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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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.

Primal Endurance

Last week was some sort of hell and not for any of the reasons you might suppose. Near the beginning of September, I started reading Primal Endurance written by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns. Mark is the guy behind Mark’s Daily Apple, and Brad’s name may be familiar because he dominated much of the triathlon scene in the late 80’s, early 90’s. These guys have conspired to write a lifestyle manual for endurance has-beens like myself.

Grok!

Grok!

Their biggest piece of advice? “Live like Grok.” Last week was its own particular circle of hell because I’ve high glycemic index addict. I’ve been living very much unlike Grok, and this fact was laid bare when I tried to quit carbs cold turkey.

Day 1

This day wasn’t so bad. I felt the desire for high carbohydrate foods, but only fleetingly. As if, yeah it might be nice to have an energy bar or maybe a bowl of granola. I moved around, got things accomplished around the house and just sort of turned my nose up at the possibility of these treats.

Until the late afternoon, when my snobbery was fully exposed by a zombie-like desire to consume the flesh of oats. I struggled through the evening and went to bed early.

Day 2

Oh, shit! Was my first thought of the day. Things didn’t get much more complicated after that because I was dealing with a serious blood sugar deficit that only got worse as the day went on.

Needless to say, my activity level was way down on Day 2, and I ended spaced out in bed by the afternoon. Perplexing beyond words was my desire for brownies. I don’t usually eat brownies much, but since that evening I’ve experienced this overwhelming, mouth-watering desire for a big baking dish of dark chocolate brownies. Go figure.

Day 3

When I woke up, I felt the brain cloud of low blood sugar. I made myself some eggs and a small salad with olive oil, lemon, and garlic dressing and prevailed.

The day passed, I got things done. I even went for a frisbee run with A-bear. I did not track the run, nor did I follow my heart rate. I was probably in the block hole for at least some of it.

Day 4 & 5

Still craving brownies, but in more of an intellectual way now. I had a great deal of difficulty sleeping both of these nights, tossing and turning a lot.

sleep patterns

In fact, observing my circadian rhythms has been the single hardest part of this whole program. Carb cravings at the beginning were really overwhelming but very acute. Once my body started to get over its need for high blood sugar, I was able to stay mindfully aware of that desire. Even when I get to sleep after the sun goes down, I’m waking up a lot. Tossing and turning, no bueno.

Heart Rate Slow Burn

I went for a low burn “run” on Day 5 which is a lot harder than I’d expected it would be. Keeping my heart rate below my maximum aerobic threshold is going to require some fine tuning

Day 6

A pair of eggs and tasty salad. I had pretty good energy this morning and made it through the pre-school routine with a smile on my face. Also, I’ve noticed that I’m eating quantitatively less and going longer between meals than I used to be able to get away with.

I also noticed that my hands are significantly less swollen than they were a week ago. Apparently, this weekend we had a huge drop in barometric pressure too. My foot remained free the whole time, which indicates that the background level of inflammation has been reduced.

This evening I’ll likely go for another slow burn run.

Summary

Okay, so we’re only into this for a few days, but at the time I write this I’ve noticed some significant changes in my body and my mentation. Obviously, I have some work to do, also quite a bit more reading. However, the program seems to be having some positive effect, and that’s nothing to scoff at.

I’m going to give what I know and what I’ve read of this program a tentative endorsement and trust that I’ll be able to continue to adapt my life to their lifestyle program.

Real quick, thanks to Matt Hart of Coaching Endurance for the heads up on this program.

Silent Celebration

Good grief! Twenty-five years ago I was sitting atop a pile of lumpy scree in the Flat Tops Wilderness. I had, in fact, previously dumped the greater portion of the contents of my backpack — a huge Lowe Special Expedition approach ruck which must have weighed six or seven pounds all on its own — at a trail head along the South Fork of the White River. Beyond some very basic things, I wasn’t carrying too much. I was easily trekking 35 miles a day, sometimes a lot more.

I can recall sitting on top of that mountain, listening in on campground hosts as they negotiated how many bog rolls needed to head to Trapper’s Lake and where they would all meet for dinner, while looking at a map. I was marveling at the distance I had traveled and staying off the transmit button on my radio because I’d dumped the extra batteries along with all the extra stuff.

My foray into MYOG and ultra-light backpacking started on that trip and I became aware of what it meant for me on this afternoon twenty-five years ago, today.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week's bikepacking trip.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week’s bikepacking trip.

Today, I spent the morning in physical therapy, working my back and legs in the hope that I’ll be able to return to that sort of life. So many decisions, in my life, have been predicated on this singular realization that is now a quarter century old.

My mind stutters at the implications.

Yesterday, most of you were shooting off fireworks and blowing things up. Yeah, ‘Merica! I could smell the smoke from the beach far below our deck, so don’t try and deny it. I kept on returning in my mind to the long climb up W Mountain while snow blew in my face and lighting flashed on the Hog Backs many miles away.

Somewhere, on a back burner of my brain, simmers the idea that I’ll be able to return to this sort of existence. A living in which celebrations are only in the moment and never extend beyond the bounds of your own perception. A wild grin on a dusty trail, a welcome rest on top of a stormy mountain.

My biggest challenges at this switchback are finding ways of enticing A-bear toward this lifestyle and figuring out how to capitalize my efforts as well. I have ideas.

If you’ve been watching my Strava feed you’ve noticed that Aral has been walking/running/biking with me on my regular “workout” trips. His willingness to participate varies, but I’m finding that the more I engage him this way the more likely he’ll want to come along. My struggle here is dealing with his slowness compared to my own pace and occasional fits along the way. These are both artifacts of his age and conditioning through repetition will reduce their frequency.

