Ann and I took Henry (14) and Emma (9) on a three day backpacking trip. We hiked in to North Katahdin Lake from Avalanche Field in Baxter State Park. The second day we day-hiked to Twin Ponds at the end of the trail. One of the most remote places in Baxter. The third day we hiked out. In all, we hiked nearly 20 miles. (A full description of this route will be in my new guide Best Hikes in Baxter State Park next spring.)
A few observations about backpacking with kids:
At the end of Henry's first backpacking trip, when he was 8 ½, he stood by the trailhead with a grim expression on his face. At the end of this trip, Emma flung off her pack and shouted with joy. She was justifiably proud of herself.
Emma had been excited about the trip for some time. The morning we began, she put her pack on as soon as she got out of the car. When I wanted to take a picture of the four packs together, she wouldn't take hers off. So, she's in the picture, squatting down with the other packs.
Henry likes to hike fast, but he doesn't like to hike alone. Emma hikes slowly. Ann and I tag-teamed being with each child. I find it hard to walk at Emma's pace. After all, her legs are half the length of mine. When Henry was younger, I always made him hike in front of me so he could set the pace and not have run to keep up with me. Emma often follows in my wake. It helps her keep a more consistent pace. She tends to get distracted by fungus, toads, flowers, sun fish in their gravel nests, whatever. On the one hand, her interest in nature is heartening. But it's kind of annoying when we've got miles to go before I can put my pack down. I've never been very good at taking breaks or stopping for distractions. Maybe, I need to hike with Emma more. (Later this summer, she and I are doing the same trip Henry and I did when he was eight. I'll let you know how I feel about it after three days with just the two of us.)
I have some of my best conversations with Henry and Emma when we're hiking. There's something about the shared experience and lack of everyday distractions that puts us at ease. They both like to hear me talk while we walk. Henry has traditionally wanted me to talk about and ask him questions about science. Emma likes to hear about my experiences before she was born, especially if they involve people and pets she knows or knows of. They both demand “Uncle Andy stories.”
At night, Ann lays down in the lean-to and conks out. The kids and I toss and turn. When Henry was eight, he liked me to hold his hand (he denies it now). This trip Emma held my hand and slept right up against me.
The only complaining the kids did was in the morning. They hate getting up and getting going. We had to threaten Emma to get her out of her sleeping bag the second morning. Once on the trail, she was her usual happy, talkative self.
I have never had a bad or disappointing hike in Baxter. There are wonders and surprises around every corner, beneath each boulder, at the top of each hill. And it's all better with the Ann and Henry and Emma. Even if I have to do twice as much work.