When I think back to my own childhood, all of my fondest memories revolve around being in the outdoors with my family. I remember camping trips to the lake where we slept in a giant tent and ate marshmallows. I recall going for bike rides, hikes, jumping in piles of leaves, and fishing as a family. I also played with GI Joe, Hot Wheels, and probably watched more TV than I should have, but it is always the time in nature that I remember.
Now that I have two daughters (ages five and eight ) of my own, I try to focus our adventures on exploring the outdoors. We love camping, hiking, and exploring new areas. The girls get really excited about packing for camping trips and jump on board when we say we are going for a hike, but it wasn’t always this way.
In the beginning, this active father had grand visions of trekking up mountains with his children in tow. I dreamt of overnight backpacking trips and epic snowshoe adventures. We started hiking with babies in baby carriers and slowly encouraged them to hike on their own. They cried, complained, and refused to go on trips. It wasn’t fun for anyone involved.
Then one day, as I was climbing Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, I came across a father hiking with his 11-year-old daughter. He was pushing her to keep hiking even though she was clearly exhausted. He was becoming extremely frustrated as his dream of reaching Colorado’s highest summit was clearly not going to happen that day. The young girl was crying her eyes out and cursing her father for not tending to her pleas to stop and rest. Hours later, I was headed down when I came across the same father and daughter in about the same place. He was still begging her to keep moving but this time they were headed down and the goal had shifted to just reaching the car by sunset. She was still crying and was so tired she could barely take a step.
After witnessing this unfortunate situation, and reflecting on both the father and the daughter’s circumstances with compassion, I promised myself that I would never be that guy and would always make sure the outdoors were fun and exciting for everyone involved. As my babies grew into beautiful little girls, I brought them on many short hikes. I never pushed them into hiking further than they were capable of. I created nature bingo games, played I-spy, gave the girls their own nature journals, and provided them with their own backpacks, water bottles, and snacks.
We decided early on that camping had to be done with other families. We found that our kids needed other children to play with at the campground, or else they’d be bothering us with how bored they were. With other kids of various ages camping in the same area, my kids can play games, build forts, catch tadpoles, and laugh an afternoon away.
We have filled nearly every possible weekend with a car camping trip over the last few years and we continue to stretch the trips well into the autumn months. We have all learned to love the outdoors and the family time so much that we no longer have to try so hard. This year we took several camping trips with just our own family. I watched in awe as the girls climbed rocks, made sand castles, and explored independently. They have learned to be comfortable exploring around the campsite on their own and they enjoy making up their own games.
On recent hikes we’ve left the nature journals and nature bingo cards at home and decided to just wing it. The entire family has been covering more miles and we’ve made up our own games (for example, What Animal Am I Thinking Of?). By letting go of the expectations I had in mind of a family weekend filled with crazy outdoor adventures, I was able to focus on creating a fun outdoor experience for all. Through these experiences we’ve grown together and now share the desire to continue exploring the outdoors together, in our own unique ways.
As autumn arrives we all look forward to nature hikes, watching the falling leaves, and to listening to the elk bugle. We slip on an additional layer and enthusiastically head outdoors. The girls have now had so many positive experiences in nature that they can’t wait for the next adventure. They love it and it gets me closer to the original vision of epic mountain climbing adventures when they are ready. Best of all, I’ve taught them to have an appreciation of the outdoors and hopefully given them many fond memories to reflect on throughout their lives.
Andy Hawbaker lives in Northern Colorado where he enjoys hiking, camping and exploring the Rocky Mountains with his wife and two daughters. When he isn’t on the trail Andy shares his experiences on the Sierra Social Hub.
He is a member of the social team at Sierra Trading Post.