Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Avoiding Nature Deficit Disorder in kids

The Introduction 
As I watched our eight year old daughter's pigtails bobbing up and down as she casually skipped from our campsite down a grassy slope to the lake's edge to wash up before bed, I was filled with wonder at how content our children were at 12,000 feet.   Unlike any other locale, our children were able to fill their time easily, smile more, laugh more, talk more, complain less when removed from the distractions of modern life.  Only when we left our car in a parking lot and step by step put more distance between ourselves and the stuff of this world could we truly, as a family, unwind and connect.

As my gaze shifted from our bathing blondie to the soaring peaks beyond, I took in the scene around me and promised myself to never forget.  I vowed to try to bring the grounded perspective that is gained when sitting on a granite rock  back with me to the "real world".  While sitting in the warm sun, under blue skies, sipping in pure air and thinking of the days' to do list that consists purely of items needed to simply survive, life becomes simple again.  And in that simplicity, the stresses of life seem petty and ridiculous.  A new order emerges - one of priorities of connectedness with loved ones, movement, wonder.  Entertainment is complete in observing natural beauty and quietly dreaming through inspired conversation.  The mundane of cooking dinner and getting water are chores that now bring joy as they are not done in a rushed and hurried after thought to a busy day, but that are part of the days rhythm. 

It was this moment that birthed the idea to write this book.  For the past 11 years, as our family pass folks on the trail, we have been asked, "How do you get your kids out here?" from truly astonished fellow adult hikers.  This book is inspired and birthed from that singular question.  There was a time in recent history when kids ran more free, feeling real soil at their feet and the wind swirl on their face on a dusty mountain trail.  But every time we hear this question we wonder if we are becoming an indoor people, addicted to our computer monitors while we miss the explosive firework display as the sun dances across the eastern sky.  This question comes to us with genuine perplexity and points to a phenomenon, Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, has named "nature deficit disorder" which he defines as "...the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses."

This memoir takes place, in it's majority, on the John Muir Trail.  John Muir has the honor of having what many considered the most beautiful scenic trail in the country named after him. It is because he has done more to preserve our wilderness then any other American.  His wanderings through the wilderness and eloquent writings inspired President Roosevelt to establish 148 million acres of national forest, five national parks, and twenty-three national monuments.  Muir's writings spoke of nature as a powerful aid in human health and wholeness for the weary, stressed, and overworked city dweller. 

Living between the years of the Civil War and the Great Depression, Stephen T. Mather, first director of the National Park System, suffered from emotional breakdowns marked by depression and withdrawal.  Without drugs to help him cope, he found that spending time, often alone, in the wilderness was his best remedy.  When that was not possible, his wife surrounded him in his recovery room with pictures of Yosemite.  After months of reclusion, he would emerge, fervently focused on lobbying Congress, the press, businesspeople, and just about everyone in America.  His persuasive energetic whirlwind convinced congress to establish The Grand Canyon National Park in 1919.  

In the spirit of John Muir and Stephen T. Mather, we too have found the power of immersion in nature to be able to refocus us, calm our spirits, and bond our family together in ways that nothing else can. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Day 27: Final words. It's time for the Big Conclusion.

As we decided to descend to the truck and finish the final 5 miles we had remaining, we took one look back over the valley we had left.  As I said goodbye, I was reminded of something I read on my friend's blog (my most favorite blog of all times!)

The day we walk over this pass without stopping to let these mountains and lakes impress us, that's the day we've grown too hard to see God in this.

The final five miles were easy, downhill all the way to the truck.  We passed two lovely lakes that fed rushing waterfalls that plunged over more ripped landscape.  It made me smile.  The Sierras deliver raw beauty through the last step.  These Sierras were "good to the last drop".

As promised, upon passing the sign that marked the boundary to the John Muir Wilderness, Bekah's tears began to flow.  "I am so sad it's over.  I don't want to leave the Sierras," she said through her tears.

We all felt it.  We were charmed by this place, yes, but more than that, we lived outside, all summer, working as a team, bonding, talking, laughing, and even being quiet,

as we walked our summer away,

                                spending the long, endless, summer days,

                                      in slow motion,

Day 27: Backpacking with kids: our 200 mile summer - OUR LAST DAY!

Bullfrog Lake area to our truck at Onion Valley Trailhead, over Kearsarge pass.  An easy 7 mile ending

Our first blue sky, warm morning in many days hugged us sweetly as we breakfasted for the last time.  A quiet sense of awe that we really were about to finish our 200 plus summer mixed with sadness that it really was almost over.  This thin brown ribbon of dirt that weaves inconspicuously through the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wildernesses, connecting Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon National Park  had pieced together our world for 4 weeks.

2011 at the top of Kearsarge Pass.  Cade: 10, Bekah: 8
We had one more easy pass between us and our truck: Kearsarge Pass at 11,720 feet would be our last chance to look back over the massive peaks and lakes of the Sierras.

We took our time getting on the trail, choosing to linger longer on warm granite rocks, taking in the sights, smells, and feel of a Sierra morning, one last time.

One last time to listen to a stream bubble and gurgle by.

One last time to hear nothing but birds,wind, and trees.

One last time to watch the light glow on this famous Range of Light.

The hike to the top of the pass was fast.  Seven miles to the truck was all we had left and only a couple of miles to the top of one of the easiest passes to climb.  We had light packs and our strongest legs of the summer.   The kids and I reached the summit in no time.  At the top, we looked down the trail to see Cory, paused, looking back at the beauty we were leaving behind.  When he finally reached the summit, he was quiet and introspective.

The cheerful crowd that gathered at the top snapped him out of his reflective state.  Chris, a brand new California resident, recently transferred from Kentucky.  With a delightful southern drawl, he was the perfect greeting for us as we left our beloved Sierras behind.  "This is my first hike out here EVER!  I drove here from Palmdale, and day hiked up here.  I just moved to California and I moved here just for this.  No other reason.  Just these mountains.  This is unreal!  I can't stop taking pictures.  Every turn I think it's amazing but then I walk up a little further and it's even better, so I snap another picture."  Chris was radiant.  He literally was jumping as he spoke, his animation underscoring why we did this at all.

Such a perfect and fitting way to end our adventure.  It felt like we were handing a baton off to someone who was on day 1 of his discovery of a place we had come to call our home away from home.  Here you go Chris.  Here's the baton.  We just finished, now it's your turn. Take the baton and never stop exploring! Enjoy!

