5 Reasons To Keep Backpacking With a Baby

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Outdoor Adventures, Parenting

“You sure have a high misery tolerance,” my friend Linsey remarks cheerfully, as she passes us on the trail. I gaze after her wistfully, coveting her easy pace as Talon screams and writhes in the pack on my back.

It’s a Friday evening in mid-July, and we’re hiking straight up the Swan Mountains to camp near some backcountry lakes for the weekend. Even though it’s mid-July, the temperature is plummeting toward freezing, and the threatening grey clouds and howling wind aren’t helping my frame of mind. Quite possibly nothing would help my frame of mind, though, since bringing a baby on a backpacking trip does indeed entail a certain level of misery.

On Trail - Rocky Mountain Front
Rob and Talon check out the view in Blackleaf Canyon on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Every time Rob and I start down a trail–with Talon on my back, and 50 pounds of camping gear on his–I vow within five minutes to never do it again. Somehow, we do it the next weekend anyway. Are we gluttons for punishment? Obviously.

We stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that our lives might not be as adventurous as before. But the real reason we keep hiting the trails, misery and all, is because by the end of the weekend in the woods, we’re both glad we got out in the wilderness.

Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.
Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.

Backpacking with a baby is hard. First there’s the whining, and kicking, and hair-pulling. Then there’s the poopy diapers–do you haul the dirty ones out? Use cloth diapers and bury the poo? (It’s a lose-lose situation either way.) Once you get to camp, it’s only slightly easier. You have to manage the wee babe for sunburn and bugs, and constantly corral him from crawling off boulders or tottering into the cook stove.

The hardest part, though, is actually the non-stop, nagging voice in my head: “This used to be fun. What if backpacking is never fun again? What if life is never fun again?” Single-track trail often breeds existential crisis–or at least walking alone for long periods adds fuel to the fire. I find, though, that if I walk for long enough, my footsteps eventually: 1) rock Talon to sleep, and 2) bring my thoughts (now influenced by the peaceful quiet of a sleeping baby) full circle to: “Life is awesome, and backpacking is the bomb.”

Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.
Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.

This cycle of misery and joy repeats more often, and with bigger peaks and valleys, than a typical day at home. Playing in the tent with a giggling baby is exhilarating; taking the 87th rock out of Talon’s mouth is exhausting. Catching a trout in the lake is a triumph; trying to cook it while Talon tips toward the flames is terrifying.

We’ve taken three backpacking trips with Talon this summer to three different mountain ranges in Montana. All in all, the impetus for our continued expeditions boils down to the fact that we love immersing ourselves in the wilderness, and enjoy introducing Talon to the magic of lakes, peaks, and trails, too.

A tight two-man tent with  all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines "snuggling" at night.
A tight two-man tent with all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines “snuggling” at night.

Here’s why I think it’s worth packing a baby into the woods:

1. You’ll have stories to tell. Regale your friends and family with exaggerated tales of your exploits and mis-adventures in the woods: “And then Talon took a header down the talus field toward the lake! But we caught him before that hawk swooped down to try and grab him.” They’ll think you’re insane, of course, but that’s half the fun.

2. Car camping becomes a walk in the park. Pitching a tent without having to carry it and your kid uphill several miles feels liberating. Plus, you can bring beer, games, and a big roomy tent instead of the two-man-that’s-really-a-one-man setup (which puts new meaning into the word “snuggle”).

3. It makes your home seem like a dream come true. Returning to the house lends a new appreciation for luxuries like running water, cribs, chairs, and countertops above your baby’s reach. The rooms that might have felt claustrophobic all week before your trip suddenly seem like lovely, comfy, safe zones for you and babe.

4. You get alone time surrounded by beauty. Once the baby falls asleep on your back (or switches to your partner’s back), the quiet reverberates ten-fold in the absence of his babble. The leaves look sharper, the air feels crisper, the peaks seem closer. You can breathe more deeply and think more clearly than ever before.

5. It builds endurance. Backpacking with a baby is a physical and mental strength-training exercise. Your muscle tone will improve, as will your reservoir of patience. As your tolerance for misery increases, so does your capacity for joy.

So, there you have it. Let me know how it goes if you brave the trail with a wee one on your back!

P.S. Stay tuned for my upcoming article in Backpacker for tips on taking a baby on outdoor adventures.

Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

 

All Photos: (C) Rob Roberts.

Birding, Baby: The New Extreme Sport

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Parenting

I bet you never thought birding was hard-core.  I didn’t really, either.  But then we added a baby to the mix, and Montana decided to sprinkle in some of its famous fickle weather to make our bird-watching missions more interesting.

I’ve always liked birds.  During college in San Diego, I chose to study the nesting behavior of terns down at the estuary near Ocean Beach as my senior project.  It wasn’t much of a hardship to bike to the beach and sit around watching birds dive and swoop against a bluebird sky.  Then I moved to Montana, and lost track of my birding motivation when the shorebirds and waves were replaced with hard-to-spot, tree-dwelling passerines and cold air.

Enter Rob.  He loves counting the songbirds off our back porch, or carting out his scope to find raptors along rivers.  I started to excited about feathered flocks again, especially during the spring migration when birds seem to appear out of thin air after their tropical adventures to the south.

Birding in Choteau with hurricane-force gusts
Birding in Choteau with hurricane-force gusts of wind.

