My wife and I have never had children. However, I feel blessed to have been able to share so many of my outdoor experiences with my own niece and nephews, as well as the children of so many of our friends. My outdoor resume is extensive and it all began when I was a small child when our family would head out each weekend to go camping. These trips would include roasting marshmallows over the fire, walks (we didn’t call them hikes at the time) in the woods, fishing along the shore of the lake, identifying the indigenous flora and fauna, along with the occasional snipe hunting quest.
This love of the outdoors was further nurtured as I became involved in Cub Scouts and continued after I achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. As a Boy Scout, I was exposed to backpacking, rock climbing and canoeing. Since those early days, I have backpacked on multiple continents and most recently returned from a backpacking trip to the desert of southwest Arizona.
Throughout college, I worked at numerous camps as a counselor where I began my path of sharing my knowledge and skills with a new generation.
Being an uncle
Fast forward to 1992 when my first nephew was born. I couldn’t wait for this nearly eleven-pound baby (yes, you read that birth weight right!) to be ready for the great outdoors.
His twin brothers were born in 1996. Sadly, my wife and I moved away and haven’t lived in the vicinity since 1999. However, I have always sought out to spend quality time with them for almost 20 years on summer vacations, spring breaks and any other opportunity that was presented.
Even on these abbreviated times together, I have taught them each how to ride their bikes without training wheels, and we have climbed trees, sea kayaked, white-water rafted, zip lined and hiked in at least half a dozen states.
My wife and I made the decision to give our niece and nephews an unforgettable experience for their high school graduation. Our plan was to take them on an adventure somewhere in the world for an adventure of a lifetime. Being that we lived hundreds of miles away, I had never shared the experience of backpacking with them and decided that their first taste would be in the Andes. The oldest played college football and we were unable to go anywhere upon this graduation as he went straight into training that summer. However, after three years at the collegiate level, he opted out of his last two years of eligibility. The timing was perfect as his brothers were approaching their graduation and I set about to plan a three-week adventure in southern Peru.
Our final itinerary included:
- Flights to Lima, Peru, with a full day exploring the country’s capital city.
- Flight to Cusco, Peru, where we spent three days acclimating to the altitude while exploring this former capital of the Incan Empire.
- Four days on the Inca Trail. *While we had the option of hiring porters to carry the large part of our gear, what kind of uncle would I be if that was their first foray into the pastime?
- An extra day was spent further exploring the ruins and climbing Huayna Picchu, the peak that positions itself prominently in the background of most photos. (Note: The peak requires a separate ticket and numbers are limited daily.)
- Bus ride from Cusco to Puno where we enjoyed a two-day experience on Lake Titicaca visiting the floating Uros, along with an overnight stay with a host family on the island of Amantani.
- Bus ride through Arequipa on our way to Nasca, where we went dune buggy riding and sand boarding before making our way back to Lima and our flights home.
I was able to outfit them from head to toe, underwear to outerwear. This trip was the culmination of 18 years (twins) and 21 years of sharing my love of the outdoors with my nephews.
My niece wasn’t as athletic as her brothers but found an early love for hiking. She always wanted to go hiking whenever I came home to visit or when she came to visit us, regardless of weather conditions. Recently, I received a text from her asking about the Appalachian Trail and thru hiking. As she had never been on an overnight backpacking trip, I digressed and suggested we concentrate on small steps. With that said, we made plans to do an overnight backpacking trip. I outfitted her just like her brothers and we set the date. No sooner than we had emerged from the wilderness area, she was already planning our next outing, a weeklong thru hike. While that trip is still pending, she is hooked. Her graduation trip remains a few years away, but we have a destination: Mount Kilimanjaro!
What are some of your best memories in the outdoors as an aunt or uncle? Please share in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Clay Abney.