Day 26: Backing with kids: our 200 mile summer - Sibling bonding

Dollar Lake over Glenn Pass to the Bullfrog Lake area

Bekah taking it easy on a floating log on Bullfrog Lake
 I am sitting at our camp tonight, in a meadow just outside of my most favorite lake: Bullfrog lake.  It is so popular and gorgeous that for the last 25 years, it has restricted all camping.  Our low mile day of about 8 miles, included traversing through the gorgeous Rae Lakes Basin and climbing over Glenn Pass, considered by some to be the most difficult pass on the JMT, was just what the doctor ordered.  A rugged, granite rocked trail is our guide through miles and miles of uphill boulder fields to our pass of the day.  Last year we did this pass and had to traverse over a snow field at the top, which was harrowing.  This year we'd have it easy.  No snow. 

Climbing Glenn Pass in 2011: Cade - 10, Bekah -8
Rae Lakes Basin has multiple approaches and is part of multiple loops making it the most crowded section of trail we encountered all summer.  We met more JMT through hikers, now just days from the official Mt Whitney end.  Sporting huge smiles, they knew with their end in sight, they were about to accomplish their 211 JMT through hike goal.  We even crossed paths with a couple spending their Sunday ultra-mile running the 45 mile loop from Kings Canyon National park up through Rae Lakes and back to Kings Canyon.  It starts to feel that America is full of slim, fit looking athletes as we are continually surrounded by highly motivated, smiling, folks in action.

Top of Glenn Pass with Tom and Scott
Rae Lakes Basin is the valley behind us: full of lakes and surrounded by high peaks

As hard as it is for us to have enough time for our kids, our kids have even less time for each other.  But in this setting, Cade has time to focus on Bekah a little more. "Bekah, I so badly want you to catch a fish!  The feeling is incredible!" Cade announced to his discouraged fellow fisher lady, who had not caught a fish yet.  Tonight was our final night.  If it was to happen, it would have to happen tonight.  We are all rooting for her.

After living out here all summer, Cade was not content to merely observe his surroundings but seemed to desperately crave more - he wanted to join the ecosystem in action.  With his homemade willow rod, he has no longer just crossed streams or walked beside lakes.  He has instead become a student of fish behavior, stalking them in a crawl or crouched position in the tall weeds, along the banks, becoming a little expert on fish habits.  Consequently, his hours in this fish classroom have awarded him with nearly 20 catches.  He's figured out how long to let his fly land on the water, how to wriggle it just right to mimic a real bug, and which fly from his collection (fellow hikers and fly fishing aficionados cannot resist donating flies to his cause) is the best match for the evenings hatch. 

Tonight I am a keen observer of a brother who is not encumbered by his own 11 year old world, but one who is willing to look beyond himself and help his  sister catch her first fish.  With 20 catches, he clearly is the resident expert in Bekah's mind so she drops to her knees and crawls along the bank for hours, mimicking her brother.

I am not sure whose squeals were louder, Bekah or Cade's, when at last, Bekah landed her first fish: a 5" Brook Trout.  Success feels good. 
The River Runs Through It: Cade never gave up, even when he got skunked for 3 days straight
Just as Tom experienced with 15 strangers turned friends on a backpacking trip in high school, Cade and Bekah have bonded in ways they just can't seem to in the busyness of home life.    They have thousands of memories together, built on shared experiences of teamwork towards a common goal.  As their mom, I am deeply blessed to see these types of bonds forming between brother and sister.

Everything from the giggles over more gaseous emissions wafting in their shared tent to the hi-fives on the top of another challenging pass to setting up a tent together all have formed the foundation to what we hope will be more than just a sibling relationship, but a real friendship.

Day 25, part 3: Backpacking with kids:our 200 mile summer - comfort

We enjoyed our banter with these highly prepared military men.  Truth is, they've seen more than anyone should ever have to, and I really do understand their paranoia driven need to pack heavy.  Because of my history with seizures just one time 16 years ago, we have a one-way satellite p.l.b. (personal locator beacon), usable just one time, but if we push the button, the cavalry will come. $250 for this gadget is well worth the peace of mind for us. 

We all have different levels of comfort and there is no need to sacrifice to the level that one feel scared and unprepared.  It's a balance between that and keeping packs as light as possible.

Back when my pack was heavy, a simple ankle roll would cause me to crash and burn as the momentum created from a heavy backpack would overtake my ability to control my body.  Too many falls meant we needed to do something about my pack weight for more than comfort, it was a matter of safety.  This summer, I have had my characteristic handful of stumbles, but my pack is manageable now, so I stay on my feet.


Courtesy of Cory J O'Neill photography"Painted Lady" in Rae Lakes Basin
At the suspension bridge we parted ways with Fernando and his band of merry men and began our climb up to Rae Lakes Basin, one of the most popular basins in the Sierras.  At 6:25, we were exhausted and were 2 miles shy of the basin.  We'd been hiking uphill for hours and were so ready to rest for the night.  As we turned the corner, Dollar Lake, a small, pristine lake nestled in the trees, came into view.  No sooner had we spotted the lake then we heard a call from within the forest, "Hey Bekah! Hey Cade!  You made it!".

It was our favorite cheerleaders again, Tom and Scott.

"Hi Tom!  Hi Scott!  When did you get here?" we asked.

"Oh, about 30 minutes ago.  Are you hiking on?"

"Oh no....just looking for a campsite.  Any will do."

"Why don't you stay here?", they suggested.  And so we did.  The Tom and Scott campground was just what we needed.  This trip, with a pass each day and 10 to 14 grueling Sierra miles was proving to be our most challenging, and beautiful yet.

Over 61 miles, we'd have 30,000 feet of elevation change.  Walking downhill, controlling a pack was a quad burn and walking uphill was a total body burn, including a cardio challenge.  Scott and Tom were feeling it too they admitted.  As we scanned our eyes around the lake, we realized that this was a collector for many of us feeling the same muscle burn: this lake was a packed house full of hikers stopping just shy of Rae Lakes.


Power Bars: Our Larabar recipe

We lived on Larabars this summer.  At over $1.50 a piece, we vowed to figure out how to make them.  Unlike the Soy laden, Clif bar, Larabars have 2 or 3 ingredients, so we guessed we could figure it out.

Here's the recipes we concocted today.

Trail Fudge Bars 
Makes 6 bars

1 cup of walnuts
1 cup of dates
1 tsp of almond extract, organic
1/8 + 1/16th of a tsp of salt
3 T of unsweetened cocoa powder

We whirred it all in our Cuisinart for 4 or 5 minutes to turn the walnuts into a nice walnuty paste.  Pull the dough out, and shape into bars!  Delicious fudgy yum for your active life! 

Carmel Latte Bars

Makes 12 bars

2 cups of almonds
2 cups of dates and dried apricots (total) - use as many apricots as you want, fill in the rest of the 2 cups with dates
2 tsp of vanilla extract
3/8 tsp of salt

I whirred this together in the Cuisinart for 8 minutes.  Then we pulled the dough out, and shaped it into bars
I am not sure how, but these taste like carmel!

