It both makes sense and doesn’t that we are trying to undertake this journey.
I somewhat have an outdoors history, but it’s pretty remote. It’s far from being enough that anyone would hear I’m hiking the AT and say “well that makes sense”. It’s also far from being enough experience to lend me any current skill at this whole thru-hike thing. Growing up my father was in the military. While I was lucky and only lived in 3 different places, it did (also luckily) involve 4 years in England in the early 80’s when I was 2-6yo. Surprisingly I remember quite a bit of it. The reason for that likely is that my parents were very devoted to experiencing all England had to offer.It felt like we went to visit some new place every weekend. I can’t tell you what the reality is because at 4yo you have a very poor concept of time. Every minute seems like an eternity. It’s actually quite comical to think how much each second mattered back then. Imagine if at work today you made a mistake and your boss put you in timeout. “Darnit Wilson, I said I wanted those reports by 3pm, go sit in the corner and don’t talk until I say so”. Poor Wilson. He tried so hard to get those things done. He can’t help it that he loves watching
Saturday morning cartoons Youtube videos of people suffering blunt trauma to their crotch at his desk every morning until lunch. Okay, so Wilson is in timeout. Poor Wilson. Given that Wilson is likely about 34 years old, he gets a minute of timeout for every year of life giving him 34 minutes of time out. If I gave you 34 minutes of timeout, I think you could handle it. Hell you are probably going to spend a good 10 minutes on the can today after lunch milking your bathroom break. But if I told the average 3.4 year old they had 3.4 minutes of timeout they would FREAK. I can’t really figure out why time passes so differently as we get older. Probably has something to do with the fact that at 3.4 years old you have experienced maybe a total of 2000 minutes in your whole life (or something like that) so these 3.4 minutes represent a good portion of your life thus far. If I gave current you and your delinquent reports a 3.4 HOUR timeout we probably would have an issue.
Anyway my point is that we probably didn’t travel every weekend, but the only aspect of my time in England that stands out to this day is our travelling. I don’t remember what our grocery store looked like. I don’t remember much of my town, Bicester (names of cities are so much cooler in England). All I can really pull together is that my imaginary friend lived across the street and drove a car so we could go anywhere we wanted, my friend Mathieu lived about
20 miles 2 streets away, and there was a tree around the corner that doubled as our peddlers shop when we played 3 Musketeers (yes, in Britain you don’t play Cowboys and Indians you play 3 Musketeers… much more civilized).
What I do remember is going to castles ALL THE TIME and staying at campgrounds ALL THE TIME. This was my outdoors introduction. We had a Datsun pick-up with a cab-over camper. Again owing to the naive perception of a child- this thing was HUGE inside. Based on my 5yo memory, this palatial suite had a king size bed in the sleeping loft, the table flipped over to form what was at least a queen bed. There was a sink big enough to do dishes in and a range for cooking.
If you do the translation from Olde English, I believe “campground” roughly translates to “open grass field where campers park next to each other in long rows”. In fact I believe a synonym is “parking lot”… oh wait its England… “car park”… sorry. I quite significantly remember using the showers. They were gross, but not because I remember smells or any other concept. No my only memory is Daddy-Long-Legs the size of my head. It didn’t matter that my dad explained that they are harmless- those dudes were coming for me and likely descending from the ceiling at all moments. Probably the most terrifying shower since Psycho. It probably isn’t surprising that the release of the movie Arachnaphobia years later would send me into a month or so long stretch of nightmares. Imagine my surprise years later when I watched that movie again and realized it is a comedy. I swear they must have redone it because when I first saw that movie it was a damn horror flick. Seriously though- dude (John Goodman, the classic horror movie actor) is in a basement and a giant damn spider is ON FIRE and still coming at him. He has to shoot a nail gun (possible?) across the room at it to kill it. No, this was definitely a horror movie… right? To the best of my recollection, there isn’t a single movie starring John Belushi, Steve Martin, or John Candy with flaming, murderous, zombie spiders (they were zombie spiders right?). Okay, Great Outdoors was definitely a comedy and had a murderous rampaging bear. That movie had a similar effect on my sleeping habits.
So now that we have established I was a wuss, let’s move on. I really cherish those memories of being outside and I think it has contributed to a life long pursuit of adventure. Growing up part of my identity was that I was the kid who had lived in England. I remember coming back to the States and kids asking me if I spoke their language. (Ahh the American public school system.) But it just always seemed to expand my horizon. I always knew there was another place out there, another way. There was nostalgia for a place I couldn’t go to again. But maybe someday I would. I think that ability to dream and idealize a place away from home is important for kids growing up. As a kid, in my mind England was perfect and I should go back there as soon as possible. Which I did for a semester in college. It’s kind of the same thing as having an imaginary friend or a cool uncle that plays sports or tells really good jokes– as a kid you need to be able to dream so you can focus on a life outside your own. If what you have in front of you is your only reality, then when the kid-version of you perceives things in life as going bad there isn’t an escape. Sure fantasy and fiction in literature and media can provide those ideals, but those imaginary ideas aren’t even as real as Santa Claus at that point. Santa is real, he comes to your house. Hogwarts will only ever be on the pages of this book and in my imagination, I can’t go there (okay the new theme park doesn’t count). I think that my parents giving us that experience of visiting castles, traveling to countries where nobody could speak English (to my perception that was Germany), and looking at a body of water that may or may not contain a monster that wears a tartan hat allowed us to have a firm grasp on real places that in our minds were perfect.
To this day I still see the outdoors as adventure, exploration, and fun. The only reason for this has to be because our family fun was intimately tied to this experience. So all you parents out there- take your kids on vacations, make them sleep outdoors, and do it often. Do so and you will raise a well-rounded ambitious child with a healthy affliction of wanderlust that will allow them to leave home when they become adults. That is unless you want to raise a kid who sings songs about cupcakes and lives in your basement until he’s 38.
Okay, okay- hiking blog. Sorry. We are just getting to know each other so I should have let you know on the first date that I am extremely prone to tangents.
We’ve established a background of outdoorsy-ness (in modern times you are allowed to put a -ness or an -ish on any word BTW… I think its called a portmantooth or something). We would continue to do lots of fun things outdoors- boating at Lake Mead, staying at military rec facilities in Flagstaff, frequent trips to Huntington Beach, hunting dove around Phoenix. But it was Kendrick Peak that was my first hiking experience…