Top Five for Hiking with a Six Year Old

I think, if it were possible to write a guide about how to get *any* six-year-old out on the trail with a minimum of hassle or complaint, I would have already written the definitive tome. This activity, as we all know, requires subtlety and nuance; you’ve got to have the right touch at the right time in order to make it happen. Success is fleeting, but I’m here to tell you that getting to the point where your kid finishes a hike and immediately asks when the next one is going to be is possible.

That said, here are my top five suggestions (I won’t say “rules” because then they’ll just get bent and become useless) for taking your favorite child on the trail.

1) Set Reachable Expectations

Understand your kiddo. Figure out what motivates them and then use this as a carrot to propel them along your chosen path, sure. That’s good advice, but learn to set expectations with your kids too.

My six-year-old likes to know what’s coming. The expectation is that I will choose interesting trails for him to hike and let him know some of the things he can expect to see and experience along the way. In return, he knows that I expect that he’ll have a good time, exercise his curiosity and learn without whining. All this is reachable.

Neither of us expects the other to do more than we’re able. In his case, I can’t demand he hikes a 25-mile day with a pack (not yet anyway). In my case, AralBear understands that I can only endure so much slowness before I crack. We’re honest about how we’re feeling and performing too, without being judgy, which means that we’re staying ahead of those acute moments where burgeoning hikers become couch potatoes.

2) Good Boots, Better Socks

AralBear has a couple of different pairs of shoes that are hiking capable: a sturdy set of Keen’s and now a pair of Vasque boots which protect and support his ankles. The problem with the former is that the tread is meh on snow fields and in the mud. Additionally, they’re not waterproof. They’re great for shorter, dry distances but when we’re stretching our distances beyond three or four miles they’re worthless.

Enter the need for the Vasque boots. These dandies have thick lugs, are waterproof, and I haven’t heard a peep about his feet hurting since getting them. Maybe they fit a little better, maybe they’re just that much more comfortable.

Or maybe (and this is where I’m putting my money) the new socks I got to go with the boots are entirely responsible for the improvement in his experience. Ever since an early season hike we went on where his feet got wet, I’ve been buying him a couple of pairs of really nice hiking weight socks a month. Now I carry a spare pair for both of us (and I carry them because I don’t want the spares to become wet or dirty on accident). On long days, if he starts to complain, I usually insist that we sit down and take our shoes off. I’ll have him switch out socks after a quick blister check and a snack, and then I hang his dirties on my pack to sunbake for a bit. We’ve always been able to get back at it without further problems.

3) Change the Narrative

“How much further?” or “When will we get there?” or the fatal “I can’t do this. I hate you forever.” Add to the list your favorite excuses for not being able to finish a trail, mount a series of switchbacks or and acute and undying need to turn-around-now-yes-right-now-before-I-lay-down-on-the-trails-of-throw-an-unholy-devil-fit-Dad-why-are-you-so-mean.

Adults do this too, but kids, man, they can really invent some amazingly rich narratives. Add a little pain to the mix and you’d think that they were trudging toward an icy Channel swim before an invading Nazi army.

My advice is learn to help them take control of their narrative. Arrest those negative thought patterns as early as you can, confront them with some reality, then provide some suggestions for alternative lines of thinking.

With my eldest, I wasn’t very good at this and ultimately I paid for my own deficit. With AralBear I’m very conscious of the tone and tenor of what he says when we hike. “Dad, my feet hurt.”

Okay, I buy that, but what can you do to change the narrative? “Try using these rocks to massage your feet as you walk. That’s it, roll your feet over each of them and feel the stretch in your arch and heel. Work those toes. Can you feel it?”

“Yeah Dad, I feel it!”

Help the pick the lens they’ll use to look at the world around them.

4) Channel Patience

Sometimes, I’ve got to yell “Hey, don’t go further than you can see me.” Sometimes.

Most other times, AralBear’s pace is somewhere behind mine. He’s got things to do and see. That means I’ve got to wait.

Forty-year-old Matt is orders of magnitude more patient than twenty or even thirty-something Matt ever could have hoped to be. He watches at the six-year-old Aral is doing and saying (especially when he stops to beatbox … go figure).

Point being, patience is your friend. Get comfortable with it and you’ll be living on six-year-old time.

