Last weekend, I took my seven-year-old son on his first backpacking trip. For my ten-year-old daughter, it was her fourth trip into the wilderness. Why do I take my children on these overnight adventures when we already live in a place more wild and natural than designated wilderness areas? The minimalist experience and little bit of suffering endured along the trail has made my children better people and me a better mother.
Backpacking is not just about physical endurance, there is a psychological factor as well. Feeling the strain of the heavy back as you ascend upward towards your final destination, which in our case is a high alpine lake, overcoming the feelings that you can’t make it, only taking the essentials, the communal nature of shared meals and equipment….all of these factors create an experience that can’t be beat by any amusement park!
My daughter is strong-willed, a kind way of saying she is prone to argue and voice her opinion inappropriately at times. When we backpack, these problems in our relationship dissolve (it also happened while we traveled in Europe this summer). Her brighter side shines. She is more helpful, responsible, and enjoyable. I asked her about it on our recent trip. She responded that when backpacking there is nothing else to do; there are no distractions of home and home routines. Perhaps the difference lies in my complete attention to our trip, our tasks, our time together. Perhaps it also makes me a better parent…
My son was so excited for his first backpacking trip, as he has been left behind multiple times. He relished in the experience of carrying his own pack, ate food that he would not normally eat at home, and had a smile on his face pretty much the whole time (except when he fell in the lake). He’s ready to tackle more miles with his positive attitude.
The last time I visited a zoo, almost every family seemed in conflict. The same occurred when seeing families back-to-school shopping recently. Although conflict can occur backpacking, the physical aspect usually works through the tears and emotions stored in our muscles, and adrenalin replaces negativity. It is hard to harbor bad feelings and thoughts when surrounded by the beauty and awe of the wilderness.
If you have never been backpacking yourself or taken your children, I highly recommend it!