There were a few days last week when we flirted with spring. Squirrels and chipmunks frolicked in the yard, birds were singing, and we actually went outside without mittens once or twice. Then, mercurial as always, spring disappeared and we found ourselves back in deep cold with wind gusts between 30-40 mph. A month ago this might have been enough to send us scurrying to the couch in front of the fireplace to hide under fleecy blankets and read books, but we just couldn’t take it anymore, and so outside we went.
We trekked over to a local Wildlife Refuge. It was rough going at first; even bundled up, cold winds whipped over the open field at the start of the trail and brought tears to our eyes. The Mancub caught a crow feather blowing down the trail, and used it to draw designs in the frozen crust of snow. He carried that feather the entire hike, clutching it tightly with his mittened hands. There were crows calling in the woods; perhaps one of them was the feather’s previous owner. We pushed past the wind and into the trees, where a little bit of shelter made a lot of difference. We trundled along for a while, accompanied by chickadees and some birds I didn’t know, until we found a beaver pond. Just before we turned around, a flock of Cedar Waxwings descended on a tangle of bushes to the side of the trail, a hopeful sign of warmer times to come. March 19, 2015
For those who have been curious about how baby backpacking has changed how we do trips, here you go!
Thursday night e-mails:
Me: Want to go backpacking after work on Friday?
Sean: Sure, where to?
Me: I don’t know. Let’s head north and figure it out on the way.
We check the weather, but it doesn’t really matter, because we’ll go rain or shine. We grab our gear, which is always packed and ready, and leave about 7pm on Friday after a quick run to the supermarket for supplies. We pull into a campground around 11pm, and take out the spare tent to grab a few hours of sleep. The next morning we are up early, and head into the woods. We aren’t quite sure where we will camp, but plan to wing it and crash along the trail somewhere. I hoist my 25 lb pack that includes a book to read and a flask of something to drink by starlight. We hike until we are tired, about 12 miles in 6 hours over a couple of 4k peaks, and then find a slightly uneven, but passable, campsite along a wooded ridge. We cook a fancy camp stove meal. As the sun sets, we night hike out to a scenic view and talk long after the stars come out. The next morning, we sleep until the sun gets too hot on our tent, then we loop back along the trail to our car. On the way home we stop at a pub for some sweet potato fries and a frosty brew. We get home about 9pm, and roll into bed to be ready for work in the morning.
Me: Hey, so we have a few weekends in July on the calendar to go backpacking. What are you thinking?
Sean: Provides list of 5 different alternatives includes mileage and elevation estimates cross referenced with cell coverage charts.
We spend a month discussing backpacking routes that meet the criteria: not a lot of elevation, 2-3 miles per day, near something interesting like a river or other feature, plenty of room for the ginormous tent and easy bailout routes. We spend the week prior to the trip packing and organizing the gear, which has been scattered all over the house and garage because we haven’t really had time to put it back together after the last trip. We obsess over the weather reports, fingers crossed for a warm sunny forecast. We spend days counting how many diapers he uses, how many bottles he is down to, how many calories of food needs. We vacuum seal his formula and other meals. Finally, we leave on a Saturday morning around 10 am, after 3 hours of last-minute packing in which we stuff half the nursery into the baby carrier. We fill a heavy thermos with hot water for bottles. Because I will carry the Mancub and all his gear, and have little room for anything else, Sean will have to carry both my clothing and the group gear, in addition to his own stuff. The dog has the honor of packing out dirty diapers.
We drive north, and time our hike to start after the Mancub gets lunch and a diaper change in the back of the car. I hoist my 40 lb pack on my back, and slowly stagger up the trail. We hike for 3 hours (including a 40 minute break for baby bottle and playtime) and get to our campsite, which is 2.5 miles up a fairly level trail. We are tired, and Sean hurries to set up the tent so the kiddo can have a “safe space” to play without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. We play a little in the stream near our site, cook a quick pasta dinner and fall asleep as the sun sets. Most of our conversation sounds like this: “Hey, is that a stick? What are you doing with that stick? No, no mouth! Let’s look at this leaf. Do you like this leaf? Wow, it’s so pretty. Look at the frog. What’s that silly frog doing? No, no mouth!”
