Toddlers

Backpacking: Before and After

For those who have been curious about how baby backpacking has changed how we do trips, here you go!

Before:

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.

After:

May E-mails:

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…

Categories: Backpacking, Our Story, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Owl Moon

Every other week, Everyday Wild will post a review of a book related to wilderness adventure, outdoor life or exploring the wild with children. Reviews will highlight books for both kids and adults, and will focus on finding and sharing those books that are particularly useful or inspirational to families looking to be more connected with the wild.

“If you go owling you have to be quiet and make your own heat.”

I decided to begin this series of book reviews with one of my favorite classic books for children: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. Those of you who read my first post about watching a porcupine with my father will understand why this book resonates so strongly with me.

Jane Yolen spins a carefully crafted tale of a family rite-of-passage. The narrator , a small girl, is finally old enough to go out owling with her father. “Long past her bedtime,” she bundles up into winter clothing that hides all but her eyes, and follows her father through the deep snow and out into the woods. She understands the ephemeral nature of wild animals from the stories of her older siblings,  “My brothers say sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t”. It’s a beautiful story told in the softly lyrical language that Jane Yolen is known for.

When I finish reading this story, I am left with a yearning desire to go into the woods in search of owls; I imagine most children will be too, and this makes it a perfect tie-in for a nightime walking adventure, particularly in winter. Grab a flashlight and some snowshoes, and tramp along a winter path. Be careful to take the time to be still, and perhaps you will be lucky enough to hear an owl calling to you from deep in the woods.

Categories: Book Review, Preschoolers, School Age, Toddlers | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Grubs, Roots and Shoots: Inspiration from Jane Goodall

Copyright © Jane Goodall Institute of Canada

I met Jane Goodall once. I was an eager student of anthropology and had been devouring every book on primates and paleoanthropology I could find, including all of Goodall’s work. Miraculously, she came to speak at my college, and I planned to skip out of my favorite class to hear her presentation. In the week leading up to her appearance, I busily wrote out all the questions I wanted to ask her, just in case there was a chance to talk one on one. I tried to come up with complex questions, not ones that just anyone off the street would ask, oh no; these would be questions that showed I not only read her books but could offer deep insight into her findings.  I was certain it would lead to a lively and stimulating exchange of ideas, and that this would be one of the better networking moments of my anthropological career.

When the presentation ended, I hurried to the back of the auditorium to line up for her book signing. Along with every other person there. The line wrapped around the room, and it became clear to me that I was going to have about 30 seconds to impress Dr. Goodall. I was doomed. My hands got clammy and started to shake. As my turn approached, all rational thought deserted my brain. I reached out with my sticky hand, and barely  managed to choke out a strangled, “I liked your book,” before receiving a cursory thank you and being guided away by the handlers. I had choked.

All of this has little to do with today’s post except to emphasize my long-standing science crush on Jane Goodall.

"Grub the Bush Baby" is the photo story of Jane's son's first two years in the forest at Gombe.

In 1967, Jane Goodall brought her months-old son into the field with her at Gombe in Tanzania. Her careful observation of the reserve’s chimpanzees had shown her that they hunted, and often killed the young of other primates in the area, and she was concerned about the safety of her young son. In order to protect him from both the chimps and the many other wild animals in the area, she built him a cage. Both she and her son slept in it at night, and though it was painted a cheery blue and decorated with birds and stars, she received heavy criticism from a number of people about her child rearing methods. But she always maintained that “Grub”, as she nicknamed him, had led an extraordinary childhood. She took her parenting cues from the chimpanzees she studied, and noticed that, “chimp mothers… that were affectionate and tolerant raised babies that had good adult relationships and were successful community members”(Quote from Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan).  She took six years away from direct fieldwork to raise him, and he accompanied her in her research travels around the countryside.

