Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 16: Backpacking with your kids - our 200 mile summer: How we get our kids to do this

Day 16: MTR to Franklin Meadow, 8 miles, 1000 feet of climbing

Both of these conversations were swirling around in my mind when the next morning, as we picked up our three buckets of food at MTR, I met Rick, a PCT hiker.  Assuming I worked for the ranch, he approached me asking if I had pliers to fix his broken hiking pole with.  When I explained that I too was a hiker and not on staff at MTR, he started sharing his trail trials that included a broken water pump, then a broken stove, and finally two boughts of Giardia, all within the miles between Mexico and where he stood that day.  A few more questions from me spurred him to continue on, revealing his reasons for hiking the Mexico to California section of the PCT.  He needed to refocus and find himself after recently losing his mom to a swift acting stomach cancer.  His plan was to take as long as it took to get to the Oregon southern border, he had time and by the sounds of it, he needed time for his heart to heal as he walked the trail.

Clearly the question of “how” do we get our kids out in the backcountry is deeply imbedded in the bigger question: “why?”  Rick had already battled (with antibiotics) two episodes of Giardia, a broken stove, a broken water purification pump, and was now attempting to fix his hiking stick.  The “how” was falling apart for Rick but the “why” compelled him to press on.

John and Rick, the eager dads of reluctant kids to join them on the trail, reminded me of Jim’s Sacramento math students – some were amazing students, learning and chewing up everything he taught them, but some (his low scoring students) were simply, as he endearingly described them, “reluctant learners”.  Jim was a hiker we met at Vermillion Ranch a few days earlier, who made us chuckle, but also struck a familiar chord when he didn’t insult or poke fun of his low students.  He simply described them as reluctant to learn.  They, like John and Rick’s kids, don’t seem to get the why – to learn math or to hike with dad. 

These young reluctant hikers have not figured out that the excitement on a backpacking trip comes quietly in the whispers of the trees and the warmth of the sunrise, in the comfort as dreams unfold during long talks to pass the trail miles away, in the smiles around another delicious camp dinner that end caps a day full of successful effort.  They are moving too fast to stand in awe of the Creation.  That which cannot be googled is not worthy of their time.  They haven’t grasped the why.

As parents we can help our children grasp the why by letting them experience nature, from a young age.  We haven’t missed a summer, since our kids were born, of backpacking with them.  It would have been much easier to leave them at home then to tackle the monumental task of figuring out how to bring them.  But early on we chose to include them which forced us to figure out how to do it and gave them the chance to figure out on their own, the why.  They have no way of doing that sitting at home.  They have to be out, to figure it out.  As REI simply says on the cover of their catalogue: Get out. 

There is, of course, a how to this madness and with over 25 years of backpacking experience and 10 years as a boys camp Wilderness guide and camp counselor in the Sierra mountains, Cory has made it his mission to become an expert on the how, especially when it comes to exposing kids to the wilderness.  He has witnessed literally hundreds of inner city Los Angeles boys transform as they are challenged to be men through the life changing two weeks they spend at Pyles Boys Camp.  There are many ways to accomplish a trek through the wilderness, some methods more comfortable and easier than others.  The important thing is to try.  To go for it.  To take the kids and figure it out together.

Today it became crystal clear to me that an individual has to grab a hold of the why, in a place that’s deep in the heart, so that when their poles break (and 2 of the 4 we brought have failed), or their stove breaks, or they get Giardia, or it just is simply a physically challenging day on the trail – they continue on, because they WANT to continue on.

Now, a touch of the “how” could help reduce the broken gear and the lethargy, but without the “why”, the “how” will never matter.

The why propelled us out of MTR at the low elevation of 7,500 ft with heavy packs stuffed with six days of food.  We spent the entire day walking uphill in mid-80 degree heat, with our heaviest packs of the trip. Today’s hike, despite the heavy packs, was the kind of beauty that could convince anyone to join us.  We hiked along the San Juaquin River Valley with the river raging through granite slabs and boulders as our constant companion, urging us on.  There are a few exposed areas that caught my breath as I watched our kids pass through them like pros. One slip would mean sure death, as one would plunge 100 ft down into a raging river.  The warm walk up the valley ended for us  before a bridge that crossed the river.  We’d spend the night in Franklin Meadow, the first of 3 hanging valleys we’d walk through in the next few days.

Cade was jumping at the bit to test out his new fishing pole that he had made out of a willow branch that was sporting a fly that a generous JMT through hiker at MTR had given him.   Our campsite was nestled in the trees next to a gentle flowing section of the San Juaquin River.  Ankle deep, our little fisherman followed by his adoring sister, ventured into the river to snag a fish.  Within 10 minutes, to our surprise, his homemade pole was bobbing with a 6” Golden Trout.  Cheers echoed off the canyon walls.  He caught one more fish that night and went to bed beaming.

The why just embedded deeper into one 11-year-old boys heart.

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