Friday, August 24, 2012

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 ; 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.

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