3. Become a Weather Warrior
As a culture, we are plagued with a “pandemic of inactivity,” says Louv, who argues that rain, sleet, heat, or snow are no reason to stay inside. Show your kids how to tap into the beauty of all the seasons. In winter, freeze sheets of black construction paper and use them to catch and examine falling snowflakes (they won’t melt on contact) with a small magnifier. Keep an “instant snowman” kit at the ready: rocks or black buttons for eyes; hats and scarves; a carrot nose; twig arms.When spring rains come, make a rain-gauge. In summer, plan family picnics in the park; come fall, hunt and gather leaves, acorns, seed pods, and other collections in a clear, glass “wonder bowl” on the kitchen counter.
4. Expand Perimeters
An acquaintance recently told me that when her son was high school, he used to get up at 5 a.m., fill two glass jugs with boiling water, and drive an hour across the Golden Gate Bridge with his friends into San Francisco to surf before class. When he was done, he’d rinse himself off with the hot water and drive to school in time for the first bell. I love this story because it reminds all of us that as children grow, their geographic boundaries will expand naturally. It’s our job as parents to allow this to happen. Keep little ones close at hand or within view outside but as they grow, encourage them to develop their own relationship with nature, whether it’s through finding their own contemplative “sit-spot” to quietly observe the plant and animal life and weather or, as they reach middle school and high school, exploring the neighborhood by bike, meeting friends for nature walks, or starting their own hiking clubs.
You can read more about the ultimate adventure mobile here.
From Katie Arnold in Outside Magazine.
Unlike river trips, backpacking is less about what you bring and more about what you leave behind. It takes surprisingly little to make a home in the wilderness. A snug, well-lit tent, a couple pouches of dehydrated food, the ones you love curled up beside you in the silent, star-filled evening. As darkness settled over the river, we were all beginning to settle more deeply into the canyon.
In the morning, everything was bright, the gorge just waking up, and my fear had lifted. Pete and I ran along the River Trail, winding three miles south to La Junta, the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande, with one eye on the trail for snakes, the other on the river, moving sure and fast beside us. Steve and the girls fished the eddies and checked out petroglyphs etched into a jumble of boulders. On the mile-long hike back out, the girls played musical packs again. At least Pete wore his the whole way.
On backcountry adventures, the ratio of prep work to fun can make or break a trip. One night on a family river trip would be insane. Two nights is never enough, and three just barely satisfies. But backpacking is so minimalist and required so little prep that a single night was all we needed to give us our wilderness fix and leave us hungry for more. And when we got home, I discovered the best thing of all about going light and not-so-fast with kids: There’s almost nothing to unpack.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that used Volkswagen Eurovans (out of production since the mid 1990s) are having a major renaissance, thanks in part to savvy road warriors who are retrofitting the boxy, bakery-truck-like pop-up campers with Subaru engines so they’ll run forever. When our friends purchased a 1991 Eurovan earlier this year and graciously offered to loan it to us for a Thanksgiving adventure do-over, I jumped at the chance to find out of the right vehicle, the super-sexy van du jour, could turn us into happy campers.
I’m the daughter of a roamer, so I come by my restlessness honestly. My father, a National Geographic photographer, loved nothing more than to drive around the country in his GMC Safari van, taking pictures. He preferred the vast, lonely prairies of the Dakotas, empty of people and flashy distractions, where there was nothing taller than a silo to break the horizon.
Steve and I pinpointed our own big empty on the map—the enormous canyons of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah and set out the day before Thanksgiving. Compared to the Airstream, the van drives like a dream. We could get it up to 75 without much effort and our girls, ages four and six, and dog had plenty of room in back to spread out. All that was missing was a piece of limousine glass to drown out the sounds of “Dora the Explorer” from the backseat so we could pretend that we were carefree adventurers ready for anything that might come our way.
