One of my main reasons for bringing my children on our year-long tour of state and national parks is to introduce them to the joys and pains of hiking and backpacking.
My family took me on the occasional day hike when I was a child, though I was fourteen when I discovered hiking, more specifically, backpacking.
My first experience with backpacking
With my parent’s encouragement, they signed me up for a two-week Outward Bound adventure in Pisgah National Forest.
In a group of about ten teens and two guides, I stomped through the forest, learning a bit about leave no trace camping, orienteering and rock climbing.
I also learned I could handle the physical and emotional challenges that come with backpacking much better than everyone else around me. Many of the kids broke down in tears of anger and frustration when we were all hungry, thirsty, lost, or having conflict, and they often turned to me for leadership because I weathered those conditions with ease.
I didn’t hike much through the rest of high school or college, but that quick adventure as a teen stuck with me.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
At 23, when I was having some personal challenges, I decided to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail for an opportunity to rediscover backpacking, take on a big challenge, and spend some time introspecting.
The thru-hike worked wonders for my psyche at that present time and for years to come. Having tackled and overcome obstacle after obstacle on a 2,000 mile, six-month hike across the mountains, I showed myself I could accomplish any task with determination and consistent execution.
I didn’t try to hike the Appalachian Trail in a single, long step of course. I also didn’t try to fathom the entirety of the trail. When I was struggling up a mountainside or battling an emotional slump, I didn’t consider the thousand miles or hundreds of mountains between the finish and me. I instead focused on the mountain or day at hand. I strung together tiny steps to move thousands of miles, finally reaching the finish after 165 days of daily execution.
The lessons learned from the Appalachian Trail continue to ground me when I encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I execute towards the end goal one bit at a time.
Back to the Kids
Since hiking and backpacking positively impacted my life, I want to ensure that Jane and Wilson are exposed to them at an early age.
We spend a lot of our time on a trail these days, and we are teaching a lot of foundational knowledge for responsible and adventurous experiences in the outdoors.
I’m happy to see they have already begun building on the foundational knowledge that we are providing.
Wilson will often ‘make a fire’, building a little pyramid of sticks in the fire pit. When he’s not piling sticks together, you can often find him with a hiking stick, hiking around the woods near the trailer at camp.
Jane seemingly always has a make believe map with her and consults it regularly (too regularly). She’s also diligent about hydration, often asking us if we need water from her backpack.
Oh, The Backpacks!
Katie and I often wear backpacks, and we almost always have them on our hikes. Observing us, Jane and Wilson often insist on carrying their own backpacks. They fought over the one we had, so we had to buy another.
They load the backpacks with fun items like toys, coloring books, and crayons, and they load them with necessities, like food, water, diapers and wipes. They lug them around on some of our nature walks, always eager for a break in the shade to dig through the packs to find a snack or toy.
After The Adventure
I doubt we’ll ever hike as much as a family as we have on this trip. Once we get settled back into our work and school lives, it could be that we hike very rarely.
It’s not my intention to press hiking and backpacking on our children every available weekend from here on out, though on occasion I will remind them that the activities are there and that they have the baseline skills and confidence to grow as hikers and backpackers.
Perhaps they are already learning lessons from the trail that they will apply to their young lives. Or perhaps decades from now, driven by whatever reason, they might be able to draw on the benefits of long-distance backpacking like I did.