Grub grew up running around the forests and plains of Africa, and in the process learned firsthand the value of the wild creatures surrounding him even when they were a direct danger to his family. Goodall has since formed the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting humanitarian, environmental and animal protection efforts around the globe. As part of the institute’s efforts to reach out to youth, Goodall formed a  program to help children become actively involved in influencing the world around them. Roots and Shoots encourages youth-led campaigns to effect positive change in the three focus areas of the institute, and helps kids identify how they can make a difference. Anyone can form a Roots and Shoots group, and there are thousands of children now working on service projects related to the program. For folks looking to not only get their kids out into the woods but also teach them to preserve those things they love, this program seems like a great way to get started. You can search for local groups, or learn how to start your own here.

Categories: Infants, Inspiration, Outdoor Life, Toddlers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration: The Chukchi Sea at Toddler Speed

        Erin Mckittrick isn’t afraid of a little hardship.  In 2007, along with her partner Hig, she travelled the 4000 miles from Seattle, Washington to the Aleutian islands, Alaska using only non-motorized transport. Pioneers of “packrafting”, they used small inflatable rafts to ferry themselves and supplies along the coast , and hiked or skied many thousands of miles through remote terrain to reach their goal. By the end of the journey, Erin discovered she was pregnant, and stage two of their adventurous life had begun.  The duo have a greater purpose than just adventure in their outings; they formed the nonprofit organization Ground Truth Trekking as a vehicle to bring awareness to critical environmental issues, and use their expeditions to visit and talk about habitat that is on the verge of being impacted by coal mining and other human endeavors.  For them, having children couldn’t stop their expeditions. Their larger goal was too important.
          In the summer of 2010, they spent a month travelling along the Chuckchi Sea. Erin was 6 months pregnant with their second child during the journey, and carried their toddler, Katmai, on her back as they bushwhacked through thick brush and climbed scree slopes. Bear tracks, and the bear that made them, feature heavily in the video clip, and I can’t help but shiver a little when Katmai stands alongside the giant tracks in the sand. But a larger part of me envies Katmai; he will grow up with physical knowledge of  a wild and untamed landscape, and his earliest memories will be of sitting with his parents under the stars, watching them passionately pursue their dreams for a better world.
          On September 15, they are leaving for their next big expedition. For  two months, they will be  living on the ice of the Malaspina Glacier with a 7 month old baby and a 2 year old. They will have to carry all their supplies with them, as they are too far out for resupply stops other than a few plane drops. They will have to watch for grizzlies and extreme weather, as well as maintaining the basic needs of the family. Among it all, they will investigate the impact of global warming on this fragile ecosystem.
          Read more about their journey and other stories from the family expeditions here.
         Or, check out their book about their amazing journey north.

Categories: Backpacking, Inspiration, Outdoor Life, Toddlers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Outside Gets in on the Action

Lately, I’ve noticed the subject of kids and adventure sports has been appearing with more regularity in the magazines and websites I visit. I think this is great, and hope it signals a trend towards understanding and encouraging independence in kids and a move away from the culture of fear that has been present in America for the last few decades.

Recently, Outside Magazine got in on the game with its Father’s Day issue. In typical Outside Magazine fashion, the series tends to lean a little heavy toward what gear to buy rather than how to actually get kids on the trail, but it’s great to see more mainstream magazines encouraging folks to seek adventure with little ones, rather than championing overprotective parenting. Check out their tips and recommendations for how to become an Adventure Dad here.

Categories: Ideas, Preschoolers, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Small Adventures: Moonlight and Horseshoe Crabs

A mating pair of horseshoe crabs heads into deeper waters. Sean Donohue©2011

Around the full and new moons in May and June, a strange phenomenon occurs all up and down the Atlantic Shores of the US: the spawning of the horseshoe crabs. Sean and I first discovered this event about 8 years ago when we set off on an evening paddle to watch the full moon rise over a nearby bay. As we paddled close to shore, we noticed piles of horseshoe crabs in the shallows and along the beach. On closer inspection, we realized they were mating, and thus began our fascination with these strange prehistoric animals. Where we go we’ll often see a dozen or two mating pairs in a single trip, but there are places where the crabs are more abundant, and hundreds of pairs pile up on the beach.