Wedged in the no-man’s land between Lake Powell and Bryce and Zion canyons, Escalante is one of the most remote places in the Lower 48—five hours south of the closest city and ten from Santa Fe and seemingly everywhere else. We camped the first night on the banks of the San Juan River outside Bluff, Utah. In the morning it was so cold that I cowered in our 15-degree doublewide sleeping bag on the downstairs bed and scratched Happy Thanksgiving into the frost on the inside of the window.
The Airstream’s propane heater had seemed to us like a CO2 deathtrap but in a pinch we could still turn on the oven and let it heat the interior for an hour or two. Even with the broken windows, which we classily covered in duct tape and black garbage bags, the thing held its heat respectably. The van, on the other hand, was as insulated as a tin can. Whatever body heat we generated down below leaked right out of the canvas pop-top, where the girls slept. The hot bottles we’d filled with boiling water just before bed were chilled by midnight, when the little one elbowed her way into our bag, and by morning, the water jug had frozen solid.
But we were parked beside our favorite desert river, headed for even wilder country beyond, and buoyed by the novelty of driving a car that was also our bedroom.
Then the van tried to kill me.
We had just finished a short but spectacular hike in Natural Bridges National Monument, an out-of-the-way spot off Highway 95. It was past noon. There was no way we were going to make it to Boulder, Utah, in time for our 3 p.m. dinner reservation at the legendary Hell’s Backbone Grill. Still, I was rushing to change out of my grubby camping clothes and into a semi-presentable Thanksgiving outfit, as though the extra 30 seconds of speed would make a difference. That’s when I accidentally slammed the van’s hatch onto my head.
Steve saw me crumple to the ground. When he looked at the blood spurting out of my scalp, he said “Oh?” in a maddeningly calm voice. Steve’s the kind of stoic, even-keeled guy you want around in a crisis. Except when you’re the crisis and you’ve just bashed your brain in and blood is streaking down your forehead. He was moving as slowly and deliberately as a slug, as though we weren’t miles from medical help or cell reception. As though the park visitor center hadn’t put a sign in the window saying “Closed for the holiday. ” As though a ranger might waltz up at any moment wielding a first-aid kit.
Steve strolled languidly toward the van to retrieve a roll of toilet paper, which he pressed against the gash in my head. I could see the girls peering out the back, their mouths and eyes pulled into cartoonish O’s. After a few minutes the blood slowed to a trickle and I wobbled to my feet. Steve parked me in the front seat and hopped behind the wheel. This was the crux moment: We could turn left and drive back to the nearest town, Blanding, Utah (pop. 3,000), and try to find an open clinic (doubtful) or we could turn right and drive three more hours into the heart of the canyons and try to make it to tiny Boulder (pop. 200) in time to eat turkey. Either way, we would have to hurry.
Adventuring with children is an endurance sport in its own right, an exercise in patience and unpredictability that requires constant monitoring of risks and stamina, theirs and yours. We’d thought that adding a van into the mix might alleviate some of the uncertainty and ease the occasional discomfort. A warm(ish?) place to sleep! A roof over our heads! But the truth is, shit happens, whether or not you are driving a retro camper—sometimes precisely because you are.
I sat next to Steve, pressing a cold can of beer and pieces of toilet paper to my head, blood slowing to a trickle, shushing the girls and trying to decide what to do. Even in my brain-jangled haze, I knew there was no clear right answer. Sooner or later, with or without stitches, the gash in my head would heal. But if we played it safe and turned back, we would be modeling caution and prudence to our girls—both essential skills in a life of adventure. If we kept going, we would be practicing one of my basic tenets of exploration, and of life: When in doubt, stick with the plan.
I didn’t doubt that the van was capable of taking us to Boulder and back. Or that if we continued on, into the heart of the canyons, we would be alternately ecstatic and miserably cold. I knew that the girls, always game and often hardier than their mother, would rally hard and rise to the challenge of winter camping. I knew that we would burn through our daylight hours hiking some of the most remote and stunning country in the Southwest, just as I knew I would lie in my sleeping bag each night praying my brain wouldn’t implode while I slept and that I would wake in the morning grateful to be alive. I knew that adventure, like parenthood, is never a simple matter of right or wrong, easy or hard, but instead a happy, riotous, occasionally maddening mashup.
