Woke up this morning to see that the photo from Little D’s first birthday paddle is the Canoeroots Magazine photo of the day! So fun! Check it out here…
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Backpacking: Before and After
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…
It seems like we’ve had nothing but rain this winter, at least until this morning, when flurries of perfectly developed little snowflakes started falling all over the seacoast. We are on the tail end of about 3 weeks of everyone in the house being sick with something or other, so we were excited to escape our germ factory and flee for the seashore for a bit of fresh air. The horizon was blurry with snow, and we could barely make out the hulking shape of the lighthouse guarding the entrance to the river.
Fighting the Winterblues: New England Aquarium Style
I’ll admit it, though it will send shudders down the spines of all my teleskiing fanatic friends: winter is not my favorite time of year. I can appreciate it in small bursts. I love the crystalline beauty of a morning following a storm, and spent many hours as a kid playing in the frosty woods behind my house, following the tracks of field mice to see where they went, always hoping to see evidence of wildlife drama. I tried winter mountaineering, but that ended after one weekend outing where my eyelids froze shut. So nowadays I’ll bundle up to take the kiddo for walks, or hit the beach for some ice bocce, or get excited about our annual xc skiing weekends, but other than that, I’m dreaming of summer.
This is where the New England Aquarium comes in. Right before New Year’s we decided to brave the icy weather and head south to the aquarium to introduce the kiddo to some fish. To beat the crowds, we got there right as the doors opened at 9am, which meant that we had a good two hours until the perfect storm of Liam’s attention span and the overcrowding of a winter break weekday hit. In that time, we watched the kiddo become fascinated by the silvery fish zipping past him. He also seems to have developed a bit of a penguin obsession.
Oh, and the best part? Now they have a shark and ray touch tank. Frankly, this part was all about me. Liam’s fingers are far too little to dangle in a touch tank, but mine sure weren’t. Rays are rather slimy, but still pretty darn cool.
There’s a cold wind blowing outside that signals the end of our tenting season for the year, and is making me think fondly back to our first family camping trip in September, the last time it was warm enough to wear shorts in the woods. I’ll be posting a story soon about our last attempt at camping out which resulted in a long drive home late at night, but in the meantime, we are packing up our summer gear, putting away the canoes and kayaks, and starting the traditional winter trip planning season, where we pour over maps and dream about long summer days on the water. This next year we will have the added excitement of introducing the Kiddo to the canoe. In the meantime, we have a bunch of day hikes, ski trips and rustic cabin camping to keep us busy until iceout. Bring it on!
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…
The Saddest Member of the Pack
Video: Freya on a flooded trail in the White Mountains National Forest
This whole baby thing has been a rough transition for our dog. She loves nothing more than the opportunity to roll in smelly mud, but she hasn’t been able to do that as often as usual. I’ve been hiking with the baby a lot of mornings, but I haven’t been bringing the dog with me because she’s not real good on a leash, and it’s a lot for me to handle while I’m getting myself back in shape. It was especially tricky in the first few weeks when I was afraid the dog would pull me sideways and re-injure my stomach muscles. So she watches me pack up the baby and head out the door, and I hear soft whimpering as I go down the stairs. It’s awful.
Fortunately, we can take her when there are two of us, so she gets a few exciting adventures a week. I know that the moment the first cheerio hits the floor she and the baby will be best friends, but right now she isn’t real thrilled about the newest member of the pack.
This video is from happier days.
Perhaps I should have been suspicious when I saw that there was a prime spot still available at the park so late in the day. It had everything we were looking for: an oceanfront setting, a big shade tree, and a barbecue grill. I pushed a stroller full of picnic supplies over to the table, plopped down in my folding camp chair to nurse the Kiddo, and waited for Sean and our friends to arrive.
A few minutes after I got there, I discovered that the site had something we weren’t looking for: a resident groundhog. He (or she?) popped out of the large boulders that marked the beginning of the rocky shore, and gave me a steely glare. And then charged straight at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but some concentrated googling later that evening informed me that groundhogs are actually very aggressive creatures who will fight to the death to protect their young or their homes. There was no clear reason for this one to find me threatening, unless he just didn’t like babies, but he very quickly violated what I consider my safe wildlife proximity zone. I figured if I had to I could probably manage to jump on top of the picnic table, even while nursing, or perhaps scoopkick him back over the rock wall. I too am a fierce creature when defending my young.