We wake the next morning at 5am when the Mancub body-slams my head and clocks Sean with a water bottle. We spend the morning organizing and repacking all the gear that has been taken apart and flung around the tent. We play a little more in the stream by our site. At 11am, we pack up and head back down the trail, taking several stops to explore the stream along the way and do snacks and bottles. The Mancub sleeps for much of the hike. We are off the trail around 1:30pm, and stop for a quick slice of pizza. We get back home in time to throw all our gear in a pile on the floor or scatter it around the garage, and stay on schedule for dinner and bath time. As darkness falls, we collapse in bed, exhausted (and happy).
Are we crazy to do that much work for such short trips? Perhaps a little bit. But we are having too much fun exploring the world with our little guy to care…
Rush Sturges is a pro kayaker known for his mind-bending freestyle moves, including one known as a “hail mary”, which involves a front flip over a waterfall. As we watched his latest highlights reel, Sean and I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis on his childhood paddling. The reel follows him as his parents pose him in a boat as an infant, up through his early years, including his 2003 Junior World Kayaking Championship win. His parents owned a kayaking school on a big river in California, and it is clear that they were instrumental in involving him in the sport from a very early age.
It’s a tricky thing, though, figuring out how much to try to influence a kid’s love of the outdoors. We are gung-ho paddlers, and we took the mancub out for a short ride the other day. He had a great time throwing a rubber duck over the side. But what if he doesn’t like paddling? What if he starts to drag his feet every time we prepare for a trip? How much do we push him and hope it sticks? When I was a kid, my parents took me out to a local nature sanctuary several times a week. I loved it. When my younger sister arrived, they loaded her into the backpack and headed down the trail. She screamed her head off every time. So, they ultimately decided to leave her with my grandmother and skip the nature tours when she was with us. So far he seems to be thrilled by our adventures, so we’ll cross our fingers and hope we never have to decide whether or not to leave him behind.
This past weekend we headed out to the mountains to do a trial run campout before we head out on the mancub’s first birthday backpacking trip next weekend. One thing we are learning about being in the wild with a little wild one is that we have to slow ourselves down, and take time to play. It isn’t about the big peaks or the long paddles, but about stopping along a stream and waving around sticks. We had a great trip out. Only a few blackflies, the butterflies were out and about by the hundreds, and the thunderstorms didn’t blow through until after we made it off the trail. Bliss.
While we wait for the water to warm up enough to take the kiddo out on his first river trip, we’ve been able to get away for a few solo excursions here and there. Here’s a recent video of Sean off tackling some bony Class IV in Northern NH with a local paddling group.
Pack your backpacks, canoes and kayaks folks, because more than 100 National Parks that usually charge an entrance fee will be free April 21-29, 2012 to celebrate National Park Week! What a great excuse to get the family out the door and exploring. Check out the National Parks website for a complete list of participating parks.
This video has been making the Facebook rounds, and a lot of folks are pretty impressed at the way this young girl talks herself out of a freak out and into her highest ski jump to date. I love the part at the end, when she immediately looks forward to the next big jump. This girl has class.
Deer ticks: Male tick on left, engorged female tick on right.
Few things freak me out as much as ticks. Something about their bloodsucking disease-carrying creepy little bodies send shivers up my spine, and the sight of a single tick causes me to search myself for hours and jump through the roof every time I feel something on my skin. Fortunately, they don’t seem to like me all that much either; Sean and I will come back from a jaunt in the woods, and he’ll be covered with ticks, while I often don’t have any on me. I’m hoping the baby takes after me on that count, because the thought of digging ticks out of tender baby skin has me squirming in my seat.
Unfortunately, this warm winter we’ve had may bring us one of the worst tick years we’ve seen in a while. With ticks moving further north and lyme disease and rocky mountain spotted fever becoming more prevalent, it is inevitable that those of us who like to wander around in the bushes will have to deal with these nasty little crawlies. So what do we do?
1. Know where to expect to find ticks
Ticks are often found in wooded or grassy areas, particularly where there is overgrown vegetation or leaf litter. This is also precisely the habitat that kids and pets love to explore, so knowing that there is a high likelihood of encountering ticks on a favorite hike or trip to a park lets you prepare ahead of time. Try to keep kids on the hiking trail and out of the brush during tick season to minimize exposure.
2. Dress appropriately when heading into tick territory
Wear long sleeves and long pants, as well as thick socks when going into a tick-heavy area. There are a number of lightweight fabrics on the market which make this more realistic in the summertime.
3. Use tick repellent
Products containing 20% DEET are effective tick repellents, and can be applied to clothing or skin, though we tend to only put it on clothing to minimize chemical exposure. Be sure to carefully avoid the hands, eyes and mouth, and follow all product directions. Permethrin is also effective, but should not be used on skin.