I am sure that any mix, at a 1 to 1 ratio, of nuts and dried fruit will work.

Nuts and seeds to try
Sesame seeds
Hemp seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Sunflower seeds

Dried fruit to try (I'd always include some dates for the sweetness and consistency to be right)
Dried Apricots, cherries, mangoes, papayas

Things to add
Dried coconut
For every cup of nuts, add a tsp of vanilla or other extracts
For every cup of nuts, include 1/8 + 1/16 tsp of salt (this is optional, but I always do it)

Have fun!  
Create a way!
Post your ideas in our comment section!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Commercial break from the Memoir: Can you name our book?

It's been fun to see the numbers of readers spike since I started posting excerpts from our future book.   It's a dream we have shared for years and we are going for it.

I'd like the book to inspire families to do, to go, and to do so together.

I'd like the book to challenge kids to unplug and tap into their creative spirits.

I'd like the book to inspire anyone, despite fears, to attempt a backpacking trip.

I'd like the book to encourage young families that life does not have to stop once the kids arrive - you just bring them along and now you have company for your adventures.

So friends, can you help us name this book?

I have many ideas (secret ideas that I can't reveal here) but would love your ideas!

You might want to wait until the exciting conclusion which should be up either today or tomorrow....

but if not, send me a comment or shoot me an email at corynjulie at gmail dot com.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 25 Part 2: Hiking with kids - our 200 mile summer: a nerve racking moment

At 6:30 pm, we found ourselves still hiking.  Seven hours earlier we had crested Pinchot Pass to hit a long section of downhill trail that bordered Woods Creek.  The air was warm with a cool breeze and dark clouds, once again, were forming where we had just come from, chasing us down the JMT with a daily urgency. 

The downhill ended at a 100 foot long suspension bridge, hanging 25 feet over Woods Creek.  The bridge swayed intimidatingly, underscoring the sign that warned hikers to travel the bridge one-at-a-time. 
Safely across, we had our final words with Fernando and his group: Rod, Danny, and Mike.   Friendly banter had passed between our two groups off and on for days.  Fernando was easy to find as his pack glistened in the sun with a large solar panel affixed snuggly on the top.  At a river crossing, I finally asked him, “are you solar powered?”. 

“Kind of.  I couldn’t be out here with out my Ipod or Iphone.  The panels keep them charged,” he explained.  “oh yeah, and I watched Star Trek last night.”  Cade’s eyes grew large at the mention of such an option.  This guy hiked in style.  Just not our style.

Fernando’s friendly manner made us smile each time we met.  An electrical enginner with the Department of Defense, Fernando had not only served oversees, he had also served time with search and rescue crews.  Consequently, he had witnessed every kind of emergency possible and each time, he’d add more equipment to his pack, ensuring he was prepared for anything.  “Yeah, I promised these grumpy old men’s wives I’d get them home safely,” he joked.  In turn, Rod ribbed back, “We have no idea why he lugs all this stuff out here.  He’s nuts”. 

Fernando’s gang of grumpy old men were all retired from the military, one an ex-Navy Seal.  All carried large, military style packs, various bodily ailments, and memories overseas combat.  They might have ribbed Fernando’s excessive pack, but in reality, they all succumbed to their military training to come prepared, at all costs.  And despite their continual jabs at each other, it was clear they had each other’s backs.  It’s why Fernando lugged items like a heavy 2 pound climbing rope, bear spray, and two large sheathed knives – so he’d be able to get his buddies to the trailhead alive. 

Turns out, they almost needed that rope.  As Fernando met up with us at a watering stream, he began to recount a frightening moment, “Mike, the Navy Seal, has bad knees, one worse than the other.  In order to momentarily reduce pressure on one of his knees, he decided to use his good leg to push off a boulder, lining the trail.  The boulder gave way and he fell over the edge, about a 6 foot drop.  Thankfully, he landed on a ledge or his fall might have been fatal as he would have dropped 30 feet or so into the shallow creek below.”

Woah.  That was a sobering moment.  Fernando hiked past us and then stopped and turned back, lightening the mood he gently ribbed us light weight packers as he pointed out,  “See, I almost needed that rope!”

I smiled back saying, “I guess the real trick is to just hike near you, in case of an emergency that is.  Afterall, you’re carrying whatever we’d potentially need.”

"You want a bear canister?  I brought 2.  You can have one, seriously."

"Hey thanks, but we're fine."

"are you sure?  Really, you can have it!"

Unfortunately the notion that we could hike near them didn't pan out as their gear-heavy pace was more of a leisurely stroll so after the bridge, we never saw them again. If they are still out there, I know they are comfortable, safe, and perfectly prepared. They are probably grilling hamburgers and drinking a cold beer. With their solar panels and iphones, they are able to text home everyday, assuring worried wives that alls well. And they don't even have to miss an episode of The Office.  Bonus!

Day 25 part 1: Hiking with kids: our 200 mile summer: The shared joys of taking kids out on the trail

  Day 25: Majory Lake to Dollar lake, over Pinchot Pass.  11 miles. Hard day again!

Each day as we have crested over the pass, we do so under scattered clouds, with mostly blue skies and a warm sun.  As we descend and walk for a mile or two, when we look back, the pass has completely changed moods and is piled high with dark, stormy clouds.  We seem to be out walking the storm, but it follows us every day.  Last night, rain did indeed finally fall on us for hours but we were tucked away, cozy and dry in our tents. 

We awoke to another warm, sunny morning, but clouds were already forming, warning us that we need to move on to get over Pinchot Pass before the threat of lightening hits.  These unusual clouds and colder temperatures were creating an underlying current of urgency, trumping our normally carefree schedule that allows for lounging on warm rocks, relishing in that “endless summer day” myth.  In its place was the continual awareness of building clouds that propelled us to press on.

Pressing on with us was the crowd we had bunched up with since Palisades Basin.   For three days we leapfrogged with Scott and Tom from Santa Cruz; Fernando and his three buddies from Los Angeles; and Paul, Beth, and their 17 year old daughter Laura from Boise.  There would be many others on our same journey, but our pace doesn’t seem to sync, so our paths cross briefly for a trail or weather update and then we go our separate ways. 

At different times, all the groups we are tag teaming down the trail with wistfully look at Bekah and Cade as they tell them, “You are so lucky your parents take you out here.  Mine sure never did and I would have loved to have a chance to be out here when I was as young as you are. To be out here doing this at 9 years old is such a privilege!  You are so lucky!”  Cade and Bekah are told this so many times, they’ve canned a response that includes a smile and a, “I know”. 