Fortunately, it didn’t get that far. I managed to turn him around by vigorously waving a cloth diaper in his direction, and he scurried back to the wall, where he proceeded to munch on some deadly nightshade. It was an uneasy truce for a while, but he finally moved off down the park when the rest of my group arrived.
It sounds funny, to talk about being threatened by something that appears as harmless as a groundhog. People have all seen footage of Punxsutawney Phil being lifted out of his burrow to make friendly predictions about the weather, and assume groundhogs are cuddly little creatures. Though they can be “tamed”, it takes a lot of work to do so, and they are wild creatures with powerful claws for digging burrows and teeth sharpened by gnawing on vegetation. Not something I want to tussle with. I tried to imagine the life of this particular groundhog. He had to endure harsh weather along the seashore. His burrow likely flooded during the recent storms, and I wonder where he went during the storm, if he had to huddle in the woods at the edge of the park waiting for the waters to recede. In the winter he hibernates, but the soil on the coast must be rocky and hard to dig. A few moments after he left our site, some kids from another table started to harass him. They threw watermelon rinds at him, and dared one another to try and get closer; they laughed and screamed each time he charged them, oblivious to how deadly serious the creature was taking their “game”. I imagined day after day of this. No wonder he tried to scare me away.
We barbecued quietly and enjoyed a great evening of fine conversation as the sun slipped down behind the trees. After a few hours we left the groundhog in peace to reclaim his territory.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in the wilderness. We are lucky, however, that our yard links up with some large fields and the remnants of old family farms to form a green corridor rich enough to support foxes, wild turkey, woodchucks, rabbits, coyotes, and, as we discovered this spring when our apple trees were nearly chewed to bits, deer. Except for the deer, who were not welcomed by Sean the apple farmer, we are happy to be able to hear the occasional yipping fox late at night, and to watch the rabbits hopping around when we go for walks in local conservation lands. We’ve tried to encourage most wildlife in the yard, and have hung birdfeeders, beehouses and bat boxes to encourage natural pollinators and help the migrators along their routes.
This year we knew we’d be pressed for time to tend to the extensive vegetable gardens we usually grow, so we decided to turn one of our large garden spaces into a wildflower garden that could help support the local bee/bird/butterfly population. All summer, the garden has been alive with activity. I’ve seen hummingbirds sparring over choice blossoms, goldfinches going crazy on the coreopsis seedheads, and bees and butterflies flitting about by the dozens. The sunflowers will provide seeds for the birds to eat come autumn, and to re-seed the garden for next year’s crops, and the milkweeds will provide a valuable food source for several life stages of Monarch Butterflies.
This 200 foot square piece of yard has literally been buzzing all summer, and we’ve been thrilled to watch the tiny insect dramas playing out among the plants. While Liam is too little to fully appreciate the garden right now, as he grows I imagine we’ll spend time learning about the butterfly life cycle as we watch it play out in front of us, track bees across the yard and talk about the physics of hummingbird flight.
Walking on the shores of the bay…
The other night we decided to head out to one of our favorite places along the bay and see how the conservation lands had handled Tropical Storm Irene. Even though we got hit less directly than originally predicted, we still had some fierce winds and about 4 inches of rain, and I expected to find a lot of debris along the shores. I was surprised to see the shores looking pretty much as they usually do, piled with seaweed and the occasional chunk of driftwood. I think we’ll see more trees and other items showing up in the next few weeks as they come down the rivers and empty into the bay, and I wonder how the oysterbeds will fare with all the toxins that usually get flushed into the bay during high water events.
It was a perfect night for no-see-ums and mosquitos, so we got out our little mosquito netting cover and bundled the Kiddo up pretty tight. There was enough of a breeze to keep him clear of bites when we were on the shore, but as soon as we got into the woods the swarms started coming.
We were back at the car as the sun was setting.It wasn’t a dramatic adventure: no deep thoughts or brilliant inspirations. Just a peaceful night along the shore. I’ll take it.
And now, a video with a special guest star…