Traveling across the country has been quite an adventure. It is filled with exploration, discovery and adventure. Hiking with our children is an adventure of it’s own. It is a different experience than you would have without children; a different perspective.
When hiking solo or with other adults, the conversation is generally limited. There is a peaceful connection to your surroundings. You become part of the landscape. You go at your own pace, tackle your own obstacles and find a deep inner peace within yourself.
This is not the case when you have children, at least young children. Evelyn is four and Alexander is seven. Alexander is old enough to keep up and be adventurous, but hasn’t quite hit that age where he absorbs the quiet energy of the trail. Instead, he is powered by the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of jumping off big rocks, climbing hills and jumping in every stream or puddle along the way. Evelyn goes at her own pace. Sometimes she runs along enthusiastic bout being a trail leader. Other times, she barely moves at a snail’s pace, secretly hoping we will offer a piggy back ride. Generally, her hand is intertwined with mine as she floats along the trail giddily telling me everything that comes to mind. She talks about the butterflies, fairies, rocks, flowers and just about anything that she sees, touches, hears or feels. Those are the moments that I hold onto as much as possible.
I have also discovered that children think about food more than I ever imagined was possible. We could be at a beautiful waterfall, and Evelyn will turn around and say, “This is a great place for a snack Mom!” It’s incredible how much the topic of food is on their brain. They do expend an inordinate amount of energy trekking through the forest, so we do make sure to bring lots of snacks that are both nutritious and delicious.
Hiking with kids is also interesting in the fact that you have to go at their pace and their level. Sometimes, this means taking an extra five minutes to get past an obstacle. Sometimes, it means going a different way because there is a really cool rock that they just have to climb on. You have to be alerted to everything and point out hazards in order to avoid more cuts and scrapes. In fact, you wind up with more scrapes trying to minimize the dangers of thorns, rocks, and branches as your body seems to be the perfect barrier between them and the danger. You also ration your water differently than you would if you were solo. You know how much your kids will guzzle down or spill or use to wash off a rock so you not only hide an extra bottle, but you enforce a hydrate but don’t gulp rule. It rarely works.
The biggest thing about hiking with kids is seeing the small stuff. The forest is a huge place that makes the biggest adult feel small. For a child, the forest becomes a magical, enchanted land. The trees are teaming with life. My kids watch the beetles that are hauling their food across the pine needle carpet. We stop at ant hills to observe their behavior and make hypotheses about what each of their roles are. We notice the different animal droppings along the way. We take a break to compare the tracks in the mud that we see. Nothing is done with efficiency or speed, but when it comes to raising children, those are not terms often used anyway.
While hiking with children is not the serene, healing experience that it can be when alone, it is worth every moment. Conquering a trail give the kids more confidence. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It brings them back to nature and offers countless learning opportunities. Their senses are awakened as they get lost in the trees and their imagination is sparked. There are no computers. No iPads. No video games. Just Mother Nature and two children soaking in every moment. As a parent, this is the best thing you can offer: a place to thrive and become independent. It is worth every mile.