Scott, of the Tom and Scott duo we are leap frogging with throughout the days, tells of having a dad who dropped him off at Boys Scout Camp, but never did any adventuring with him.  Tom concurred: his parents never did things with him outdoors.  Both men, near retirement said they are doing it differently – purposefully and intentionally carving time out to spend on the trail with their children and now their grandchildren.

I reflect quickly over my many childhood memories shared with my parents in National Parks, campgrounds, trails, and lakes and inwardly smile.  I cringe at the short 1970s looking shorts we all wore in the pictures but styling or not, these pictures catalogue our exploration of Glacier National Park; the Grand Canyon Rim; the badlands of North Dakota; Banff, Canada http://www.banff.ca/ ; Crater Lake, OR , and many places in between.  I don’t seem to remember much about my childhood, but each of these vacations are deeply etched in my mind,  as some of the main memories I have that survived into my adulthood.  These were always happy times.

At Mather Pass, Pinchot Pass, Dollar Lake, and later Glenn Pass, we’d be greeted each time by cheers from Tom and Scott, “Go Bekah! YEAH Cade!  You’re my heros!”  It turns out that in all the years and hundreds and hundreds of miles they had both spent on the trail, they had never seen young kids backpacking with their families (especially for more than a night or two). 

Talks with Paul and Beth (Beth was one of only 2 moms I would see on the trail all summer), were varied and spread out over three days as well.  With a smiling 17 year old daughter, they were just days from Mt. Whitney – the highest peak in the lower 48 states and the official end to their JMT through hike. 

Years of adventures together – canoeing trips, climbing trips to Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, backpacking trips all over the western states, dayhiking all over Yosemite National Park - all built with their daughter Laura an inseparable bond.  She admitted that when she hit 13, she was tempted to want to stay behind to get a job, hang out at the mall with friends, stay plugged in. 

She glanced down at her feet, paused, remembering the pull she felt back then, but soon she lifted her eyes with a contagious smile, “But I never did stay home and I’m so glad.  I love this!”

And I loved witnessing their family in action.  A 17 year old girl, on the brink of her senior year, in the twilight years of childhood, soon to leave the nest for college, work, and probably a family of her own, was still choosing to spend a large percentage of her summer time with her parents.  She chose to forgo a minimum wage job and the extra cash that all teens love.  She chose to forgo friends and shopping.  Why?  Her foundational years growing up were spent side by side with her parents, exploring the wonders of nature together.  Consequently, a 211-mile JMT hike won out over friends, and summer jobs, and even the chance to text!  How many teens would give up texting to spend time with their parents? Laura did.  I hope someday that Bekah and Cade choose the same.

My bet is that when temptations come Laura’s way, the wisdom from and trust she’s built with her parents will win out again.  A platform has been set - one of intentional togetherness that assures Laura that her parents aren’t too busy for her, they’ve practiced the art of talking and listening as they have spent long days and weeks together, outside, undistracted, tackling the next adventure. 

There is a lot of loving, excellent parenting going on that does not require a trail.  I marvel at the amazing parent/child bonds I see in my friends’ families as well as my student’s families.  But sadly, I meet so many students whose parents are too busy sending the message through their daily, “not now”s that they are not important enough to garner their attention.  At least not now.  But now comes too infrequently and walls get built up between parents and their children until one day, they suddenly realize, they missed half their child’s life.

Exhaustingly, I have concluded, children need a bountiful supply of focused attention – in the few short years they spend in our homes, their sense of self and connection to family is built.  Reading between the lines as Tom recounted the little time he really spent with his dad, recreating, I could hear his sadness and disappointment to have been denied that time to bond with his dad. 

Tom had to discover the quiet, the beauty, and the exhilaration of backpacking apart from his dad.  On a Seattle church sponsored high school backpacking trip he felt his physical limits being tested, stretching him, making him stronger, and challenging him to go harder. 

Tom explained, “I loved the freedoms I was given, always under the covering of the two leaders.  It built in me a new sense of confidence that I had never felt.   Before the week long trip was over, many of the kids (all of which have never backpacked before) fell in love with it.”

The unique way the group was able to bond due to the intense day to day teamwork required of outdoor living convinced him to change his own family legacy and take his own family out on the trail.  The kind of lessons he learned from his youth leaders were the kind of lessons he wanted the privilege of imparting to his daughter. 

Tom, Scott, Paul, and Beth all recognize that as good as intentions are at home to fully listen and focus on our kids, it proves to be nearly impossible to shut out emails, phone calls, deadlines, and meetings, amidst all the good things like soccer and piano and have much time left over.  Our own admitted weakness to the trappings of this world, are part of what creates the strong pull to a wilderness devoid of all of these daily distractions.

Day 24: Hiking with kids - our 200 mile summer: Comaraderie on the trail

Day 23: Palidades Lake to Majory Lake, 8 miles over 12,000 feet Mather Pass

Leap frog was the theme of the day.  We were one of the last groups to leave Palisades Basin, all heading to Majory Lake in a scattered line, dotting the trail like an army of ants.  Palisades basin was truly stunning.  Close in rugged peaks hugged the basin that housed rolling hills of granite and grasses and a sparkly lake.  

We’d fall into pace with one group, answering the same questions around our success at hiking with our kids.  One group we passed, whipped out their cameras, once again. For proof for their own that kids really can do this.  And as we ascended over the pass, the many groups gathered and paused to take in the view cheered Bekah and Cade on as they arrived.  I felt a little embarrassed by all the attention and truly felt that the grey-haired folks sitting on this 12,000 foot pass had accomplished more than we had, but it’s not too kosher to congratulate a 55+ hiker: “Wow!  It’s so good to see older people like you are out here!” So, I settle for a smile and light conversation.

But truly, I love seeing the age range on this pass today – healthy, active, adventure seeking Americans.  I would love to sit down and talk to each person as I know, in a group this big, many have had to overcome adversity – and dis so to have chances like this to take in sweeping vistas that require the heart to pump and sweat to flow in order to see.  Later on I’d learn a few of the stories of the people I sat with today: bummed knees and multiple heart stents to name a few, were part of the full story contained in these kind hearted fellow travelers of the trail.

