Author Brenna Jeanneret interviews a mom who found Hike it Baby a game-changer for creating an outdoor community once they had children. This is a Hike it Baby exclusive piece in Brenna’s blog series, How Moms Are Saving the World. Her series highlights the stories of inspiring moms doing the things she believes will help save the world. Visit www.brennajeanneret.com for more stories and to contact her with an idea for her next How Moms Are Saving the World interview.
I don’t know the West side of town as well as I’d like to and, to be honest, it’s a bit intimidating. More traffic, more people, less parking.
I bundle my toddler in his winter gear, while I give long and thorough explanations about why we are parking where we are parking (by a fire hydrant) just to be confronted by the original question at the end of it and it all starts again.
I set him delicately on the icy ground next to the car as he continues to question me, and grab our bags. I haphazardly stuff stray items into pockets. I throw my purse over my head and one shoulder, sling the diaper bag across my chest and help my son carry his new narwhal backpack as I hold his little hand and try to steer him away from traffic. “I only parked 2 blocks away…” I think. “…it’s basically just crossing the street…”
The ice has melted, been walked on and re-frozen so the final product is like walking across a tiny frozen field of waves that are all at their peaks. Not ideal for a toddler…or a mom running late.
As I look up I see a toddler ride by in a stroller so sturdy I swear it has snow chains and winter tires. It’s being pushed by a power walking mom who not only has another baby strapped to her chest, but also is toting a sleek, aerodynamic backpack presumably stuffed with all the kid essentials. She looks confident, purposeful and together. I look on in awe.
We approach the corner where I expect to see the cafe I am meeting my friend at only to realize I actually parked 6 blocks away rather than 2. I turn into the wind and look down the street after the stroller and finally make the connection. That was my friend. That was Amy.
Creating an Outdoor Community After Kids
We walk in and Amy Schmudlach greets me with a warm, rosy-cheeked smile. I am happy to see her, she always seems to radiate positivity and joy, a rarity among moms with small children, and a downright delight for someone who, up until last month had 3 kids under the age of three!
I met Amy through Hike it Baby one day last spring. At the time, my husband and I exclusively drove our beloved road-tripping van, a 1984 Vanagon (think Scooby-Doo). We had just moved from Portland, Oregon where the vans are a commonality, to Madison, Wisconsin. When Amy asked to see the inside of our van we were happy to oblige. It felt good to meet someone who was as stoked about the van as we are. Her curiosity and sense of awe for it were contagious. We drove away feeling celebrated in our new community.
Amy is no stranger to the outdoors and her excitement for our van, which we view as a symbol of all things freedom, started to make sense. Her and her husband, Ryan, own Wisconsin Canoe Company. A company Ryan started right out of college with a 15 passenger van and 10 canoes he bought on Craig’s list. It was just meant to be a summer job but it did so well that they kept adding more boats and at some point realized this could be their full-time job.
She is also the co-director of the Free Forest School in Madison, which has grown from its single location last fall to four. After having kids Amy says that finding Hike it Baby was a “game-changer” in terms of finding community.
Hike it Baby Moms Get It
She and her husband have always held outdoor activity in high regard so once they had kids they didn’t feel anything should change. In fact, when I marveled at their ability to dress and motivate 3 small children for the outdoors during winter she said, “We like the challenge.”
Attitude and perspective are 90% of what makes up my day and dictates how it will go. What an amazing gift to give such a positive outlook to your children.
She felt supported by close friends and family but said she ran into “a lot of judgment” from others for things like taking her 4-week-old out in a canoe, wondering if her kids were warm enough or why she was out at all with her kids on a cold January day. But Hike it Baby moms get it and even encourage it.
She says her goal with Free Forest School is not necessarily to provide a place for those who already get outside, though they are welcome of course, but instead to “…get people excited to who wouldn’t otherwise be.”
As I am talking to Amy for this piece our kids start to get antsy and it is obviously time to go. We are in a public place and whenever we get to this point in my toddler’s tolerance for adult conversation a ping of panic runs through me. “We have to leave now! Before a meltdown! Before an accident. Before I have to be the mom who picks up my screaming, writhing toddler to physically remove him from the premises!”
I look at Amy and think she must really be in a panic because she has a toddler and a baby to extract from the situation, but when I tell her if she needs to cut our conversation short it’s fine and I understand, she looks at me with nothing but calm. She surveys her kids, one of whom is yelling and not pleased to be there, and says “…no, we’re fine.”
I smile at her, her calm washes over me and as I vow to be more like Amy, I think “…yeah, we are fine.”
About Hike it Baby
Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. Since its grassroots inception in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, Hike it Baby is now a growing community of 270,000 families and 500 volunteer branch ambassadors hosting more than 1,600 hikes per month. More information, as well as daily hike schedules, can be found at HikeitBaby.com, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Human.