Hiking with small children will always present challenges. Every stage of development comes with it’s own unique issues to be dealt with when out on the trail. When we started hiking with our son, Jack, at just two weeks old, he was swallowed by his Baby Bjorn. I was terrified he would suffocate against my chest. I stopped regularly to check on him and make sure he was still breathing. Whoever wasn’t carrying him was slipping and sliding along on the trail making sure that the other was being careful and aware of the hazards that were around, all the while missing it themselves.
We dressed him in a ridiculous number of layers. Our packs bulged with outfits, diapers, ointments, first aid kits, extra layers, an umbrella, and loads of snacks and water. My pack didn’t fit me, my postpartum body was squishy and bulged in places it never had before. My hiking pants didn’t fit right. My shirts were tight. My nursing equipment was something I had to get used to working around with pack straps.
Those first hikes were slow, I was out of shape, still healing, and an anxious first time mom. I knew all the while that I had to be outside, that WE had to be outside. I knew that it was important for my recovery and good for Jack and great for my husband. The cadence of our hikes changed. The type of hike we sought out changed. Less elevation gain and shorter hikes were what we looked for. Other hikers couldn’t believe we had such a little baby out on the trail. For us, parenting was terrifying no matter where we were. Going for a hike just meant we were figuring it all out while walking in a gorgeous setting, rather then sitting on the couch inside.
I nursed my son in the woods, on the shores of lakes, along the sides of trails. We changed diapers among the duff of the forest. He would get dirty. I would do my best to not let that bother me. The sun would come out, so would our trusty umbrella to cover our fair and vulnerable baby. If we stopped walking he would cry. He became my personal trainer, not allowing me to slack off on the trail.
Hiking became so much more meaningful. My husband and I would talk as our baby slept in the carrier. We reconnected. Our relationship stayed strong during those first difficult months, I’m convinced that was thanks to our regular hikes.
As our son grows, so do our miles and so do our challenges. My fears of suffocation in the carrier lessened and then disappeared without me realizing it. The dirt that would coat him following a hike didn’t have me cringing and worrying about a diaper rash, it had me beaming with pride. Soon we could use sunscreen and our umbrella was left behind. Our packs deflated as fewer outfits, diapers, wipes, and newborn worries faded into the past. I began packing him snacks, because he wasn’t nursing as much. Soon nursing was a thing of the past and I was packing three lunches. I found myself sitting on top of mountains with my son sitting next to me, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Could he really be that big already?
He stopped sleeping through hikes and began looking around. He was noticing his surroundings, pointing at what was around him. I soon realized that he was enjoying these hikes.
Suddenly I was out buying shoes for my 11 month old who was walking. Three days after his first birthday he was steady enough to walk with us on a morning stroll and I held the tears at bay as he walked 1/4 of a mile.
My pack, pants, and shirts all fit me again and my nursing equipment is gone.
Challenges still exist for us on the trail but they change with every hike. We used to worry about blowouts, dehydration, and body temperature. Now we worry about tantrums, keeping him engaged, snack times, and being too loud.
We were recently on vacation in Squamish, BC where we embarked on a 14 mile hike and Jack had an all out tantrum. His (and our) first. This hike, Garibaldi Lake, is touted as the most popular trail in BC and it hadn’t disappointed, we had seen hundreds of people on the trail. We had stopped at the turnaround point, a breathtaking alpine lake, and Jack had been happily playing with a pile of rocks on the lake’s edge.
It was time to go and that meant taking him away from his newfound toy. He was not having it and the screams came loudly and dramatically and everybody in a mile radius probably heard it. Normally when he makes a scene I don’t get too embarrassed because it happens to all kids. But, he was the ONLY baby we had seen all day on the trail and I felt very self conscience about the whole situation. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I felt terrible. I felt as if we were ruining everybody’s day. We put him in the backpack, knowing he likes to be on the move and hoped that would settle him down. It didn’t. I finally lowered myself down, put my head to his and spoke quietly and calmly in his ear. I didn’t say much, just spoke quietly about how he had been so strong and brave all day and that he should calm down and take deep breaths. Somehow this miraculously worked. He calmed himself down, found his thumb and the tantrum was over. He was happy as a clam as soon as we started moving again.
My embarrassment stayed with me and I worried what others had thought of the incident. We had been hiking with friends and the next day I found myself apologizing to them for the outburst. They stopped me. Told me that it really hadn’t been that bad and they had seen/experienced much worse. It’s hard to put into words how much I needed to hear that. Tantrums are a new part of our hiking routine. Our independent son likes to walk and explore and find his own path. There are times when this behavior isn’t safe and, therefore, isn’t allowed. A tantrum ensues over having to hold my hand, get back in the carrier, or simply put down the overly sharp, pointy stick that could take out the eyeballs of everybody in a nearby radius. I still feel prickles of self consciousness seep in but do my best to shake them away. I remind myself that this tiny human being doesn’t know any better. Everyday he is learning. Everyday he is figuring out what he can and can’t do in this world. Some days these upsets are going to cause a scene and that’s OK. Every child goes through this whether it’s on the trail, in a store, or in the privacy of your own home. I have learned to deal with it the best I can. For my husband and I, we decided jointly to simply let Jack work it out on his own. He’s a thumb sucker so self-soothing is something he does well. A few moments of screaming and he usually finds his center. Every day a hike or an outing may present a unique challenge. We do our best to deal with the situation with as much grace as we can but remember that at the end of the day our son is loved and therefore, we are succeeding as parents. I’ve decided to not worry about what others may think of our son’s actions. They are seeing a snapshot of our day and are in no position to judge. My fear of ruining everyone else’s day is silly. We are all outside, where, last time I checked, being loud is encouraged.
Maura Marko is a St Paul, MN native who lived for three years in Seattle, WA before returning to MN in the spring of 2015. She studied Recreation Resource Management and Forest Resources at the University of Minnesota and worked as a Park Ranger and Forestry Technician. Maura now enjoys her role as mother to son, Jack, born July 2014. Together with her husband, Bobby, they embark on all sorts of adventures, all the while writing about their experiences on their blog, We Found Adventure. She was excited and happy to step up and co-lead the Twin Cities Branch of Hike it Baby and loves watching it grow with each new hike!