 

During our sailing trip last year, both Rob and I met a whole new host of birds, using them to gauge our distance from land during passages, and as a way to become familiar with each new island.  We even had a pet Christmas shearwater aboard for a few days somewhere south of the Equator and west of the Galapagos–it got confused during a squall, and hunkered down in the cockpit of Llyr to recover.

Now, birding seems like the perfect way to get outside for mini-adventures with an 8-month-old … especially when the baby in question is fortuitously named “Talon.”  First stop: Freezeout Lake along the Rocky Mountain Front, home of a massive migration of waterfowl each March.  We braved 50 mph gusts of wind and ominous (but gorgeous) skies to watch 8,000 snow geese rise off the lake.  Talon slept through it.

Rob and Bri bundled up to watch sage grouse go 'bloop.'
Rob and Bri bundled up to watch sage grouse go ‘bloop.’

Next stop in April: Bannack Ghost Town to camp and watch Greater sage-grouse strut in search of mates.  It dropped to 20 degrees F and snowed covered our little tent before we could even finish dinner.  After bundling up in parkas, hats, gloves, insulated boots, and downing thermos of coffee, we trundled to the lek before dawn and watched the male grouse dance up a storm for the uninterested hens.  Talon slept through it all.

In California, I introduced Talon to the terns that I used to study.  We pointed out pelicans and plovers, sandpipers and seagulls, all the while dodging the relentless rollerbladers who refuse to yield.  While the weather always cooperates in San Diego, the cutthroat pedestrians on the boardwalk are scarier than any gales I’ve encountered.  Talon definitely didn’t fall asleep on the boardwalk.  But he certainly wasn’t interested in some old birds when dudes were blading by in chaps (and nothing else).

San Diego's friendlier climes were a welcome change of pace from Montana's fickle spring.
San Diego’s friendlier climes were a welcome change of pace from Montana’s fickle spring.

Back on the homefront, we heard that a Great-horned owl had set up a nest nearby, hanging out with her three fledglings in a big cottonwood tree.  Making sure it was before Talon’s bedtime, we biked him down to the park and hiked along the creek to the nest.  The mama owl landed in a pine directly overhead, and proceeded to eat an entire trout in front of us while her babies watched. Talon, of course, fell asleep before the scope was set up.

Showing the baby boy baby owls in Missoula's Greenough Park.

Last weekend, we joined an Audubon field trip to the Montana Waterfowl Foundation in the Mission Valley, which rears and then releases several types of native birds to increase their dwindling numbers in the wild.  The birds that finally kept Talon awake?  A pair of prehistoric-looking sandhill cranes that squawked loud enough to keep him wide-eyed.

Next up: a five-day rafting trip on the John Day River in Oregon, which is sure to add plenty of new bird (and fish!) species to Talon’s already-impressive Life List.

Talon's ready for his next animal encounter -- with a trout.
Talon’s ready for his next animal encounter — with a trout.

 

 

beargrass in montana wilderness

Beauty Has a Bite – Walking Into Nettles

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Pregnancy, Reflections on Life

Sometimes you walk through the wildflowers and straight into stinging nettles. I did it this weekend. I never looked down at the path below, focusing instead on the creek ahead. My inner thighs tingled for hours, pinpricks reminding me that beauty has a bite.

Rob tells me that maybe I shouldn’t write about the depressing parts. That no one wants to read woe-is-me shit. I get that, and agreed. But then I didn’t have anything I felt like writing about for the past two weeks. Nothing seemed as relevant, as prescient, as the bite lurking in the flowers. So I reneged. I write for the release and the uncovering. For the process and the parting. No one pays me for this blog, no one dictates deadlines and content — that’s the rest of my writing. This is real. The real me, right now, who wants to write about the nettle pricks.

indian paintbrush montana wildflower

The road is winding closer to the next stream. Five weeks and a wee person pops out, ready or not. I feel not more than ready. Maybe it’s understandable when you consider that this is the only irrevocable choice I’ve ever made. You can give away plants, sell a house, loan out your pets. You can’t not be a mother once you’ve grown a baby inside of you. That’s terrifying. No outs. No timeouts. No “I changed my mind.”

I am grateful to have more wildflowers than nettles in my life. Truly. What a wimp, I tell myself, to whimper over a bit of sting after a truckload of laughter and light. That’s not me. I don’t whimper.

What I’m really scared of, though, is the big ghost nettle lurking in the wildflowers of upcoming parenthood. How can we hold on to that laughter and light during 3am feedings? When the baby cries uncontrollably and inexplicably? When we’re tired to the bone in the dark and the horizon seems so very far away?

Then I remind myself that all I have to do is just try, with an open mind and a clear heart and legs stinging with the reminder that nettles nestle in the flowers. But they won’t kill me — just help me appreciate the space between the stings more gracefully and more genuinely. Just nudge me into looking at the path I am on instead of all the possibilities ahead. This is the path we chose. It will be beautiful, even when it bites.camping pregnant big belly and big pine tree

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Peeing on a Stick

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Mamalode, Reflections on Life

I always thought I’d pee on the stick in my own familiar bathroom, in my own comfortable home, at just the right moment. I pictured a sleepy weekend morning, rolling out of our cozy, king-size bed and pulling the pregnancy test out of a drawer where I’d cleverly stowed it for that perfect moment. Instead, I peed on a stick in a public bathroom in the Kingdom of Tonga.  …  Click here to find out what the pregnancy test said! 

To read more of Brianna’s monthly Mamalode articles, click here.

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