Trip Planning

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…

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

National Park Week 2012!

An island near Acadia National Park, Maine.

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.

Categories: Backpacking, Ideas, Inspiration, Trip Planning | Tags: | Leave a comment

After Irene

Washed out walkway along the Swift River

A few weeks ago, tropical storm Irene blasted its way through New England. Part of its path directly crossed some of our favorite wilderness areas around the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, and a number of roads were closed for a few weeks while crews repaired washouts from the storm. People were getting concerned, since we are approaching leaf-peeping season and the state desperately needs the tourism activity to maintain livelihoods. Over the past few days these roads have re-opened, and we took a little jaunt north to see how things were looking along the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We are planning to do a little backpacking trip with the kid in this area in the next few weeks, so were anxious to see what trailheads are re-opened, and if our planned campsite has washed away.

While the roads seem to be repaired and back to normal, a few areas are lower on the repair lists, including this path along the Swift river.  We discovered that a number of key bridges have washed out on the trails we were originally planning to trek along, so we are going back to research mode and looking for another spot to head out to next week. For the backpacking trip we need a trail that will bring us a few miles in, provide  access to water and tentspace, and be an easy enough hike that we can do it with a baby in a carrier (me) and an overloaded pack (Sean). More on that later…

Categories: Backpacking, Our Story, Trip Planning | 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

5 ways to prepare for an outdoor baby…

On the river, only a few more weeks to go...

So much planning goes into preparing for a new child, and preparing to bring that new child into the outdoors is no exception. The following is a list of things we are doing to get ourselves ready for the biggest adventure of our lives.This has been a really helpful process for us, and I’ll be expanding on a lot of these ideas in posts that will appear over the next few months.

1. Educating ourselves

Though we both have a lot of experience with introducing older kids to the outdoors, this whole baby in the wild thing is pretty new to us. We have lots of questions about what makes sense developmentally, what the baby can physically handle, and how to ease the transition between what the baby perceives as the safe and familiar, and the aspects of wilderness travel that might be scary and upsetting to a very young child. This has helped us to develop a rough idea of when we can plan to do certain kinds of trips. Before researching, we didn’t know you couldn’t put a baby in a backpack carrier until at least 6 months, because his neck muscles aren’t yet strong enough to hold up his head. Good to know.

Though much of this will vary from child to child and will be something we learn along the way, we are trying to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. Some of this comes from books, many of which we’ll review and present to you, some of it comes from looking for mentors or interviewing people we know who have managed to be successful in raising outdoor kids. We’ll also be beefing up our safety skills. For example, I’m planning to upgrade my Wilderness First Aid certification to a Wilderness First Responder in the next year, just to hone my emergency preparedness skills in case things go wrong somewhere along the way.

2. Researching local kid friendly trip options

Over the past few years, we’ve focused our explorations on the more wild locations around us; we’ve island hopped our kayaks along the Maine coast and up into Canada, and done a lot of longer hiking trips into the more untrammeled corners of our part of the country. Right now, we are still pretty mobile, though as my belly has grown bigger and my feet have swollen my pace more closely resembles a toddler than a through hiker. We’ve been taking advantage of this mobility to scout out local trails and parks for good kid-friendly excursion options. We’ve discovered a few new gems and now have lots of options for short day trips that we had not known about before.

3. Prepping the family

We aren’t quite sure how many of the people we know will react to our philosophy about raising our children. While many of them will likely think it’s great to expose kids to nature, we are expecting some criticism about how young we take our kids out, and how challenging we decide to make our trips. We have a short camping trip planned at about the 6 week mark, and have already had some head shaking. Critique is one thing; we have thick skins and can handle it. But we are trying to minimize concern from our family and friends by having early discussions with them about our plans, and reassuring them that we have our son’s best interests at heart. Hopefully these early discussions and reassurances will lay the groundwork for good communication that will help us bridge the differences between our own ideas and those of the people who care for us.

4. Gearing up

As I’ve mentioned, our first big baby purchase wasn’t a crib or a car seat;  it was a bigger tent. Sean is the resident gear expert, and has been busy taking inventory of our supplies and figuring out how to streamline and re-purpose what we have to suit our new style of travelling. He’s added a bug tent and a set of portage wheels for the canoe, and done some research into baby backpacks. We want to outfit our new family without breaking the bank, and he has spent a lot of time learning how to make gear, such as dry bags for paddling trips, that fits our specific needs and saves us money.

5.  Being outside as much as possible

Finally, we are trying not to lose touch with what we love most about being outdoors while in the midst of all this baby planning. Though I’ve slowed down a lot in the last few weeks, I cross-country skied all winter, took trips up into the mountains and spent as much time as I could fit into my schedule just enjoying being outside. Most recently, we paddled a quiet stretch of water and just talked about our dreams for the next few months. This work to make sure we share the same ideas will be crucial during the upcoming chaos, and we can look back at this time of preparation with fondness.

Categories: How-To, Infants, Trip Planning | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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