My kids were 5 and 6 years old when I started sharing my family’s outdoor adventures with Sunday Telegram readers. Every month for the past 11 years I planned a trip and wrote about it. As the kids grew and their interests expanded, I wrote about other types of adventures beyond hiking. We have tried everything from birding, biking and cross country skiing to geocaching, disc golf (aka “hiking with frisbees”), kayaking, paddleboarding, ziplining and more.
We have faced our share of calamities on the trail. We were swarmed by yellow jackets in Topsham and a couple of years later a quick dip in a river in Limington turned into a skin-crawling leech fest for my youngest who emerged from the water covered in the blood suckers. Then there was the trip to Baxter State Park that resulted in another head-to-toe experience with insects, this time with deer ticks that initially looked like specks of dirt until we noticed them moving. But none of these calamities, which happened over the course of a decade, ever stopped us from our monthly outings. We considered them lessons in winging it because there are just some things even the best planning can’t anticipate.
When the kids were little they found great joy in finding gull feathers. As they got older the geocache “treasure hunting” kept us hiking. Then the water sports sparked the kids’ fancy, and canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding took hold. Then it was the goal-setting maturity the girls developed in their teens to start our section-hiking of the Appalachian Trail. Last year the goal was to summit Mt. Washington, accomplished with more ease than expected, and this year we hope to carve out enough time in our life to tackle Katahdin. We didn’t always follow the path of “should do” trails and activities. We chose based on what we were interested in, what we could squeeze into our very full schedule or what we were simply in the mood to do.
We have been, and likely will always be, primarily day-trippers even though we have thoroughly enjoyed our overnight adventures in huts in Maine and New Hampshire. As the parent, I have done my best to keep our adventures fun, realistic and simple to ensure everyone stays motivated to make time to go. There were times one of the kids was coming down with a cold or we were tired after a long week and the summit just seemed like too much effort for that particular day (this sometimes included ones rated “easy”). Instead we would find a good picnic spot and call the day a success because it was. We spent a day together outdoors, exercising and chatting.
Today, I feel like I blinked and now my oldest is getting ready to graduate next month from high school.
The Maine woods, and my children, have taught me many things about outdoor adventuring. Here are the highlights of my learning:
• Plan for the weather. It is always colder in the mountains than you think.
• An extra pair of socks may not be pulled out on every adventure, but when you need a dry pair of socks there is nothing better (and they also make good mittens, too).
• A basic first aid kit is a must. My key elements to a good kit for kids include colorful bandages and gum (for its distraction factor) as well as an extra bottle of bug spray.
• Flexibility is key to ensuring everyone has fun. Sometimes not everyone is up to the summit climb, but a nice vista point still makes for a rewarding family picnic.
• Get the kids involved in the decision-making for adventures. When my kids were on-board with a trail and/or activity, it made the outing much more fun for all of us.
• Don’t make every adventure about the final destination. I agree that it is cliche to say it is “about the journey,” but it’s a cliche for a reason. I have spoken with many parents over the years who asked me how I “get your kids to hike with you” and my response has a theme related to not pushing kids to reach a goal when the focus can simply be enjoying a walk together.
• Pack a sweet treat. You can be hiking with little ones or teenagers and it doesn’t matter – pulling out a favorite piece of candy or sweet treat makes a tough climb all the more fun (even, or more so, for mom).
• I learned that I am a much better listener (and parent) on the hiking trail. There aren’t all those little distractions of everyday life to interrupt children sharing their thoughts about life.
I will miss writing this column – and have always appreciated the wonderful feedback I have received from readers over the years – but you can continue to follow my family’s new chapter (the young-adult version) of outdoor adventuring on Twitter and