I took my 10 year old son on his second backpacking trip ever, but this was his first trip carrying his own expedition pack. Just he and I hiked together, but we met a few adult friends at the destination. I had never hiked this trail before and didn’t realize until I arrived that we would be backpacking 2.6 miles straight uphill in the sun. I sneaked a furtive glance at my son to see if he noticed how challenging this hike was going to be, but he seemed oblivious so I plastered a smile on my face and soldiered on. I made sure to have a stranger take a picture of us at the beginning of the hike “while we are still happy”, just in case by the end of it one or both of us wanted to throw ourselves off the mountain.
This amazing child I was with hiked right up that mountain with enthusiasm and cheer that totally blew my mind. I’m not saying he didn’t stop often and huff and puff and say, “I’m so tired!” But he never seemed to be having a bad time or even ask to go back. I packed Cheetos as an end of the hike reward (we are both Cheeto-obsessed fiends), but I brought them out halfway up instead as a morale booster. We also stopped from time to time to nosh marshmallows. One thing this kid never ever did the entire walk both to camp and back is STOP TALKING. He earned himself a trail name that he well and truly deserved, “Talk Show”. At one point I had to inform him that sometimes people just need a little quiet time alone inside their own heads and would he kindly shut the hell up for 30 seconds? Actually, the last part I said privately in my own head. I did tell him, however, that he was free to talk as much as he wanted, but would he please just refrain from asking me questions and conversing with me for about 20 minutes so my brain could rest. He was cool with that.
Talk Show carried his own backpack, water, mess kit, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothing, trekking pole, a book, and a few small personal items.
That night, after two games of Uno, we spent an unseasonably warm night in our tent and woke up to a beautiful sunny Southern California day. On the hike back down the mountain Talk Show asked if we could please go backpacking again soon and could he please carry his own tent to sleep in. My heart leapt. I had planned a trip that he could successfully enjoy and that made him want to do more. It couldn’t have turned out better. I have aspirations of spending two weeks next summer backpacking and living in the wilderness with my kids. This gave me a glimmer of possibility for that adventure also being a success. We’ll see.