As my head pulsed dully, I understood something else: We did not need the van, just as we had never needed the Airstream. Adventure lives in us, not in the vehicles we drive. Sleeping out, beneath a sky of stars, close to the ground, is still the simplest way we know to be in nature, to be a family.
We turned right.
DON’T WEIGH YOURSELF DOWN
Strayed turned her backpack into a character by calling it “the Monster” after she got down on the floor of her motel room the night before setting out and couldn’t lift her pack at all, let alone stand up with it. A week later, a trail veteran took her aside at a campsite and told her to throw out stuff she didn’t need – from an axe to a saw to a book, or at least the parts she’d already read. The Monster lost 4.5 kilograms. We could relate. Our toilet paper was tree moss.
MAIL YOURSELF CARE PACKAGES
Strayed often walked into a backwoods town or ranger station to pick up a box of food and clothing she’d sent herself before setting out. In each one was a note from her ex-boyfriend charting her progress: “If you’ve made it this far, you’ve just hiked 100 miles across the Mojave Desert.”
We did the same and after a week of packaged trail food (not so great in 1992), we lusted for the instant rice, powdered milk, canned tuna and sauces in those boxes. Also, think about mailing an extra camp stove and footwear. We went through five stoves in our 1,600-kilometre journey (slow learners) and everyone will go through at least two pairs of boots.
YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY BOOTS
In the opening scene of the book and the movie, one of Strayed’s boots falls over a mountain ledge. She’d taken them off when she sat down to enjoy the view, and the Monster toppled on to them. Thirty eight days into her journey, she’d lost the most important thing every hiker must have. Damning her fate, she threw her other boot over the edge as well. So, she Duck-taped her sandals to the top of her feet and slogged on. She also ordered new boots at her next stop from REI, a U.S. recreational equipment outfitter, and had them mailed to her at the next town.
YOU WILL LOSE WEIGHT AND SMELL BAD
Running a marathon burns about 3,500 calories. Hiking 10 hours a day with an 18-kilogram pack burns up 5,000 calories. No wonder we lost tons of weight. When we went for dinner off the trail one night in Tennessee, we split a barrel of Kentucky Fried Chicken. For us, it was health food; we needed plenty of salt and fat.
When Strayed buys lipstick in anticipation of a hot date in a trail town, the sales lady tells her that she should always look out for her personal hygiene – code for: “You smell incredibly bad!”
When we arrived at the last stop on our journey in Tyringham, Mass., we decided to splurge by staying that night at a country inn. Alas, the sign outside said: “No hikers!” We knew why.
HITCHHIKING IS FUN AND DANGEROUS
Strayed gets a lift from a carload of aging hippies. They look threatening – a slice of America we rarely see. A few days later, she gets picked up after dark by a guy who wants to take her back to his house. She resists. He persists. She walks in and – meets his wife. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship.
Every 10th day, we would hike down off the mountain trail and hitchhike into a backwoods town to get food, do laundry and have a shower. We were picked up by all kinds of odd-balls, many with rifles and Confederate flags in their pickups. Most of them thought we were crazy, too. And that mutual curiosity created some amazing conversations.
This isn’t to say that if you’re hitchhiking alone, you shouldn’t be extra careful. But time and again, when we got lost, or blew up a stove, or ran out of water, or were in a hut with a bunch of rowdy teenagers, people came to our aid, often like magic.
WHEN IT’S ALL DONE, YOU’LL BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
After finishing her hike at the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington border, Strayed shared her triumph with a stranger. She writes:
“‘I walked over eleven hundred miles,’ I said, too excited to contain myself. ‘I just finished my trip this morning.’
“I nodded and laughed.
“‘That’s incredible. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. A big journey.’
“‘You could. You should. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can.’”
Believe us, she’s right.