NaNoWriMo Day 5 Word Count: 8,750
This morning, my family took a walk on an old farm trail near our house. We’ve taken this walk before, a couple of weeks ago, before the snowstorm and before most of the leaves had changed and before the corn field had been mowed or plowed or whatever they did to it to eliminate the golden stalks and leave only black soil that my son called, “horse dirt.”
“Do you mean horse poop?” I asked.
“No,” he replied looking me directly in the eye do I wouldn’t misunderstand again. “Horse dirt.” He started walking away saying, “And mud and stalks and pillows…”
If I were two years old it would probably make sense.
On our way back to the trailhead, the kids and I each picked up a large stick. Mine was nearly large enough to be a walking stick. As I walked along pretending that’s what it was, I thought about the first time I saw someone using one of those walking pole things. We were hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina. Around a curve, a couple came towards us down the hill. We exchanged brief greetings and smiles, and as they passed, I snuck looks at their aluminum hiking poles. What benefit did they serve besides looking serious and kind of cool?
Remembering this reminded me of my husband’s and my plan before we had kids. After he was done with grad school, we’d take the summer off before he started his postdoc and we’d hike the entire Appalachian Trail. I read backpacking books and learned about the trail and the occasional violence long-range hikers met with at the hands of ne’er-do-wells on the well-traveled trail. We began considering the Pacific Crest Trail instead. It was more rugged and more remote and less well traveled. We heard of many fewer people who’d hiked from Canada to Mexico along the PCT than we had people who’d hiked from Maine to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail. When my husband got a postdoc in the San Francisco Bay Area, we tabled the idea of the Appalachian Trail and made noises like we might try the PCT, but we both knew we never would. The time for bold ideas had passed. We were well on our way to becoming responsible adults, and there was no turning back.
Hiking today, with my fake hiking stick and the sun filtering down through the few remaining leaves and the wind chilling our noses and the children talking about birds and mud and how deep the creek was, I wondered why it was we thought there was no turning back from adulthood, or why being adults meant no longer pursuing bold ideas. I suspect it was an excuse to avoid either the fear that accompanies any bold idea or the work that would be necessary to execute it.
We could still do it, I thought in the forest today. The kids enjoy hiking. We could wait until they’re a little older and then maybe take some time off to do some family thru-hiking.
When we were visiting Davis, California, we read about a couple that biked across the United States with their two young sons. I read an interview with the couple, Nancy Sathre-Vogel and John Vogel, on The Fearful Adventurer a couple of months ago, and one of the things Nancy said struck me:
When the boys were seven John suggested we quit our jobs and take off on our bikes. I was horrified. Speechless. Mortified. I mean – we were parents. With children. Parents with children don’t quit their jobs and ride bikes around the world. Right? That’s not what we’re supposed to do.
Once we made the decision to go for it, however, I realized how wrong I had been. Children are great travelers and are a delight to be around. I’ve loved my years on the road with the boys and can’t imagine it any other way.
So, I got to thinking: Why would it be irresponsible to give our children a unique view of their country and of the world? What does it mean to be responsible parents? Couldn’t it be seen as irresponsible not to encourage our children to pursue adventures and primary experiences that give them a sense of accomplishment and knowledge of their power as individuals?
Is it our dwelling that makes us good parents? Is it the airbag-equipped minivan and the music lessons and dance classes that make our children into happy adults? What if we left all of this behind in order to have a Big Adventure? What would that mean about us? What kind of people would our children become after an experience like a 4- to 6-month hike across the U.S.? What kind of people would we become?
What kind of people would we be if we chucked it all for our Big Adventure and then something bad did happen, like illness or injury or worse?
What kind of people would we be if we took the risk and we failed?
What kind of people would we be if we never took the risk at all?