Yes, these happy, easy-going, fellow hikers who are cheering on our kids indeed our inspiring me.  May I be going strong well into my gray-haired years, loving life and living it full like these amazing people are doing.  Earlier in our hike we met a lady in her 80s, backpacking along with her family, like she’d done for many years.  “Don’t tell me I inspire you,” she warned us, “I am just doing what I do.  But you little darling,” she said, as she bent a little to look in Bekah’s eyes, “you inspire me!”  These are the moments I love the most about being out here.  In  our independent, hurried world, we live indoors, isolated from anyone we don’t purposefully decide to interact with.  On the trail, everyone lives outdoors.  When we pass on the trail hwy, we literally bump shoulders.  Unlike in our cars, on the trail, every person you pass you make eye contact with, smile, and often exchange a few words that sometimes leads to a full 10 to 20 minute conversation.  I will indeed miss this natural camaraderie created out here.  A natural community.
We got into camp at 3:45 after walking in rain for at least an hour today.  It was a chilly and wet afternoon but at times, as we walked through the valley beyond Mather Pass, the sun would break through the clouds and warmth would flood our bodies.  Eventually, the clouds parted and clustered over the peaks that surrounded us, but right over our trail, the sun shone.  Due to the unpredictable weather, we set up camp earlier then planned, close to Majory Lake.  Within an hour of setting up the tents, the thunderstorm officially arrived, sending the kids and I into the tent by 5:30.  Evenings like this seem to pass slowly, as 5:30 is a very early time to have to begin a night of tent living. 

But it’s all a matter of perspective.  As we sat in our tents, unable to see out, Cory hung out in the meadows surrounding our lake home for the night in awe of the light show.  “This is the most beautiful campsite!  We can see 360 degrees of peaks!”  It delivered one of his most spectacular photographs of the summer with pinched light illuminating the rugged peaks as crepuscular rays aimed up, out of dark clouds.  

Day 23: Hiking with Kids - our 200 mile summer: Gear! Gear! Gear!

Day 22: Dusy Basin to Palisades Basin: our hardest day of the summer.  13 miles, 7500 ft of elevation change

"OK, we're missing Bekah’s sock, your hiking shorts, my hiking underwear, and Cade’s hat,” Cory announced as he took stock of our gear, re-packing for our final trip.  We’d end up locating each and every item but not before chuckling over the reality that these treks require a close eye for details.

I, for one, am not too fond of detail management.  They kind of slow me down and keep me from what I do love – connecting with people.  But socks, hats, rain gear, gaiters, shoes, shorts, and on and on is the gear world that thankfully, Cory, loves to swirl in.  We are hoping to take the guess work and potentially overwhelming show stopping, trip halting nature of the outdoor gear industry out of the equation and simplify the question of, “What do I need to take?” in this chapter.  (Those reading this in the blog, unfortunately will not get the Cory made list – that’s coming in the book!)

As tempting as the marketing is for everything from clothing to latte machines, the real secret is that less is more.  With less in your pack, you hike easier, faster, and further so you don’t even miss that martini bar you almost bought or the latte cart kit you thought you needed. 

Highly unusual weather patterns have set in, creating stunning sunset and daily clouds with thunderstorms for over eight days in a row now.  Typically, t-storms slam quick and are followed by 10 blue-sky days.  As we hike with pack covers and ponchos, I am grateful that Cory has super minded our lightweight yet effective rain protection: pack covers and this lightweight/breathable/water and wind proof jacket from O2 rain wear.  The kids simply wear ponchos that fit over their packs.  I love that simplicity is the key out here and I love it when simplicity works!

Yes, details are important. It’s not “good enough” if just three of us have ponchos!  So on we hike, under a surprisingly Seattle gray sky, but completely dry.

Thirteen miles with a 2700 ft climb over the last 6 miles made for the most difficult day of the summer.  The last 1500 feet of climbing are so notorious they’ve been nicknamed “The Golden Staircase”.  Bekah counted 500 Sierra granite rock steps.  With each switchback, we gained more elevation and as we headed for the sky, the valley view was breathtaking. 

We hiked from 8:15 am to 6:30 pm – a long day even if it was spent sitting at the office!  Thirty minutes was all we spent in a light drizzle, despite the dark sky.  We seemed to be darting between storm clouds and sun breaks.  As the sun set, we tackled the staircase, with dark clouds, blue skies and sun all swirling in the evening sky creating an incredible ambiance over the sweeping green valley below.

Around 5:30, as any working person can attest, we were all ready to be done for the day.  But today, we’d have an extra late night meeting that included hundreds of Sierra steps to the glorious Palisades Lake basin that patiently waited for us at the end. 
Once at the basin, the trail snaked through the meadow leading to the lower lake.  At this point, Bekah’s legs slowed down and she fell way behind and eventually, a few tears fell.  This day needed to end!  Everywhere we turned, we saw people camping.  We had hit the section of the JMT that started to bunch hikers together, as evening destinations were more defined versus spread out.  The lay of the land creates a logical day-to-day pacing where JMTers climb to a basin that is close to a pass, positioned strategically to climb the pass the next morning.  The pattern is repeated the next day as the gathered crowd makes their way up to the next basin that sits right below the next pass.

 Higher up on the hillside we found an amazing perch – one of the best of the summer – on a granite slab that overlooked the entire basin, Lower Palisade lake, and the Palisade Ridge beyond, as well as six other groups.  Tomorrow we’d climb over Mather Pass and begin meeting all these strangers we see in the distance, scattered around the basin, but tonight, we’d sleep hard.  The trail had worn us out.
Our two tarp tents at Palisades Basin

Making dinner

Day 22-: Hiking with kids: our 200 mile summer - Light weight Hiking philosophy

Day 22: Back in South Lake to Dusy Basin , over Bishop Pass of 11,972 ft.  2100 feet of climbing.  7 miles

Our layover with Nana and Papa hugged us close and cradled us in the delights of city life and sweet family time.  Unusual daily rain and thunderstorms, kept us out an extra day waiting for the weather to hopefully improve.  As always, the goodbyes were sad as we started up the trail.  It was hard to leave family but they kept it fun, snapping pictures and cheering us on as we faced our last 61 miles. 

They had shuttled us from our last pull out at South Lake in Bishop, CA to our truck so that we could resupply and have some layover days together.  Their final “job” was to shuttle our truck to the Onion Valley Trailhead where it would wait for 6 days for our final exit. The two trailheads were 90 minutes apart by car, 5 days by foot.

Through hiking versus hiking over trail twice to start and end at the same spot requires a little support team to help shuttle vehicles or hikers.  A lot more planning is involved but we fell in love with through-hiking.  Every turn is new.  Connecting trailheads as we move from basin to basin proved to be so rewarding.

A mile in, we could see that the clouds were dark and gathering fast.  We needed to get over Bishop Pass before any lightening started flashing.  Being one of the high spots during a thunderstorm is more adventure then this nervous mom could handle. 

As we pushed toward the saddle, Bekah observed, “This is really just a day hike ‘cause I spent time in a car today, was in a town today, woke up in my own bed today….but tomorrow, will be a real backpacking day!”  A few minutes later she added, “Hey guys, just so you know, I’m going to be real sad on the last day.  There’s no doubt about that!”  This summer of long miles was pulling things out of our kids that amazed me.  Our daughter is one determined girl and when given high goals, such as hiking 200 miles, she will stop at nothing to make sure she accomplishes what she set her mind to do.  Up until this point in her life,  she really hadn’t had an opportunity to buckle down and attack a goal like this. 

