what I decide to do: I secretly photograph the couple after they pass me. In case the police need it for evidence.
Lindy comes walking down the trail a minute later.
On the ride home, when I make the mistake of telling my family I photographed that couple, I am mocked mercilessly.
The park: Root River Park (15 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Riverside/Stagecoach Trail
Maybe the most underrated park in the area, Root River Park offers access to the Root River, limestone bluffs, and the remnants of a bridge from the Dubuque Trail, the stagecoach route that linked St. Paul to Dubuque, Iowa in 1854.
My family stops to wade in the bluff-edged river. I trek off to find the bridge.
As a rule, I like my trail markers placed frequently (at every trail intersection) and with clear "You are here" arrows.
Root River park does not have these.
At one point, desperately lost, I stumble across a set of bones -- a spine with ribs attached. While I am certain it's a deer, my "Law&Order" binge prods me to study them far longer than I should.
I find the bridge! Then crawl through the dark tunnel underneath, despite seeing a person get murdered in a very similar situation on a previous "Law&Order."
The park: Forestville State Park (45 minutes from Rochester)
The hike: Sandbank Trail to Overlook Trail
It's hot. Really hot. When we split up to hike, Lindy and Emma linger suspiciously near the van. I walk into the old-timey downtown of Historic Forestville then climb Sandbank Trail to Overlook Trail. I have forgotten my water bottle and end up hiking nearly four miles round trip, all of it, somehow, uphill.
When I get back to the van, my clothes are soaked through. Lindy and Emma, meanwhile, are asleep. The air conditioning seems much colder than it should be.
When I press everyone about what trails they took, Lindy and Emma's stories seem vague and inconsistent. I should have interviewed them both separately.
Like they do on "Law&Order."