Horseshoe crabs look ancient, and in fact their origins predate most species on the planet. These living fossils are covered in spiny body armor and have a long, spike-like tail that they use for righting themselves if they become flipped upside-down. During Mating, the male clings to the females back, and they stay linked for  hours. The female will then dig a hole in sand or mud, and the male will fertilize the 60-120,000 eggs as she lays them. These eggs are an important food for at least 11 species of migratory shorebirds, as well as many other small shore animals. After mating, the male and female separate, and head off into deeper waters.

The mating of the horseshoe crabs is a great natural event to look for with kids. The crabs themselves are fascinating with their spiny armour and long spiked tail, and the presence of so many in one place can be awe-inspiring. Add in some moonlight and an expedition that involves flashlights, and the event becomes even more fun. It’s also a great chance to show kids how to observe nature without touching (and potentially disturbing a special moment for the crabs). If you are doing nature journaling with your kids, this is an exciting observation to write about.

Image via Creative commons

If you want to find popular spawning locations near you, the University of Delaware’s Horseshoe Crab Spawning Website  has a great page with an interactive map  that will help you plan your trip. I particularly like their tip about using a red filter on flashlights and camera flashes when doing night observations to avoid blinding the animals for an entire tidal cycle.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, Preschoolers, School Age, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration: The Crawfords Hike the Wonderland Trail

I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac, but with this pregnancy I’ve often found myself up late at night, wandering around the thicket of the interwebs. Among other research, I’ve been searching for examples of familes who have managed to maintain an adventurous lifestyle with their children. One of the first family adventures I came across is the tale of Ben and Kami Crawford, who backpacked the 93 mile Wonderland Trail with their 4 children ages 2,4,6 and 8. It took them 12 days to hike the trail, which loops around the base of Mt. Ranier, during which time they gained and lost around 20,000 feet in elevation. There are a few hairy moments; morale flagged during the constant rain mid-trip, a few dicey suspension bridge crossings had me squirming a little, and I can’t help but think about what I would do differently in terms of preparedness for extreme conditions. But overall, they had a great trip and I find it heartening to see an example that negates all the comments I’ve been getting about how we’ll never be able to leave the house again after we have kids.  You can watch all 9 narrated slideshows of their trip here.

Categories: Backpacking, Inspiration, School Age, Toddlers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Inspiration: Finding Farley

     In 2007, filmmakers Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison, along with their 2 year old son Zev and their border collie Willow,  set out to explore the landscapes of Canada as immortalized in the writings of Farley Mowat.  To do so, they had to canoe, hike and sail over 5000 miles  from the midwestern prairies of Canmore, Alberta  to the shores of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Along the way they passed through native villages, went north across the barrens to Hudson Bay, and encountered a great variety of wildlife, including one memorable scene where they have to canoe right past a polar bear. The bugs nearly drove them insane and the deep, muddy portages practically sucked the boots off their feet, but all three pushed on to their final destination. Their two-year-old son, Zev, seemed to take the whole trip in stride, and exhibited a calmness throughout the journey that makes me think about how kids adjust to what’s “normal” in their lives. If a child grows up thinking that pulling a canoe upstream through thickets and rapids is how life happens, he won’t be upset when put in that situation. If a kid is raised in front of a television and never learns to self-amuse, he’ll likely shatter under the strain of such a journey. Since we probably aren’t going to do such a long and involved journey,we’ll have to find some sort of middle ground.  It’s this sense of living with the wild as “normal daily life” that we really want to foster in our own kids.

     Finding Farley has won awards at several major outdoor film festivals, including the top prize at the 2009 Banff Film Festival. You can watch the entire film at Heur and Allison’s website,  Neccessary Journeys.

Categories: Inspiration, Paddling, Toddlers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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