I quietly mused that we must be doing something right for her to feel this way, despite just ending a fun camping layover with grandparents and having a heavy pack on, as it was loaded with food, she was expressing how much she loved what we were doing. 

Further down the trail, I began noticing how easy the hike felt.  “Well, we got your pack down to 28 pounds, fully loaded with food,” pointed out Cory, “Cade’s is 21 lbs, Bekah is at 16 lbs, and mine is 42 lbs.”  For a six day trip, 54 pounds of our total weight is simply food. We are not a superhuman family with superhero kids – even though people continue to look at us in awe as they see us marching up the hill, declaring euphemisms like, “you rock!”, as we pass.  I know we are fit and strong but really, the truth, the little secret we pack in our backpacks is that despite their girth, they really don’t weigh much. 

A sign at the entrance of the backpacking gear at REI asks, “What kind of backpacker are you?” and lists various tents that match up to one’s style: weekend warrior to light weight to ultra light weight (These folks are directed to a simple tarp as they forgo a tent completely).  We aim for light weight packing these days because it’s simply more fun when you don’t have to strain and groan up a trail.  Getting to camp still smiling is a good thing!

It wasn’t always this way.  We nearly collapsed under the weight of our packs when the kids were babies.  With Bekah on a front pack and Cade riding the luxury line on my back in his own pack, all I could carry were a few supplies for the kids.  We sacrificed Cory’s knees, loading his load monster backpack with 90 pounds of gear and walked (slowly, very slowly, and I think at times we crawled) in.  Looking back, I am amazed at the lakes, fairly deep into the wildernesses, we were able to lug our caravan to.  Indeed, our very young kids crawled on the shores of gorgeous high mountain lakes but at a price we realized we couldn’t pay for much longer if we wanted to hike much beyond their 4th birthdays.

As I went about my business of taking our babies to play groups, MOPS, and playgrounds, Cory’s engineering mind mingled with his years of experience as a boys camp wilderness guide/counselor and began working overtime to devise plans to reduce our loads.  It was our only chance at making this sport we loved doable. 

That fall, after the 90 pound pack summer, Cory engineered, designed, and sewed our new ultra-light tents.  Out went the Eureka, 4-person mountain tent weighing in at 9 pounds and in it’s place were 2 ¾ pound, sill-nylon original creations, by a desperate to hike dad.    Most light weight tents of the time weighed between 3 ½ and 4 pounds. 

One night I found Cory in the garage, cutting up tuna cans.  “What are you working on now, MacGyver?”

“Our new stove!”  Weighing in at ¼ of an ounce, our new stove consisted of a couple of imbedded tuna cans, a penny, and denatured alcohol.  We used our tuna stove for years but as the kids got older and ate more, we found that the amount of denatured alcohol we needed to bring in order to cook the quantities that the 4 of us were eating outweighed other stoves, using isobutene.  We traded in our tuna stove for a MSR Pocket Rocket.  It’s efficiency allows us to boil water fast, using much less fuel.  Our total cook kit consists of four sporks, four 1 ½ Tupperware bowls, a 12 cup aluminum cook pot, and our Pocket Rocket with a fuel canister.  It all fits inside the cook pot and weighs 2 ½ pounds. 

Each year we’d trade out a few items for their lightest possible alternative.  Some years I’d score a new sleeping bag, others a new light and warm jacket, and finally, I was ready to lose 2 pounds and trade in my super comfortable Osprey Ariel backpack for a Golite.  To spread the cost out, we’d hit clearance sales, Craigslist, and the ever-anticipated “REI return sale” where any item that someone decides to return gets sold at a deeply discounted price. 

To even have a chance at this sale, one has to know exactly what they are hoping to score and once the doors open, they need to make a beeline to that item, using all their willpower to not get distracted en-route.  This has 2 benefits: 1. limited options get snatched up fast so being first to the item assures it’s capture, and 2. staying focused allows one to avoid all the tempty, heavy, full priced gadgets that line the aisles, that may allow one to create a genuine latte on the trail, but add unnecessary pounds to one’s pack.

This all happens after standing in line outside of the store, if you live in the northwest, in near zero degree temperatures for hours in order to guarantee one’s place in line.  But it works.  We scored a $280 sleeping bag for Cade that weighs 1 ½ pounds for $19.95.  Even the person at the counter had to double check on that one, leaving the register for a few minutes to consult with management, only to return saying, “Ok.  That’s an amazing price.  But it’s what the tag says so congrats on that!”

Unlike the Boy Scouts who proudly train their members to pack even the kitchen sink so “you are always prepared”, we choose to find creative ways of covering all the bases so we can assure we are safe, warm, and dry, without packing the lawn chairs or the kitchen sink.  Ultimately, staying warm, dry, and well fed are the most important factors in staying safe on the trail. 

Converting to ultralight was not a trendy decision.  It was a decision based on survival.  Families that want to backpack have to embrace light weight philosophy.  Parent’s packs will be unmanageably heavy if they don’t.  The kid’s won’t have fun if their packs are too heavy either.  Ultimately, without going light, families hardly stand a chance at making a go of  backpacking.

This is a continual work in process.  Our packs this summer were not light enough so during our last layover, clothes were switched out for lighter clothes, gear was redistributed more evenly between the 4 packs, and some gear was left behind completely.  In the end, our total pack weights dropped even lower.

Leaving the kitchen sink and the espresso machines behind has meant that after 10 years of refining this art of light weight backpacking, we are still able to hit the trail (YES!) and our youngest is promising us that when the 200 miles are behind us and we leave the Sierras, she will, for sure, break down in tears. 

I'll happily leave the lawn chairs for that.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 21: Backpacking with kids - our 200 mile summer: High goals lead to big dreams

Day 21: Dusy Basin to South Lake

We have not just visited, we have lived in the wilderness.  The stuff of the city has truly become a distant memory.  The thought of turning on my phone now feels less like a promise of protection and more like a nuisance.  My dreams have also radically changed: no one drives in my slow paced dreams where the only option is walking.

As we walk these last seven miles, past some of my favorite spots, including Long Lake, I am comforted because I know that once we resupply and take a few zero days, we will head back in to finish the last 60 miles.

As this 100 mile through hike winds down, the family is recounting each campsite, their favorite thing about that site, their favorite day of hiking and why, and any other unforgettable moments.  It’s the shake down.

Without even hearing the kids’ answers, I already know which day was their favorite.  I can see it by the slight increase in the puff of their chest and the straightness of their backs as they stand a little taller today.  I can hear it in the faster pace and higher pitch that their words are tumbling out at.  By far the day they will remember is yesterday’s 15-mile hike. 