5) Be Picky About Friends

This is a tough one, of the five, the toughest in my opinion. Of AralBear’s array of friends, however, there’s only a handful I’d like to take with us on a hike.

First, it’s difficult to impossible to apply the first four rules-of-thumb to other people’s kids. I can’t afford to shoe the world with good boots (and socks) and when I attempt to help an unknown kid change his or her narrative I’m increasingly likely to be met with the OMG old man eye-roll.

Perhaps, most importantly, if you allow the wrong kid to come along you’re tainting your hiking ecosystem. To be clear, when I speak of hiking with a kid, I’m talking about the cultivation of a precariously balanced mental garden. Keeping your rose standing up tall in the sunshine can be difficult on its own, but let another flower into your garden and you’re likely going to watch both of them wilt.

That’s not to say you can’t have outside kids come. I’ve had some great times with other-people’s-kids along for the trek, but, I’ve also learned that it’s important to understand what these boys and girls bring to the trail.

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An Explanation

Little Bear Beating Feet

Little Bear Beating Feet

Those of you who follow me on Strava may have noticed that recently I’ve started to shake things up a bit. Instead of steadily building runs through island forests, you’ve likely seen me walking … sometimes slowly … usually with our youngest son in tow.

My original plan was to return to Ultra running. Build up slowly safely and then get back into racing. The end goal was to run long FKTs and multi-day events. I’d been working toward this goal steadily and successful since September when I made a bunch of changes in my diet and lifestyle to aid me along this path.

Then the holiday season and subsequent breaks befell us and, well, there’s just no way to carve out a couple of hours of your day, each day, while you go run and still provide anything that resembles child care for your kid who is at home. Maybe some of you young dynamos can do it, but not me. I was already a hot mess.

But here’s the truly wonderful thing I discovered while Aral was home for the holidays. He may not be interested or capable of running at my pace or close to the distances I wanted to achieve, but he’s enthusiastic about backpacking.

Consequently, I’m in the process of reviewing my near and long-term goals and looking for ways to make them work for the two of us. We’ve been hiking around the island a lot the last couple of weeks and he’s been showing a great deal of interest in the idea of Wilderness. I’m investigating backpacking trips for kids his age and realize that there just aren’t a lot of people doing this.

I’ve since found a couple of guides and ordered the materials for making him a sized-to-fit SUL backpack, but there is a dearth of written experience and it’s more than a little troubling. Kids can and probably should get out into the woods every day. All day, if possible. He comes back a better, happier kid without fail.

I’ve been constructing the outline for my own guide/semi-autobiographical tome on the subject and I think this may be where I’m now headed.

Secret Plans

I just answered the leader of my local writing group with this current description of my state of being. “Shocked, rudderless, angry, and feeling very solitary.” Up until I met with a physician yesterday I thought I might be coming down with a case of cancer, now that seems less likely, but yeah, still riding on my raw nerves.

And there are the election results, or should I say, then there is the expected Electoral College results. Mixed into that all the ridiculous and regressive ideas that have plagued our nation and held us back for so long. The result, I’ve lost skin, I feel flayed.

My friend Jefe recently posted this personal account of some of his troubles and it’s got me thinking. This is the same Jefe that has held the CTR course record since I started following the race and the same Jefe who has taken home top honors on the GDMBR too. Point is, the guy is a machine that gobbles up the miles and he’s always sort of been someone I look up to. But just like me, he’s recently encountered some challenges.

This present state of less than 100% has kicked my ass. Mentally it has crushed me. The past few months I feel like I have been pulling back on everything that has made me tick in the past. The passion for riding, racing and pushing boundaries has been so instrumental in keeping me moving forward, staying positive, and focused, has been subdued.

Since the seizures started. That’s the point I started to pull back, now every little twinge in my body gets treated a catastrophic sinkhole on the road to my health goals. And this messes with me, regardless of if I admit it to myself or not.

Add to this that my goals are somewhat divided. Often my responsibilities and my desires compete for my time and motivation. Balance is just a myth, a story we tell ourselves before we collapse into bed at night.

RAID Runner in Training

Here’s the deal, I’m never fully alive, never completely as mindful and living in the moment as when I’m trotting along some trail. I need to feel my heart pounding in my chest sometimes. I want to suck in chilly morning air that bites the insides of my nostrils. This is the way it’s always been.

