I met the bearded man just after I’d skied over the bridge, topped with about three feet of snow, piled to the top of the bridge’s railing (I didn’t do the math, but I wondered how much extra weight was just sitting on that bridge all winter long). I planned to explore a new ski trail for me, along the north side of Gold Lake. As a Backcountry Ski Patroller, a large part of my “job” is connecting with the public and helping them have great, snowy, winter experiences, so I stopped to chat as this man awaited his companion.
As I figured out how many miles they had already snowshoed that morning (about 5, down from the South Waldo Lake Shelter), then found out what they were training for (hiking the Continental Divide Trail), it suddenly dawned on me that I’d met Sunshine and her Dad (trail name: Balls). I first read about the duo on the Backpacking Light website in 2011, when they were completing their Pacific Crest Trail journey. Last year, they hiked the Appalachian Trail. So, this year, they’re going for the Triple Crown with their CDT hike, completing all three long hikes by the time Sunshine is 13. This 12-year-old has more experience with bear hanging, sleeping on the ground, trail food, and pushing herself through challenges than most people will ever have. As I considered the school that Sunshine has missed in the past three years, I kept coming back to what she’s gained in self-confidence and outdoor skills from her experiences.
Earlier that morning, I’d talked with my friend Walter about adventures with kids: living abroad, rock climbing, and, yes, even through-hiking. A couple of things have been pointing me toward more serious adventures with my kids. First, I just started a book, Before They’re Gone by Michael Lanza, about a family’s year-long quest to visit National Parks imperiled by climate change. Although I’ve only just begun reading it, it’s easy to see that this family had what most people would consider “grown-up-sized” adventures. In the first chapter, they’re heading out for an early spring, 4-day, 29-mile backpack with a 7- and 9-year-old on icy Grand Canyon trails. That’s believing in your kids and their abilities!
After meeting Monkey, who turned nine while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last summer, I’ve been considering how feasible it might be to complete a long hike with one or both of my children. The PCT was Monkey’s idea, by the way. She wasn’t coerced. Last summer, when we gave Monkey and her Mom a ride to their campsite after they’d inhaled 1200-calorie meals of pizza and milkshakes, I asked Sylvan if he’d like to try a long-distance hike with me. He balked. The little one, though, seemed interested. With her constant singing and smiley demeanor, she’d be the perfect companion, too! Sunshine to balance my native grumbles. I asked her yesterday if she’d like to try some backpacking this summer. Without looking up from her art project, she said, “Yes.” As she shapes up as a hiker, we’ll see if she enjoys pulling off long days (with enough Jelly Bellies) and is driven by the challenge of a good, long-term goal. I hope so!
This is why I’m on the Backcountry Ski Patrol (and why I can’t imagine leaving Oregon, even when I wish we lived much closer to grandparents). Look at that sunshine!