They started the day with a quiet determination in their eyes that they’d pull it off, but that determination came with it’s nebulous partner: doubt.

I think back to the days leading up to the 1st day, and subtle ways eyes would dart and shoulders would slump spoke of the quiet demon of doubt that swirled beneath the excitement.  There might have been fear that they’d be the one who’d “fail” the family and stop the trip short.

To make it to our destination in time to set up camp and make dinner, we all knew we’d have to get up early and break camp quick to be hiking by 8 am.  Our two determined kids woke up with a fire lit under them, ate fast, and did their necessary chores to meet goal #1: we touched trail at 8 am.

I could sense a nervous, excited energy in the troops as we began our ascent to Muir Pass.  Normally, the wilderness is devoid of all man made comforts but the top of Muir Pass is an exception.  It contains a spectacular, circular rock hut, built in 1931 by the Sierra Club.  As we sat in it on that blue sky, August day, it was hard to imagine that the Muir Pass shelter has kept many alive as they wait out blizzards and wind storms, sometimes holing up for a week until it’s safe to move on. 

With that pass under our belts, we began the descent to the bottom of Laconte Canyon.  We had to make it to the junction of the JMT and our trail up to Dusy basin by 2:30 if we wanted to accomplish this.  This resupply was an extra 27 miles of hiking but for us was well worth it as Dusy basin makes for stunning photography.

Our determined duo strategized that we’d need to eat a 30-minute lunch to stay on schedule.  The steep downhill followed the San Juaquin River which ran alongside the rugged 13 and 14, 000 ft Laconte Divide.  Lunch spots in this type of chiseled landscape were hard to find but eventually a flat spot opened up near a safe watering hole.

A group of four was also taking advantage of the unique spot creating conversational breaks between us of the joys of the JMT.  Our 30-minute lunch, consequently, stretched into a long hour and the kids feared we’d lost our chance at the 15-mile day accomplishment.

We headed on with more determined kids than ever with our sites set on that junction.  Fast hiking and trail games knocked the miles down quickly.  With squeals of delight, we hit the junction on time and to add celebration to the moment, the backcountry wilderness ranger stood there with a ready smile and another “atta boy” to hand to the kids.

Five miles of uphill remained and surprisingly, the kids attacked the trail with vigor.  When we arrived at the lower Dusy basin our “tired” kids helped set up camp and then eagerly took off to fish. 

It really wasn’t until the next day that I could see the slightly taller stature that both Cade and Bekah now had.  As we walked the final five miles that last day to our exit at South Lake both kids began dreaming and planning.  Excitement over huge dreams bubbled out of them.  Words came fast.

“I want to be a veterinarian for sure.  What are the college classes like?  Are they big classes?  Maybe I could partner with another Vet and we could job share so we both have more time off so I can still backpack?” spewed out of Bekah in one long paragraph that lasted for at least a mile or 2. 

Cade spent miles of trail asking about engineering, robotics, and design.  “Could I design motorcycles for Kawasaki?  What about building a solar/electric car?  Oh, you know what I would love to do?  Work for MSR or Marmot and design backpacking equipment!”  With determination, Cade announced that mechanical engineering is most definitely what he wants to do.

Some of these were revisited ideas, expanded on and built upon, some were brand new dreams being spoken for the first time, with conviction and belief in the real possibility of these dreams.

As I compared trail talk on the 15-mile day with trail talk the day after, the notable difference was a new confidence.  Endorphins mixing with the new reality that, “I just hiked 15 miles, I did it.  I wasn’t sure if I had what it took, but I did – and now I’m almost done with 100 miles!  I feel great and I am on my 95th mile!  I can do this!” produced kids hiking down the trail that now believed that they could do anything they set their minds to. 

The doubt demon had been knocked down to make way for big dreams.  And when it rears it’s ugly head again, I know that these trail lessons will kick in: perseverance, determination, sweat, and hard work got me up that mountain, so here I go, doubt and all, I am not giving up.

Another ray of the God Rays shining down on our 200-mile summer.

Day 20: Backpacking with kids- our 200 mile summer: Goals

Day 20: Sapphire lake to Dusy basin.  15 miles, 8000 feet of elevation change

We slept on a carpet of grass behind a huge slab of granite under the cathedral peak, Mt. Huxley.  On the opposite side of the lake from the JMT, we were isolated from the many groups surrounding the lake.  As well, we were protected from the wind.  We woke up, like we do every morning, ready for another day.  One never really knows as the first birds start to sing and the sun makes it self known, what the day will hold, if it will be one of those rare days that stands out from all the rest or if it will fade into the blur that creates our past.  Today, as it turns out, was the former kind.

In stunned awe, the last thing that crossed my mind was to take a photo, and yet, what I was looking at was the single most amazing thing I had ever discovered on my own.  As I stood waiting for Cory to take a morning photo of the outlet of Sapphire lake as it poured out under the watchful gaze of Mt Huxley, I looked down and saw a two inch footprint with 4 or 5 skinny claws embedded in the granite rock.  There were three other prints, with various parts smudged.

My first thought was “When they poured this concrete, some animal must have run over the cement before it set…” and then I stopped short and realized I might be staring at ancient history, for this was no cement slab I was standing on – I was on a granite rock, and those were footprints of an animal I did not recognize.

But like so much of what is seen and experienced out here, there is no way to capture fully the sights, sounds, smells, and essence of what it is to be immersed in the wilderness.

Today, we challenged ourselves with a 15-mile goal.  If we could climb Muir Pass, head 7 miles down Laconte Canyon and them climb 3000 ft up unto Dusy basin, we’d knock an entire night off our trip. It would take all day to realize this goal.

We head out from Dusy Basin to South Lake where Nana and Papa will be to shuttle us to our truck so we can resupply and continue on for 60 more miles to our final destination.

Day 19: backpacking with kids - our 200 mile summer: changing focus

Day 19: Evolution basin to Sapphire Lake, 3 easy miles and then a 3 hour day hike up into the Sapphire Lake high basin

Last night at Evolution basin, the four of us sat atop boulders gazing out over the basin as it sported an angry and promising sky.  We had scrambled up to a high perch after dinner for Cory to get his winning shot.  The clouds had been building for a few days and  Cory couldn’t believe our perfect timing.  To be at his favorite basin WITH an exciting night sky only meant one thing: his perfect photo was almost in the bag.

Reading more of Mma Ramotswe’s tales in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, we sat gazing over the massive circular basin, as if we were waiting for a parade to start. 

It seemed like a guarantee.  Dark clouds swirled with occasional sun breaks. As the evening brought in more wind and dark clouds gathered up for the evening show, it started to become clear that the sun was doing it’s glowing dance behind a dark veil of clouds, preventing the promised light breakthroughs that provide fiery skies.

