But this day was different. Mason was not crying as we pulled into the snowy parking lot.
“Make a snowman? Carrot nose Mama?” he said as snow stretched before us for as far as the eye could see. Today he was ready to hike. Still we had one little bitty problem.
“No gloves mama,” he said looking at me smugly as I bundled him up.
“Mason, it’s really cold and you have to wear gloves.”
“No.” This time shaking his head defiantly.
“Baby, your hands will get cold.” He shook his head some more and wriggled about as I tried to put the gloves on him. I gave up and went on to the next step–putting him in our Deuter frame carrier.
“No Mama back.” (Toddler translation: I am not getting on your back so don’t even try it.)
“Ok, walk?” I asked looking at the long, snowy trail in front of us and the snowshoes on my feet. Ok, so maybe this hike wasn’t starting off as smoothy as I had thought. He pointed at the Chariot another mom had. Cathy was going to pull her two little ones in the ski-trailer. She graciously offered up her very agreeable three-year-old in exchange for my heading-towards-grumpy-land toddler. A few minutes later Mason was happily nestled into the ski-stroller, still no gloves.
Lesson one: When hiking with kids on a snowy day, be flexible and go with the flow.
At least inside the Chariot he would be warmish. Ten minutes later we were off. But it was still a slow procession. Babies were crying, snowshoes fell off, clothing was being adjusted over and over. One little girl in a sled wasn’t really very happy about the situation as snow blew in her face.
We all sighed a collective breath and pushed on into the silent, powdery woods. We definitely were scaring away any animals nearby with our rowdy procession. In spite of the snails-pace and on and off crying from various kids, it was still beautiful and we were the first tracks on the trail. As we slipped deeper and deeper into the forest I felt the familiar calm seeping through my body.
Somehow, no matter how chaotic the beginning was or how slowly we moved when hiking, I always felt an incredible peace with every step in. Maybe it was the serotonin that set in with the exercise or perhaps it was the stillness of the trees and the quiet path in front of us that could calm my often Mama-frazzled nerves. The best thing about it all is whether hiking one mile or ten miles, it has the same calming effect on me.
Hike it Baby Branch Lead Carmyn Juntunen with her little one on trail soothing him in a teary moment.
Lesson Two: Getting out there is the hardest part, so push on and the shift will come.
In Japan, they have a name for the calming effect that happens when you step into the woods. They call it shirin-yoku, which means “forest bathing.” The Japanese say even a short walk in the forest is like healing medicine. They have done studies showing the actual physical benefits on both sick and healthy people from just stepping into the woods. A simple walk can improve your hormone levels and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.
There are many theories why the woods can heal. One theory is the essential oils that come from trees and are all around you in the woods and as you breath in, your body calms down. Other studies say it’s the hormones you release and the brain chemistry shift as your blood gets flowing. While working out is good for you, it seems walking in nature can have as good of, if not better results on your overall well-being.
As we trudged on, one little boy wouldn’t calm down. Christel, a seasoned Hike it Baby hiker who had weathered winters in Alaska and South Dakota with her little one decided to turn around. “This is not his day. Not sure what’s going on but he’s never been this upset on trail.” Another woman pulling a little girl on a sled also decided to join her. Christel would find out later at the car that Sebastian had been positioned wrong and thus was soaked up to his neck in wet, cold pee. We laughed about this “mommy-fail” later because as mothers of toddler boys, this one was a familiar one that every parent experiences at least once before kids can really relay the “problem” at hand.Lesson Three: Even if you have the most amazing hike planned, sometimes it’s smart to cut it short.
As Cathy (the Branch Lead who set up the hike) and I hiked in front of the group we came to a fork.
“I am going to cut this shorter,” she said, taking a right instead of heading up the hill. “I had about 3 miles planned for us, but it feels like the kids don’t have it in them today.”
Good call Mama, I thought. I liked that she was looking out for the kids, but also appreciated that I didn’t have to get whiny myself. It’s not that the hike was long or I couldn’t pull it off, but after our last week on the road I was actually feeling a bit tired that day. While I was enjoying the hike, I felt like keeping it short and sweet was probably smart for all.
We hiked for another 20 minutes and Mason almost fell asleep on my back. When we got back to the car, there were snacks and another 20 minutes of play in the parking lot. I felt like we had been on a great adventure, thanks to the snowy silence of the woods and the untracked path that we had ventured on.
Some days the journey is long and others it’s short. Once again my constant Hike it Baby reminder: It’s the journey we are after, not the destination. Another hike for the books, lessons learned, friends made, memories for Mason and me that further deepen our connection to our community and our beautiful planet. We couldn’t ask for anything more.
Photo Credits: Rebecca Bertasso
Shanti and Mason are on a 5-week roadtrip visiting Hike it Baby branches around the western US. Follow their tour here. Read the first two blogs about their adventures.
Week One on the Road with a Toddler
Driving into the Second Week