A friend recently suggested that I stop writing science fiction and instead focus on writing stories from my past. Turning all that history into something I could sell has merit, and apparently I’ve done some crazy things that have a certain appeal. I’m not certain I’d necessarily need to stop writing SF, but yeah, penning some of those experiences as stories, memoirs, or even trip guides or write-ups has potential.

The more I think about it, writing about blending hiking with children and ultralight philosophy has exceptional potential. I’m noodling.

Getting Shit Together

Matt and Gigi at MP Hill Climb Summit//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Something like an enormous weight coupled with an inescapable cabin fever has consumed me. Lately, I find myself spent before I even get to the start line. At the end of every day, I’m left feeling exhausted, behind, yet unable to sleep for fear that the wave of responsibility and incomplete chores might decide to crash down on me at any moment.

Some of this I know is that I have a four-year-old (nearly five) in my charge. Whether it’s the constant and considerable messes I’m cleaning or his demand for attention I’m servicing, it sometimes feels likeI’m pushing an enormous burden up a very steep hill. So when I look at my haggard mug in the mirror I am not surprised by the image squinting back at me.

The back injury I experienced almost a year ago hasn’t helped and hasn’t gotten completely better either. I suspect much of that comes from the slight limp I’m saddled with. Added to this I’ve gained more weight, pretending I’ll be as active as I once was while eating as if I still ran forty miles a week.

Along with my own creeping dread comes the realization that I need to change things up before it really is too late. Last night, when I could have been wasting my own precious time playing video games or reading I laced up and set out into the rain for a walk in the dark. Not much, not fast. Nonetheless, a new beginning.

Flow

Some of you might be wondering why I imagine that going for a walk in the rain might be anything other than a complete waste of my already limited energy. Why I wouldn’t rather invest that time, effort and money into psychotherapy or visits to the physical therapist. Statistically, you might be right on the money. Well adjusted people all around me, who seemingly have their shit together, take the conventional route to health and wholeness.

You can’t climb up to the second floor without a ladder. When you set your aim too high and don’t fulfill it, then your enthusiasm turns to bitterness. Try for a goal that’s reasonable, and then gradually raise it. — Emil Zatopek

The rub? The best times of my life — those moments when everything came together, when I experienced moments of clarity or content, when my shit seemed unshakable — those times were realized from on top of a bedrock composed of many steps. Running and walking treats my body, mind and spirit all at the same time. It’s a sure-fire way for me to enter into that three-way flow state that I’m craving and can’t otherwise achieve.

So, new program. Get out there.

Goals

Don’t get me started on all the races I’d love to enter. I recently came across a 255 km multi-stage foot race in Iceland that gets my juices flowing. I see these people doing this fringe activity and I’m fixated. Grand-to-Grand, PCTFire+Ice — all these are on my bucket list. And the truth is that they’re all going to remain there for some time. I’ve got to choose closer goals, much closer.

  1. Right now my first and most pressing goal is to figure out how to integrate daily distance into my already committed calender. I suspect that pushing Aral around in the bulki may be a thing of the past, so I’ve got to figure out how to get miles in those spaces where he is otherwise occupied … and still have the energy to meet his needs.Given my existing routine, I’ve got two potential windows on most days. First, between 9:00 and 13:00 daily while he’s at school. Second, after he’s in bed and asleep. The early window is often consumed by writing, but I may cut back, at least for the time being, in order to reach for a weekly goal of 30 miles. Screw NaNo I guess.During the second window, I’m not usually writing, but I’m going to have to pace myself through the day to reach it and still have the moxie necessary to get out on the trail. I’ve got to do this, during the winter months, while maintaining my own basic health and fending off infection.
  2. I need to get back to writing sports in space. Yeah, you read that right. Mutually reinforcing activities build upon one another. Sort of a looping definition. Here’s the thing, I want to get excited about this and stay that way … for a very long time. I know I feel excitement about the stories I write so why not have those be my story.
  3. Without question, I need to get my gear organized. During last night’s walk, I had a growing anxiety that the batteries in my headlamp were going to die. There are no street lamps on the island, let alone in the forest, and it was wilderness-dark under the cover of those madrona trees, cave dark under the Douglas Fir. Fortunately for me, nothing died. I know that while on the trail we’re often walking along a narrow edge, so many things can go wrong, and when they do they tend to transform into cascade events.Since we moved to Vashon, I haven’t spent any time organizing my stuff. Some of it is still boxed. I don’t know where my GPS watch is and doubt that it’s charged. Shoes are stowed in the garage. All this has got to change if I hope to experience any success.
  4. I need to target getting consistent about trail time. Thirty miles a week, with no additional caveats. Just get them, any way possible. Once this is again habitual I can look at changing things up. Speeding things up or adding miles. But for now the goal is consistency.
  5. Finally, I need to record this journey. When I started this blog it was after years of writing about little more than running in Eastern Washington. We’d recently moved from that home to Colorado and at the time WordPress did not allow blog renaming (do they these days?) so I started feetforbrains because I needed a place to keep track of that part of my life. It helps to write it down.This place has a good following, and honestly, I don’t know if this is because of my science fiction or the writing about running. My hope is that they’re not mutually exclusive.

Rewards

Perhaps a bit early to talk about rewards, but I’m going to keep it simple. I know I’m going to need something to look forward to so, once I’ve met or exceeded the previous goals, I’m going to give myself something to look forward to.

At this point I’m really uncertain what this is going to be, I’ve got to think about what, other than the siren song of the trail, is going to motivate me.