This month marks ten years since Samantha and I embarked on a life changing thirty day road trip around the country from our home in Buffalo, NY. We made it to Mount Rainier and huffed our way up onto the snowfields from Paradise Visitor Center in shorts and wet shoes. I distinctly remember sitting on a rock out crop on the most glaciated volcano in the contiguous United States, gazing out at a series of jagged peaks spotted with July snow and thinking to myself, ‘this is a place I could live’.
We snapped a photo at that location (shown above) printed twenty of them at a drug store and sent them to friends and family with hand scribbled notes on the back; a makeshift postcard. The photo represented my idea of perfection.
This week I found myself traversing those same peaks with that same women and our young daughter a decade later on a backpacking trip in our extended back yard. That volcano that we first visited in 2008, and later summited together in 2013 is omnipresent and unforgettable.
This trip came with hesitation and a lot of preparation while setting aside plenty of other obligations. It almost didn’t happen and is barely over, yet it’s already engrained as a cherished life long memory. Our first backpacking trip with Aubrin Sage in the area credited with our decision to move West and raise a family in the wild places.
Living in a tiny house offers many benefits but would you believe me if I told you we were more confident parents because if it? When we set out to design and build SHED there was a lot of uncertainty but we dove in head first with the steadfast belief that we could accomplish anything as a team and we would figure out the answers to our questions as they popped up during our journey. Our first post on this blog ended with ‘we have yet to dive into an experience we are unsure about and not come out on the other side thankful that we took the leap.’
That experience and it’s result (SHED tiny house) was incredibly fulfilling and left us feeling like nothing was impossible, which was a welcome confidence boost when our decision to start a family in 204 sf left us with little precedent and a lot to figure out. it didn’t take long to surpass our goal of simply ‘making it work’ and we felt like we were thriving. It was an empowering moment to realize there are other options to the accepted norm and we immediately began challenging the assumed notion that travel and adventure were a thing of the [pre-baby] past.
Much of Samantha’s pregnancy was spent on trail, from daily hikes through our local sage brush lined paths to ambitious multi-day snowshoe pursuits in the mountains of Oregon. It wasn’t much over a week after Aubrin was born that we returned to hiking as a family and quickly learned of Aubrin’s affinity for the rhythm of the trail. This was good news for a couple who hoped to share our love of the outdoors with our daughter and on-trail naps, diaper changes and breastfeeding became a daily occurrence.
Our ambitions to continue leading outdoor oriented lives and share our love of wild places with our daughter has lead to a slew of memorable experiences each attached to a healthy dose of caution, a bit of uncertainty and a lot of preparation, yet always resulting in an incredible amount of satisfaction, pride and increased confidence.
We accompanied friends to a remote MID-WINTER HUT ESCAPE, snowshoed to spend a night in a WINTER WONDERLAND FIRE LOOKOUT, Slept as a family in the back of our Subaru Forester in the mountains, traveled to Oregon to be on the ‘path of totality’ for our first solar eclipse, spent three weeks ROAD TRIPPING ACROSS THE COUNTY when Aubrin was 7 weeks old, experienced the NORTHERN LIGHTS IN THE NORTH CASCADES, CARRIED AUBRIN SNOWBOARDING, EXPLORED JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, stayed in an OFF GRID STONE CABIN WITH A WOOD FIRED HOT TUB and traveled to spend a few nights in a FIRE LOOKOUT WITH A VIEW OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN !
So here we were, staring down a perfect weather forecast that made a long thought-about idea a real possibility. It was at that point that we had a choice to make; utilize one of our many very real obligations as an excuse for why we couldn’t do it this time, or dive into the gear room and start preparing for our very first overnight backpacking trip into the mountains…with a baby.
The existence of this blog post alludes to our final decision and we can happily report from the lingering afterglow that it was the right choice. The plan was simple. Take one of our favorite access trails to the ridge of one of our favorite little mountain ranges and then traverse East or West until we found a suitable campsite, ideally with a view and without mosquitoes. (spoiler alert: we didn’t accomplish both).
We know from experience however that the simplicity of a plan can become complexified during execution and including our 14 month old daughter made this task ever more daunting as we continue to navigate the beautiful and at times delicate line between being first time parents and longtime outdoor enthusiasts.
