This little venture was a joy to be a part of and I thought I'd share some of my favorite photographs and moments from our little overnight backpack back in early August. Getting outdoors with my kids at any capacity is rewarding and often adventurous, whether it's the park, the front yard, or to Nana's house- these little backpack trips are few and far between right now, the anticipation for future outings alongside them as we grow together is exciting.
This particular Friday morning started off like most mornings: hugs, kisses, tickles, cereal requests, spilled milk, princesses, talk about dragons, 'Thomas the Train', mommy, daddy, and what we were going to do today.
My daughter thinks I work in the mountains on occasion. I'll return home in the evening after a long trail run, sweaty, covered in dried salt, wearing my inseam length challenged running shorts. Addison is always quick to say, " Did you work in the mountains today Daddy?". It's always good for a laugh and a careful explanation. "No sweetie, I just went for my run." Trivial as her inquiry may sound, I'm not quick to brush these brief little conversations with her aside as childhood drivel, rather I take these opportunities to gather insight into how she's formed a connecting relationship between the outdoors and her father, and that the connections she's formed are positive so far in her developing mind and emotions.
For whatever reason, on this particular morning, Addison specifically requested to go in the mountains with me. How could I not say yes? Especially as she sat across from me with milk dribbling off her chin as we both ate our bowl of 'Fruity Pebbles'.
"Sure, we can go to the mountains, how about we go backpacking?"
Addison was quick to respond with an enthusiastic "Yes!". I quickly realized that I hadn't put much thought into my freshly brewed plan for the day. Throwing together kit for a weekend of backpacking usually takes me all of 10 minutes and a pint if I'm familiar with the area, but packing for myself and two toddlers on a whim posed a bit more of a challenge, but not by much, took 20 minutes minus a pint this time around.
Pilfering through our pantry as my kids took a nap I realized we were seriously lacking in grub, I wasn't going to take them to the grocery store before we left to stock up, that's an "adventure" I shy away from with fear and trembling. No worries. I was already cruising with this whole 'plan' and being flexible and spontaneous and all, so I decided to purchase all our edibles at the gas station before we left town like some punk kid with a wicked case of the muchies. On this day we were desperately in need of convenience. Mommy was sleeping and had to work, so I took this opportunity to tuck away some strawberry sugar wafers and other various forms of off the shelf high fructose corn syrup into my pack for a late night buzz for the kids. If I was trying to sway the Academy for favorite parent award, which I wasn't of course, then surely falling asleep with sugar wafers and Twizzlers hanging out of our mouths would clench the title right?
I tossed back some gummy worms to my kids like a proud papa bird, like wee little chicks they devoured those fluorescent gyrating pieces of confection and we were off down the sun scorched highway on a southern NM afternoon. This was already off to a great start and we were barely even out of town! In a sugar crazed stupor I went over my mental checklist of gear and items one last time. Who was I fooling? We were already veering out of town with a full tank of gas, the kids were crashing hard and I was settling into my playlist of road songs. Would I recommend this as a primer on backpacking with children? Nope, epic fail. Did it work for us on this occasion? Yes, absolutely. Was I being irresponsible as a parent? No. Some may disagree but I say bugger off to ya! Could I have planned better? Yes, can't we always? Would we have gone on this trip had I not been spontaneous? Probably not. There was some joy into not making this a big deal and planning this out weeks in advance on a calendar, we were going to sleep outside in the coolness of the mountains and escape the heat of the desert for a night as a family, simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less. Reducing things down a bit to the essence, I found there was very little we needed, we had each other and that's what mattered most at the moment.
Addison jolted awake from her road hum induced nap as I crossed over a set of cattle guards and splashed through a quenched arroyo brimming with newly acquired water from a late monsoon deluge. Our old Jeep Cherokee isn't doing as good of a job over washboard desert roads as it used to, but today it would be our royal chariot to fun. My two year old son still isn't formulating coherent words yet, mostly rambling analogous to that of a cajun swamp boat driver, much of what he had to say from the backseat as we neared our destination I interpreted as him letting me know he was excited. Normally I would be off to the races and up the trail upon arriving at the trailhead, but I took the time to explain to the kids what our plan was and gauge how they were feeling about the whole thing. I anticipated a very short hike in considering they basically have stubs for legs, remembering a few sites off trail from a previous trip in this area, I knew we would have lots of options to "get away" without having to go the distance or resort to me carrying two kids on my non existent hips. As expected, they were ready to roll the second I threw the vehicle into park. Addison demanded she had a pack of her own like daddy, so I threw her books and a few snacks into one of my extra hydration packs, this worked out quite well for her and it gave her a sense of purpose and responsibility. She also requested to have her own trekking poles like Daddy so I loaned her mine, by all means she looked the part. I was proud of my kids for stepping out onto the path less travelled, mostly I was humbled by their faith that their father was going to take care of them. I've found that children often have more faith in us as parents than we have in ourselves.
