I am unable to take a vacation. I go on vacations, but the idea of just sitting around doing nothing is pure torture. On our honeymoon, I made my new bride go on a canoe trip, which ended poorly when I paddled her directly into a scraggly bush overhanging the riverbank. Our first fight as a married couple! Some years later at Pensacola Beach, I bundled my daughter into the car to go to a museum, leaving behind sunshine and surf so as to walk around inside a building. Not my first questionable parenting decision!
Last summer, I achieved a personal best in strenuous relaxation: I spent hundreds of dollars and drove hundreds of miles to hike on the Appalachian Trail for five days. I brought my daughter, who was six at the time and excited for the trip, due to Stockholm Syndrome. We were joined by my brother (an able-bodied adult) and my father (a sort-of-able-bodied adult). At the end of the journey, our legs hurt, we’d all yelled at each other a lot, and we smelled real bad. But we never did nothing. It was great!
Here’s how you can take your kids backpacking, too.
If your children have never even gone camping, you won’t be taking them backpacking next month. You should go soon, before Congress sells all of our public lands to Frackings ‘R Us. But start slowly. Find a state park with a campground and some trails; I’ll allow toilets, sinks, and showers. No electricity, though! This is a trip of action! Instead of playing Minecraft, we’re going to take a walk and identify different types of trees and poisonous mushrooms! We’re going to chase butterflies and poke slugs with sticks and spook ourselves with skitterings in the underbrush!
Also, everyone sleeps in a tent. Everyone. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of standing in the dark, in the rain, holding up one side of a tent as my dad struggled to construct the other end. Give your kids similar memories. They need to know what it’s like to sleep on the ground, with rocks poking their backs. They need to crawl into a musty sleeping bag to escape the smell of stale campfire smoke. They need to stand shivering in the dawn, waiting for water to boil so they can choke down their oatmeal.
I first took my daughter on a weekend camping trip when she was two years old. The following summer, I planned a week-long excursion in western North Carolina. We played in a creek, fed some goats, and swam in a mountain lake. Also, I lead her on a three-mile hike. The next day, we went to the peak of Chimney Rock, marching up all 491 steps to an elevation of 2,280 feet. She was three. I probably shouldn’t be allowed to plan activities for children. I blame my dad.