If Hiking in the Woods Could Always Be Like This

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Around the middle of the summer, my wife left for a weekend in Austin, Texas so I took my daughter on a two-day adventure road trip. It was our first trip together as a duo. And it's surprising how the dynamics and vibes are so different when it's just the two of us on an adventure. Here's what happened.
— Mark

Distance lends enchantment to the view.
— Mark Twain

We're hoofing it through the forest, and for the moment I'm surprised at how easy it is. Not the hiking. I mean the vibe. Most parents already know the lurking troubles that come with the territory when hiking with a 4-year-old. You may as well be trekking with a time bomb. Actually, you are: you never know when that halfling you conceived, bathed, nurtured and loved to pieces is going to throw in the towel and appeal to you with a brick wall of whining. "I'm tired" or "I want juice." The lurking troubles seem to have slept in this crisp day and we blasted out of camp before they had a chance to catch us. Apparently.

The butterflies and the wildflowers certainly helped. And then the centipede — thank you, good buddy. With company my own age, I would haven't noticed. But I'm not with company my own age. I'm with someone who's not only discovered a triangle-shaped rock, a proper hiking stick just her size, and dozens of orange butterflies, but she's also demanded that we balance-walk the length of every downed ponderosa pine log that's in our path.

I wanted to locate a geocache just 800 feet from the Jeep trail we'd driven. So did she. But she gets distracted with little hesitation and you wouldn't believe what can happen in 800 feet of raw green forest after the rain. It didn't matter because for this one weekend it was just the two of us, and one of the best parts of being a dad strolling through the forest with a little one is getting to experience the magic of the world through her whims and cares and cares-nots. Like a triangle-shaped rock — epic to her, inconsequential to me.

We had to walk down a steep hill into a creek and then up the other side. I got to hold her hand to help her scramble up the bank, but otherwise she demanded she do it herself with a "Let go, I'll do it now." No problem, kid. She motored along in her long blue dress and bright pink jacket, stoked to have a hiking stick. Then we arrived within throwing distance of the geocache. At that point it's a guessing game won by patience and creativity.

"We're looking for a pink box, darlin'. Look under every log and rock you can find, okay?"

"Okay! I'll find it!" She tells me. And she isn't too far from the truth, but I can make out the pink box under a stack of well placed bark pieces between an old log and sapling.

"Chloe, look by that log."

"This one?"


"This one right here?"

"Yes, that one."

And she goes to work lifting up the bark pieces and rocks. She picks up the pink box, holds it in the air and screams, "Look what I found!"

Inside we find the usual items, the log book and assorted trinkets. But unlike all other caches we've ever sought out, this one has a pink bracelet inside. Immediately she grabs and declares, "I WANT THIS."

When you find a geocache, you sign the log book and, if you want, leave something inside the cache and take something out of it. Basic rules established by the community. She knows this, but has a hard time with it. Of course. That's why I pack a few different trinket toys of her's when we set out to find a geocache. She has to choose one to leave if she wants to keep something from the cache.

We packed it back up and placed the cache the way we found it under the bark between the tree and log. On the trek back to the truck, she stopped, again and again. Another rock, another stick, another flower, another downed log in need of a little girl who will take a moment to balance on top. This time I wandered on, reeling in this moment and broadening the distance between us. She's happy. She's not whining for juice. She didn't ask tell me to carry her. She's proud she dug up the geocache. These simple pleasures will not last forever. One day she'll be 16 and be a very different critter.

"Papa!"  I turned.


She looked right at me. "Papa. Don't leave without me."


Bring The Kids
+3 / 0
# Bring The Kids 2011-09-27 05:45
Awesome story! Great job slowing down and enjoying things from her perspective
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+1 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-29 19:33
You summed it up quite well. Thanks.
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Lindsey Wilson
0 / 0
# Lindsey Wilson 2011-09-28 21:23
Awesome. Just awesome. That last pic is perhaps one of my favorites of yours... What camera set-up do you have?
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+1 / 0
# Mark 2011-09-29 19:31
Awww thanks, Lindsey. Nearly everything on this site was shot with a Canon 5D, and almost always with the 24-105mm f/4L lens.

There's a bit more about some of my camera equipment here: adventureparents.com/.../...
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Lindsey Wilson
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# Lindsey Wilson 2011-10-06 12:39
No way! You have the exact same set-up I do (if your 5D is older). Good taste. What I need now is a sherpa so that I can carry the camera and 2 kids worth of gear... It's so big and heavy, it seems to get left behind a lot more now days. I need to fix that.

Ya, love your photos.
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Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-10-06 23:08
Yes, that older 5D is the one! Small world. If obsolete. Do you feel the same shame and embarrassment when your friends and fam have a smaller camera that cost a fraction of the 5D AND AND AND has HD video? :D
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+1 / 0
# Ania 2011-10-04 12:53
must be way more fun to hike with her now! =D

ow, and 16 as an age is not always that bad ;) you know ;)

love the pics!
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# Mark 2011-10-04 20:05
16 for you was easy. 16 for her? I can only imagine. And then send desperate appeals to the throne of God for mercy upon our household . . .
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