Loading up the last few stray licorice straws into my pack I shouldered our gear and rounded up my sheep, with only a nod from my smiling face they were off down the trail for the night. Addison led our ragamuffin posse down the trail, with perfect cadence she flicked the trekking poles out in front of her like a seasoned traveller. My little black sheep insisted on stopping at every single rock that caught his eye, it was foolish of me to expect any different, he is after all a boy with a wild zeal for life. The pace was slow, but refreshing. It felt great to follow them along the trail and observe them as they processed the sights, sounds, and smells that made up the wilder world around them.
Addison, leader of the flock. Addison insisted on wearing her neon pink shoes, which also filled in as the cheapest and most reliable PLB device I could find.
Joel lingered in the background, doing his own thing at the beat of his own drum.
WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!" Translation: Water
Careful deliberation was taken in selecting the perfect rock to throw wildly into the water.
For some reason, Joel had a wild hair in his diaper and insisted on taking his shirt off, I wasn't going to argue with the guy because he looked like he meant business. Hardcore rock throwing went down at the creek for over an hour.
Oh my call the Giardia police!
I took the kids for a little hike upstream from camp, we caught some glimpses of late summer wonder along the path.
Setting up the "tent" was a part of the evening they looked forward to the most, possibly for the security, probably because it felt like one big massive playhouse to them. I didn't pass on the opportunity to engage Addison and Joel in the process of pitching a tarp and guying out lines with stakes, I was surprised by their enthusiasm and interest in working together to construct our home for the evening. Unfortunately BPL doesn't support video, but you can enjoy the short timelapse piece I put together of the kids helping their 'old' man here.
Future strong man competitor or overly ambitious rock skipper?
I instructed Addison to get the stove out of my pot, she was pretty apprehensive at first. It took a few words of comfort to reassure her that the stove wasn't a large insect.
Gourmet trail food ala Chef Daddy, all our ingredients were locally sourced at the Shell Gas Station. Addison apparently had an appetite worthy of an entire Souper Meal.
Patiently waiting for the boil.
My kids are constantly fighting over headlamps, I own three, and at any given time I'll find them strewn about the house with the low battery indicator blinking or one under a couch cushion flashing off and on in rave mode. Addison would be keeper of the torch on this occasion.
For whatever reason, it was like an arachnophobics nightmare on this particular evening. I felt the first spider crawl up my cheek as I was reading "The Cat In the Hat" to the kids by headlamp, no big deal, just a spider right? Then the second spider crawled over my neck shortly after, then a third, fourth, fifth. Intermingled between the occasional drops of rain from a low passing cloud, I could make out the distinct sound of dozens of tiny spiders crawling over the surface of the pine needle floor we had carefully chosen as our site. Knowing my daughter is borderline terrified of spiders, thanks to my wife, I had to multitask as both spider warrior and bedtime story narrator. This made for some laughs, mostly on my part, as my daughter Addison kept asking why I was waving my hands around the ground like a madman every other minute.
After finishing up some fine words ala Dr. Seuss, Joel crawled halfway under the quilt and quickly fell asleep on his foam pad. Joel has many years of foam pad use before he'll discover the dreaded numb hip syndrome.
Addison insisted on sleeping with me, so she squirmed underneath my quilt and took up far more of my sleeping pad than I did, pretty sure I woke up to one of her toes in my nose. The morning came quickly and the sleep was restful, despite a wiggly three year old girl kicking me in the groin throughout the night.
Joel emerged from his little pod of warmth with great hesitance.
I had my own personal furnace for the evening.
I threw a bag of Kix in my pack for breakfast the following morning, forgot the Nido powdered milk, but Joel didn't seem to mind cereal and treated water for breakfast.
Several months ago I received a PM from BPL member Kat P. asking me what size, style, and color of hat I would like for my kids. I was pretty stoked to find out that an anonymous member of BPL had generously commissioned Katherine to make a pair of her beautiful handcrafted hats for Addison and Joel. If you're interested in owning a colorful and warm custom knit wool hat from Kat then go to www.mountaingoathatsandgoods.com Whoever you are, if you're reading this, thanks so much for the undeserved gift! They turned out great and should keep their heads warm for a few years to come.
ULA Ohm bursting at the seams. I've since acquired a pack more suitable for carrying bulky loads, but my trusty Ohm never ceases to reaffirm my affection for this pack.
After an early start and a lazy morning laying around under the tarp, scarfing down breakfast, and rock throwing in the creek, we decided to head out the short 1/2 mile to the trailhead and hit the road early. Back at the trailhead a curious father approached me and asked how our evening went, I told him that we had an excellent night and slept like babies. Apparently this guy didn't sleep a wink due to his 7 year old daughter crying off and on through the night inside their tent because she was scared of the wind. He thought I was crazy for taking my 2 and 3 year old kids out for a night backpacking. I thought I was crazy for not doing this more often.
Slow and steady.
We set rubber to pavement before noon and took our time rolling along the highway back to Las Cruces. I picked up a liter of world famous Carrizozo, NM cherry cider at a roadside store for a sugar buzz to sustain me for the drive back home. I looked back in the rearview mirror as I turned onto US-70W, in a wink the kids were crashed out hard with a glimmer of a smile on their faces. I can only hope that this trip will resonate in their minds as loudly as it has in mine. Until the next one.