With our focus on the obvious subject of the massive peaks surrounding the lake to the SW, we might have missed the more gentle show happening down the valley in the NW.  Cory had inadvertently turned around, realizing the mountains would remain in darkness, to a silent show happening behind us.  The sun was straining through the clouds, creating dramatic crepuscular rays, aka. God Rays, over meadows, ponds, and distant foothills.

We came for a firework show and got a quiet date at a quaint cafĂ© instead.  But the two minutes the sun’s individual rays were straining through the clouds to touch the earth sent a reverent hush over our small crowd.

We came for one thing but were stopped in our tracks in awe over another.  The key was letting go of our focus – what we thought was the prize – to seeing the gift of the evening was something entirely different, yet spectacular just the same.

Henry David Thoreau said it best, "Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."

As we progress through the remainder of this trip, my eyes and heart are going to be looking for the real reasons we are out here.  I am going to take my gaze off of the obvious and turn around, where I’m sure I’ll find some God-Ray moments and lessons.  Little did I know at that moment that my 1st ray would be discovered later that very evening.

At the 1st crack of thunder, we scrambled down from our perch to find shelter in our tents.  The storm blew in and the sky lit up with flashes that produced deafening cracks of thunder that lasted for 30 seconds, as the initial blast would then echo and rumble through the deep canyons.

Through Cade’s excitement and cheers as he witnessed this magnificent display of power we started to hear Bekah cry and her sweet voice cut through the pounding rain, “Daddy, I’m scared!”

It’s one thing to experience a thunderstorm in a house, but it’s a complete sensory overloading, somewhat terrifying experience to endure such a storm in a tent, especially if your 9.

As the sky flashed and the surround sound rumbles vibrated the tent, our little girls cries from her tent became more desperate, “Daddy! I’m so scared!”

We arranged a plan for her to sprint to our tent, timed to avoid getting too much water inside each tent as we unzipped the doors.  Once arrived, she sank into the covers between us, with just her pretty blue eyes peering out over the covers.  Within seconds, her fears melted away and in its place were the grins and kisses of a very grateful girl.

The storm raged on but she was no longer alone (or just with her brother) and suddenly, the storm didn’t seem so big.  Perhaps that is one of the deeper lessons we will take with us when we leave the trail.  Obviously, the main event, the main focus, is coming out here to see beauty in creation beyond anything imaginable but perhaps the “God Rays” shining strong, if we take a moment and turn around to look is this: spending every moment together, patiently walking miles of trail together, reinforces to all four of us that we are in this thing called life, together.  It’s the repetitive, daily, physical act of walking, together, that imbeds this truth deeply in the souls of our two kids: In this, and in life, even when the mountain gets steep and the storms violent, we are here for you, with you, and so is God.  You are not alone.  You are intricately bound to our family.  You can get in our tent and snuggle in close and we’ll face the storm together, and in the end, it’ll be OK.

So as the sky lit up and the earth trembled, our little girl relaxed and fell asleep, completely oblivious to the storm that raged around us.

day 18: backpacking with kids - our 200 mile summer: What to eat

Day 18: a 0 day at Evolution basin

The creative, red-cheeked vibrancy that Cade and Bekah have is energizing to be around.  Their curiosity propels them around the next switchback and fosters mornings like this-chasing trout with a willow branch and fishing line until it’s dark.  Observing kids that are fueled by organic green drinks and veggie packed dehydrated dinners, I am convinced that nutrition out here is paramount.

Jim, at VVR, showed me some packaged Honey Bun donut like pastries that he said JMT through hikers buy up like crazy.  “See here,” he said as he flipped it over, “each one has 580 calories and hikers love the bulk calories in a small package.”

I suppose that’s one way to do it; cheaper for sure, but does it work?  Between the gallons of pure mountain water flushing through the body and the perfectly clean air surging through the lungs, I find my body gets stronger and heals any of the nuances that built up during the rest of the year as the days on the trail add up.  We’d like to aid the body’s restoration with vitamin packed food and not lose this huge advantage in this athletic pursuit by feeding it chemically laden, corn syrup sweetened calories.  After all, I am asking it to hike 200 miles.

The quick sugar energy might feel good but the inevitable crash is sure to happen just as the body needs to surge up a steep hill.  It might seem like a good idea to bribe kids up the mountain with sugary treats, but we have found that moods and energy levels stay more consistent with a protein rich, dried fruit/nut, and veggie arsenal. 

Homemade granola with various nuts and seeds
Dehydrated hummus and dehydrated salsa with chips (we dehydrate these before the trip)
Dehydrated dinners made ahead of time stocked with meats and organic veggies
Dried fruit and nuts

Newman's dairy free Oreo

Dark Chocolate bars
Cream of wheat
Sausage and cheese
Nitrite and nitrate free sausages are cheap at Trader Joes
Freeze dried meals
Gorp – nuts, seeds. Raisins, dried fruit, and a touch of dark chocholate chips
Protein drinks – we like the Hemp protein mix from Trader Joes and ProZone, a balanced mix of carbs, protein, and fats without the use of soy
PB & J, crackers, and bread

Power bars – we try to avoid soy based ones

Fuel to move out here is a huge component of a successful trip.  Good calories and nutrition is a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat (40%, 30%, 30%).

We have to be careful not to choose food based just on calories but instead choose nourishing food.  The rule of thumb is that each person on the trip will eat about 1 ½ to 2 pounds of food per day.  If you are going to lug it up the mountain, make sure that those pounds of food pack some good nutrition.  Kids fueled by balanced nutrition have the components they need to HAPPILY scale a pass, hop over boulders, and set up their tent.  We whine because we are uncomfortable.  Whiney, complainy trail kids might just be a product of poor nutrition.  We see it in our classrooms all the time.  We need to set our kids up for success, not failure.

This morning as the kids fish, Cade suddenly popped away from the shoreline and came bounding over to us, “Would the fish like a grasshopper on my hook instead of this plastic fly?”

“Oh, yeah.  They love that!” we said. 

That is all it took for both kids to lay their poles aside and set off on a grasshopper hunt.  In no time at all, desperate grasshoppers hung on their lines, tempting the wise fish that swam below. 

“Daddy, my grasshopper died!” wailed Bekah. 

“Oh Bekah, you can never catch a fish with a dead grasshopper.”

So off she went to get a new, fresh, happy bug. 

We should take advice from these thriving Golden Trout as we plan our meals out here.  The goal is not to fill up the stomach with dead food.  The goal is to fill the body with real nutrition.  It’s a good idea to practice this same principle during the year as families prepare their bodies for a summer of action.