Rhetorical Questions About Bold Ideas

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 childrenParents 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?


  1. Melissa A. · November 5, 2011

    I guess if you really get down to the root of anything you’ll find that it sort of evolved arbitrarily. Someone, or groups of someone’s, believed that school needs to be conducted a certain way and children need to be raised a certain way. Alternative charter schools are popping up with different ideas…effective ideas. The traditional notion of what makes up a family is (thankfully) evolving. There as many right ways to raise a family as there are wrong. 🙂 What I THINK I’m trying to say is what a wicked awesome idea! i couldn’t do it, but I admire the guts of a family that can, or even just attempts, to it. How exciting it would be!


    • CJ · November 5, 2011

      Thanks for visiting (and commenting!), Melissa. We’re pretty transient already (we seem to move every few years) and we homeschool, so that part wouldn’t be an issue for the kids, but actually embarking upon a wandering lifestyle is another order of magnitude. I agree that it is a cool idea, though. 🙂


  2. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · November 5, 2011

    I remember back in teacher training, sitting on that weird cement bench, talking about staying put or traveling. It always struck me how less tied to a place your sense of home was. I have a feeling that if a job situation allows it for your family, you’d be able to vagabond it without too much trouble. Is your partner open to life on the road?


    • CJ · November 5, 2011

      Yes, the spouse is rather less enthusiastic than I am about chucking it all and wandering about. Part of it is that his career isn’t one he can jump into and out of easily without penalty, and he really likes what he does. It would be a very big decision to step out for even a short time (I mean, you know what happens to moms who step out of their careers to raise families). It’s not all him, though; we’re both big fans of security. It would be a big decision for both of us to let go of that.


  3. Abigail vR · November 5, 2011

    These sound like questions for Tucker and Victoria!


    • CJ · November 5, 2011

      Right you are! I’m following their blog with great interest.


Your turn! What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s