As I sat in our tiny space, engulfed in yet-to-be-packed gear the realization of our intentions manifest itself in anxiety. We were more out of shape than we’d ever been (#dadbod) and our packs would be as heavy or heavier than they have ever been. The route required a first come first serve permit meaning our heavily researched itinerary was not guaranteed until we talked with the rangers at the Mount Rainier wilderness center AFTER driving almost two hours.
Our itineraries ‘back-country’ designation came with the benefit of less people (or none) which increased the chance of solitude but comes with plenty of restrictions including LNT knowledge (leave no trace), no fires, use of ‘blue bags’ to pack out our waste and an understanding of camp site selection restrictions. On top of permits and wilderness camping requirements came the new territory of baby transportation and maintenance. What about the sun? The mosquitos? The boredom? The sleeping? The added weight of supplies?
The last point mentioned was one of our first worries. Samantha and I have invested a lot of time and money researching and purchasing quality outdoor gear to ensure we had the right equipment, that it would last a long time and would be light weight. Our years of experience counting ounces crashed into our top-of-the-growth-chart new addition who’s measured in pounds; many, many pounds. In fact Samantha’s full pack for a mountaineering ascent usually hovered around 30+ lbs and mine was around 35-38. For this trip, The Osprey Poco Plus child carrier and Aubrin combined for a 32lb base weight, before Samantha added a liter+ of water, customized infant first aid kit, diapers, whips, snacks, personal food and other miscellaneous items (clothes, headlamp, ‘foxy’ etc…).
That left me to carry doubles of items that we usually split, like two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, the entire tent, etc… add to that all of my own miscellaneous items and insistence on bringing a tripod, GoPro camera, DSLR camera and two extra camera lenses and our packs probably weighed 40 lbs and 45-48 lbs respectively (we don’t own a scale in the tiny house). We were fortunate to have a good friend join us on this trip and he offered to carry some items that all three of us would be using like the water purifier, stove, fuel, cook pot and the whiskey.
Perhaps a bigger difference than the amount of weight carried by Samantha is the variability and unpredictability of displacement. That’s a fancy way of saying that Aubrin would inevitably move, wiggle and fall asleep to one side making for a continuously changing weight distribution;a scenario counteracted by the use of trekking polls. In case of an unexpected shift in weight during a precarious stream crossing or narrow trail with exposure, having four points of contact with the ground can remedy any off balance issues.
And as if that wasn’t enough, usually our packs get lighter throughout a trip as water and food is consumed but the need to pack out Aubrin’s waste and diapers (as well as our own) means that she is actually adding weight to the pack as the trip goes on!
Hopefully that lengthy tangent did a good enough job explaining the small ping of anxiety felt during preparation, which is 80% of the work. The rest is enjoying the act of putting one foot in front of the other in a beautiful and remote area. The ranger issued our back-county camping permit and explained that there was no cell service in an almost apologetic tone. ‘Let’s keep it that way’ I said, and grabbed three blue bags on the way out the door.
This experience took everything we had and gave even more in return. We applied sunscreens, (deet free) bug sprays, kept the snacks coming, changed directions, did a quick pitch (tent) to escape the mosquito’s while Aubrin napped, explored and swam in a hidden alpine lake and then found a campsite I had only dreamed of. Our careful attention to Aubrin led to more time than expected inside the tent but allowed her to escape the trip mosquito bite free; the rest of us were less lucky and paid the mosquito toll that comes with incredibly calm and warm weather in the mountains that are still shedding last years snowpack. If you didn’t get a chance to see our INSTAGRAM stories we made a compilation video below.
When author David Roberts was asked how one can keep the spirit of adventure alive in a day and age where nearly everything has been climbed, mapped and thrown onto the internet he explained that the ‘trick to modern adventure is deliberate self-limitation; to refuse to depend on all the crutches of modern technology.”
That’s an interesting approach but I’d like to offer up a secondary suggestion: take a baby with you on your next outing and you’ll feel like you just experienced the greatest adventure of your lives; and for Aubrin, it probably was.
…and if the coffee is the only thing we forgot to pack on this inaugural baby-packing trip I’d consider it a resounding success. How in the world we forgot such a crucial item I am not sure but I am definetly making up for it today!☕️☕️☕️