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Live, Play, Travel

Every Kid in a Park and the Fight to Get Kids Outside

September 15, 2015
meoehike2

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that getting families and kids outside is a passion of mine. I abhor the idea that an outdoorsy life has to end when a child enters the family. I believe that getting outside with your kids is not only possible – it’s essential.

Nature Deficit Disorder became a buzzword in the outdoor community back in 2005 when Richard Louv’s fantastic book Last Child in the Woods hit the New York Times’ bestseller list. Louv argues that, as children spend less time outside, emotional and behavioral problems begin to rise. It’s an interesting argument. I’m not a psychologist and I have no idea whether or not a lack of access to nature causes things like Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m not going to touch that with a ten foot pole.

I will, however, wholeheartedly get on board with the idea that access to the outdoors is a vital part of childhood (and adulthood, really).

 

Happy dad, happy kid. Rocky Mountain National Park.

Children learn by doing. They learn by getting their hands (and probably everything else) dirty. They need to have spaces and places to let their imaginations, and their tiny little bodies, run wild. They need fresh air and movement and the chance to explore a world that feels new and untouched (even if it only feels that way to them).

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

This year the White House rolled out a new program called Every Kid in a Park, granting 4th graders all across the U.S. unlimited access to federal lands for the next academic year. National parks? National monuments? National Pretty-Much-Anything? They’re all free for fourth graders.

Do you think the kids are excited?

I’ve talked before about the barriers that keep the current crop of kids from spending as much time outside as their parents but one of the things that I didn’t mention is the financial aspect. Visiting National Parks can be expensive. Starting next month, a visit to Arches National Park will cost you a whopping $25 per vehicle and other places are similarly priced. This may not sound like much if we’re talking about one visit to one Park, but if we want kids to have regular access to these special places (which we do, right?), the cost goes up significantly.

I certainly don’t think that taking kids to the big parks is the only way to get them to care about nature but I do think that it’s a step in the right direction. And if it gets parents motivated to take their kids to see some of our most treasured landmarks? So much the better.

Today’s youth have a lot of things vying for their attention – thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program for giving nature a fighting chance.

For more information or to get a pass for your fourth grader, please check out everykidinapark.gov!

Live, Play

How to Adventure with your Significant Other (And Still Like Each Other Afterward)

August 28, 2015
jenjoshkalalau

[First let me say that I am overwhelmed by the response to my post about how trails have changed my life. Thanks to all of you that shared your stories. Knowing that I’m among kindred spirits feels pretty darn good! XO, Jen]

A video came across my Facebook feed this morning from the folks at Dakine that had me crying tears of laughter right into my coffee. The video follows the exploits of a young couple, stereotypical gender roles reversed, out “enjoying” a day on mountain bikes. If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it here:

If you have spent any amount of time in the outdoors with a significant other, a lot of this probably looks pretty familiar.

The meltdown this guy has at 1:20 looks a whole lot like when I threw down my camera gear and cried at Kalalau and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “your hands wouldn’t hurt if you didn’t brake so much!” while out on the bike. I don’t think I’m nearly as whiney as this guy (dear god, I hope I’m not!) but there is a whole lot of truth in this video.

At first I thought it was just us. I thought that every other couple was surely out having blissful adventures together and then recounting the day’s shenanigans over beers, just like in those Mich Ultra commercials that they show during the Tour de France. You know what I’m talking about, right? The commercials that show smiling, fit-looking people out recreating with members of the opposite sex who are presumably their significant others and then happily celebrating with a cold Mich Ultra afterwards? I can tell you from experience that those are not an accurate depiction of reality (and we know this is true because no one looks that happy while drinking Mich Ultra).

Anyway, the point that I’m trying to make is that adventuring with your significant other is hard. And while I know many couples that seem to have it figured out, I know just as many that say yeah, not us. And that’s ok. What matters isn’t that you’re out riding or hiking or skiing with your partner. What matters is that you’re out riding or hiking or skiing at all. And that what you’re doing is working for everyone. And that everyone is happy.

But just because I think it’s totally ok to do your own thing doesn’t mean that I don’t have some advice for those of you who are hellbent on hitting the trail with your significant other. Want some unsolicited advice on how to keep everyone happy? Read on!

Be honest about what you’re getting them into. This is a big one. Don’t try to trick your spouse/domestic partner/girlfriend/boyfriend/friend-with-benefits into thinking that your adventure is going to be something that it isn’t. Don’t tell them that the ride will be easy if you know it is going to be hard and don’t, for the love of god, tell them that something won’t be technical if it will. A little bit of warning goes a long way. And keep in mind that what is easy for you might not be easy for them. And vice versa.

Set all expectations early. Are you going to wait for them? Do they want you to wait for them? How far apart is too far apart? Talk about all this stuff before you go. Some people desperately want their riding partners to wait for them at regular intervals. For me, it’s demoralizing and makes me feel bad. I’d rather you go ahead and do your own thing so I can focus on doing mine. Figure out what your partner wants and then do that.