The harsh reality I’m faced with is that I have very localized responsibilities. Kids, house, an aging dog, and now a need to develop our family’s independent sustainability for the impending doom of the Presidential shit-show consuming the country.

Since September I’ve been working on a slow comeback. I’m gotten religious about my Primal Endurance. I’ve been working with a coach as if I was new to the practice of running. I see my physical therapist regularly. I’ve lost weight, regained flexibility and swimming around the back of my mind is a long list of goals and ideas for places to go, things to see, races to enter, and trails to run.

Truth be told, I’m a long way away from racing or record fitness, but the motivation is still there. Besides, “winning” has never really been what it’s about.

But I can get out there, where I’m happy. I can run my butt off, run until there aren’t any more worries. I can be glad I can run at all.

Instinct

Yesterday, I went for a slow paced trail run at Island Center. Nothing special, I’m working on building aerobic efficiency right now which means I’m trying to keep my heart rate below 136 BPM (more on that later).

The sun was out. The sky was an azure blue seldom seen this close to the dirty air of Seattle. The dense trees cast their shadows over the trail before my feet. I’d left my sunglasses in the car, and I have a horrible time with the glare, so I’d been squinting and tripping as I covered the ground.

Then out of nowhere, I noticed something and my body stopped. Of its own accord. I drew up short before a garter snake laying in a pool of leaves, stones, and sunshine. I stood over the snake and watched for a good long while and while I did I realized that something in the back of my brain had fired. I’d just had a very primal experience.

https://www.strava.com/activities/725951284/embed/3eb4f07b5c7e502cd3e0920cf103a9d990902a21

My unconscious mind had seen the snake before the rest of my gray matter could even bother. Apparently, somewhere in my genetic history is the hereditary understanding that it’s a bad thing to step on serpents.

Beyond this immediate recognition is the understanding that there is power here. If you’re trying to push your body toward the health of your ancestors it’s imperative to find and leverage these bits of knowledge.

Beverly Crossing

Beverly Bridge

“The trestle across the Columbia River connecting the western and eastern trail sections at Beverly is currently CLOSED, gated, and unsafe to cross.Trail supporters hope for renovation of this trestle in the future. The nearest bridge across the Columbia River, the I-90 bridge at Vantage, does not provide for pedestrian or nonmotorized traffic. There is no shoulder nor sidewalk, and the crossing often involves heavy traffic and high winds.
“Please contact your legislature and the State Parks Department to encourage them to fund upgrades and improvements to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail”.

The Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail posted this recently and of the bridges and trestles that need attention along this excellent multimodal route, this is chief among them. Of the many people I’ve talked to this bridge represents the most significant obstacle for completing the whole state crossing. The alternate Vantage crossing (via Interstate-90), the current way to cross the river, is dangerous if you’re in a car, and feels much like playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic pistol while riding up the grade toward the eastern shore. A sketchy proposition; we shouldn’t be asking if an “accident” will happen, only when.

From the East Side of the Columbia

The Elephant

This spring a number of public meetings have been held regarding the fate of the eastern portion of the JWPT, specifically, the 130+ mile stretch known as the Milwaukee Road. Two key issues have been distilled from the pot of problems adjacent landowners have raised and neither of these concerns directly addresses this critical problem with the trail. The Beverly Bridge and its alternate crossing are apparently an afterthought given the recent State Congressional attempt to give away a significant portion of this public resource.

Trespass

First, trespassing; supposedly users of the JWPT are violating property rights along this corridor.  I will say that I find this claim somewhat specious, actual trail users are often attempting to move through the corridor and tend to be conscious of the narrow boundaries that define the trail. But it is worthy to note that access issues, such as the one presented by the Beverly Bridge, could be pushing users onto private property in order to bridge places along the trail that have been neglected beyond safe use.

If the Washington State Parks department can get off their hands and address basic trail maintenance issues (with the help of the State Congress) then I think it’s safe to say that trespass will magically disappear.

Weeds

Second, the issue of noxious weed control keeps coming up. Folks, Washington State, has one of the most progressive invasive species programs in the country if not the world. Just like its Parks Department, however, it is understaffed and underfunded. Here again, the narrowly averted cure to this problem, proposed last year, is worse than the disease.  If the sole source of weeds is the JWPT than reporting them to the correct authority is a far more workable option. My experience suggests that areas were noxious or invasives are common we’ll find that the trail is merely supporting populations at densities similar to adjacent private lands.

I’m encouraging trail users to record the geolocations of noxious weeds, with a picture if possible, and report them to the appropriate County Weed Control Board.

No one likes to get flat tires, and no one likes the potential problems an ingested noxious weed might present for a horse or livestock along the JWPT. The workable solution to this problem is control, and that means that both trail users and landowners need to make regular use of the reporting and control boards for each county while demanding accountability at the state level.

Deny Value

Each community along the JWPT stands to lose much should this human powered thoroughfare ever be gifted into the hands of private ownership. The route ultimately stretches from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago, with branch lines spanning many northern states. And just within Washington State, it represents a nearly-finished bicycle autobahn.

European countries have long recognized the importance of these networks. They represent potential for increased tourism, low-cost mobility, cultural conservation, and place of community pride-in-place. The potential economic impacts are more than enough to justify this fight; by “fight” I mean the sustained conservation and recreational development effort that is needed to reopen the Beverly Bridge.

The point of this all being that a loss or even interruption in the JWPT represents a diminishment in the value of the public resource to the communities which still exist along the corridor. Both of the issues I’ve mentioned above, which have become the core focus of public hearings, are an attempt to appease a tiny handful of private landowners along the route. And, I would argue, distractions which threaten to delay or derail the kind of development that the trail needs to become an internationally recognized recreation corridor.

Washington State Flavored Derp

Two state House Republicans, Joe Schmick (9th district) and Mary Dye (also 9th district), have proposed scrapping a significant chunk of the Iron Horse State Park Trail. In the plan, the 2015-17 capital budget called for the state to transfer ownership of part of the trail to adjacent landowners “to improve noxious weed control and achieve improved land stewardship and wild fire response.”

I’ve run, and ridden parts of this section of the John Wayne trail and I can confirm that it is not well used, however, deciding to scrap this piece of historic Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad seems about as effective as giving Wilderness to mining companies. Yes, we know that it’s not well used. That’s never been the point.

Both members point to the “cost” of trail maintenance while never actually acknowledging what maintenance on this disused segment might run the State. Ted Blaszak, a councilman and president of the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association, is quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, saying it’s “a blatant land grab … nothing less than public thievery.”

And while I cannot comment on the veracity of this claim it the land transfer, what amounts to little more than a gift of public land to private owners, seems suspicious.

Given the potential earning power of this trail, this appears to be another fine example of Republican budgetary myopia. The economic impact of the tourism this trail, especially in its entirety, might have far outweighs the maintenance costs the State has, up to this point, completely ignored.

Ask yourself, “where are all those piles of tumbleweed coming from?” The railroad grade certainly isn’t growing them, and nothing is stopping the same adjacent landowners from being good stewards of this public land as-is. Or “why have the tressels along this route fallen into decay?” You’d think that if the capital budget had contained even a little money for maintenance this might not be the case. At 253 miles, it’s the nation’s longest rail-trail conservancy easement and if that weren’t enough every segment along its length is rich with tourist attracting history.

The fact that Schmick and Dye have completely missed this obvious opportunity is telling. Why is Eastern Washington such an economic wasteland?” Ladies and gentlemen, you have your answer.

A New Yo-Yo

Correction: I formerly reported that 68 people have yo yo-ed the PCT. I have updated the story.

It was a long time coming, but in 1993 the Pacific Crest Trail opened officially. Any number of people hiked the path before the opening, knitting together sections on their own, but the corridor wasn’t designated until that time.

Since then some 3,413 people have hiked the PCT once. This means that they have completed the whole of the 2,663 miles on foot in segments or in full, as a thru hike. In the intervening 22 years only 68 people have ever successfully repeated the whole distance and of those only three have ever yo yo-ed. For those of you who don’t know, this means that they walked all the way up, and then back all the way. That’s 5,326 miles and nearly a million vertical feet in elevation gain.

Recently, the first woman, Olive “Raindance” McGloin, Yo-yoed the PCT. Congratulations to anyone brave enough to start something like this. I’ve hiked segments and even these are no small feat.

Now, let’s get this back fixed so that I can join her on that list.