Don’t do the “bitch stop”. You know when you’re riding with someone and they stop and wait as you huff and puff your way up the hill only to take off down the trail the very second you roll up? My husband and I call this the “bitch stop”. Don’t do it! Just because you are fully recovered does not mean that the person behind you is ready to roll. Give them a second to catch their breath.

Stop doubting yourself. Stop apologizing. If someone is riding (or hiking or climbing or whatever) with you, especially if they are doing it for a second (or third or fourth or hundredth) time, it’s because they want to be out there with you. Stop doubting that you are good enough. And stop apologizing. Stop apologizing for being too slow or too fast (unless you broke the aforementioned agreed upon expectations) or for riding too well or too poorly. Just stop! And yes, this is something that I have to remind myself of all the time.

Go it alone. It may seem strange to see “don’t ride/hike/run/ski together” on a list of suggestions for how TO do all those things but, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty good piece of advice. Just because you and your significant other enjoy the same hobbies doesn’t mean that you have to do those same hobbies together all the time. Set off on your own or grab a friend and hit the trail. Doing things at your own pace and in your own way doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your relationship. It means that you’re healthy, happy, and independent. And you’ll have more to talk about when you meet up over drinks later!

I will be honest and tell you that we don’t adventure together much these days. Throwing a kid into the mix made getting out at the same time infinitely harder. But someday, I hope, we can hit the trail together again. And when we do, I hope we can be an actual old married couple … not just people who bicker like one!

Happy trails, y’all!

Got any advice for those brave enough to hit the trail with their significant other? Any funny war stories to share? Drop me a line in the comments!

 

 

Live, Play

Kids in the Outdoors: Evaluating Risk

August 15, 2015
OwenbackpackRMNP

I logged onto my computer this morning, fired up the internet, and came across this post on the 14ers.com Facebook page. The picture shows a couple proud parents and their happy looking kid on the summit of Handies Peak, one of the Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot mountains.

I shuddered.

Not because I thought that what they did was wrong but because I knew what was coming: a barrage of insults hurled at the parents. Everything from “WHY would you risk your baby’s life!?” to “I don’t want to hear a screaming kid in the mountains.” There were plenty of pats on the back too, as well as some very worthwhile conversation about things like babies and altitude sickness, but the responses that stood out were filled with vitriol.

These types of discussions seem to happen every time someone posts a picture of a small child doing something “risky”. And while I think the conversation that surrounds them is valuable, I hate how quickly they can devolve into name calling.

We know nothing about these people. We don’t know how much experience they have in the mountains or what their fitness levels are like. We don’t know if they live at altitude (giving the baby a huge jump start on acclimation) or sea level. We don’t know what their mindset was going in – whether they were hellbent on making the summit or whether they were willing to turn back at the slightest sign of distress. We just don’t know.

I have seen a lot of people doing stupid things with kids in the outdoors (and who knows, maybe I’ve been accused of the same). I will never forget the day that I saw a family with two small children leaving Broken Hand Pass, headed for the summit of Crestone Needle (a 14-er that is much harder and more exposed than Handies), in the late afternoon with storm clouds building. That was an undeniably bad idea (for anyone – with or without kids) and it left my friends and I shaking our heads in disbelief. But to suggest, without any other information, that a couple is being negligent in taking their baby on a 5-mile hike on a Class I 14er on a sunny day is something that I just can’t get behind, even if the final destination is the top of a great big mountain.

In the interest in full disclosure, I will tell you that we had planned to do this ourselves. When our kid was born my husband and I had grand plans to do tons of hiking with him and we very much hoped to take him up to the top of one of our tallest mountains. It didn’t happen, mostly because I ended up spending his two tiniest summers trying to recover from running injuries, but we had certainly hoped it would. We’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains and, with every adventure we go on, we know that the first goal is always to get home safely. Everything else comes a very distant second. And sure, crazy things can happen up there, but I’m pretty damn confident that we would have made it home just fine.

Let’s remember that the most dangerous part of a lot of these activities is probably the drive up the highway to the trailhead. And no one tells you not to do that with your kid.

I’m certainly not advocating for risky parenting and I, obviously, don’t think that we should put children in unnecessary danger. But I do think that it’s important to think long and hard about what we consider dangerous, and to realize that there are a lot of variables at play. Rather than immediately judging other people’s accomplishments and decisions because they are different than our own, let’s consider that maybe their situation is different. Maybe they considered the risks, know their own ability levels, and made wise decisions on whether they would try for the summit. Maybe we can give parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that, when it comes to their children, they are capable of making well-informed decisions.

Weigh in! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! What do you think constitutes risky parenting and where do you draw the line? If you have kids, how do you decide what is and isn’t safe for them? And how do you balance the risks (both for you and your kids) with the desire to live happy, active, fulfilled lives?