Monday, September 08, 2008

Carrying on the Tradition of "Character Building"

As a kid my dad, and to a certain extent my mom, use to make me go back packing.

Now, I know lots of kids went camping with their families but I am guessing you got to drive up to a campsite, park your car and then pitch a tent. You might do a day hike for a few miles and you might even have to carry your own water.


That is not back packing. My dad made me and I say me because there were often times when it was just me, my dad and his two brothers go back packing. Here is how I have long imagined the conversation went:

Dad: Hey Sally, I think David and Vinton and I are going to go backpacking this weekend.

Mom: That's fine but you have to take Natalie. Justin and Sarah can stay here.

I was 9. My dad and his brothers were in their late 20's/early 30's and rode their bikes to work and trained for marathons.

And I had to carry my own pack.

And no, it wasn't just water. I had to carry all my clothes, my sleeping bag, part of the tent, my own water and then if it still wasn't heavy enough then I had to carry some of the other crap. My dad would weigh me, figure out 30 percent of my weight and pack my pack to that weight. There was a lot of packing, getting on the scale, taking stuff out of the pack and putting different items in until I reached this optimal weight that somehow my dad had figured was the ideal weight for someone of my height and weight to manage on however many mile backpacking trip. No matter what it always felt too heavy.

Oh,and guess when we went backpacking?
Nooooo. Too hot, snakes. Too many insects.
Early fall?
I wish! Still snakes. Insects etc.
Late spring?
Yeah, right. No. Still snakes.

Winter. We went November to March.

It was fucking cold! I was delicate child flower. Or rather I was. Apparently, as I was told often while back packing, my character was being built on these trips. I am sure they could see it transforming right before their very eyes. So see, they really can't fault me can they?

Oh and to make sure my character was firmly in place we always did this trail. Not too hard at all. But it crosses the river a bazillion times and that is great fun--until you fall in, like I always did. In the winter. And trust me. It was cold. It sucks when your jeans are frozen. And no one believes you when you tell them your legs are going to freeze off your body.

Some times we just did Blood Mountain. I hated it that more because there was no water on the mountain and that meant more to carry. More weight. It also meant that I couldn't have a fire in the morning because we would have to waste what precious water we had by putting the fire out. Nevermind if it was February and 8 degrees outside.

Okay. I admit it. I did like it when we would go to Cumberland Island. You know why I liked it?

Because it was flat and there was water on the island at pumps. Easier and less weight.

But again. It was almost always cold. Hi Atlantic Ocean. Oh how my little 10 year old self wants to swim in you but no, it is December and 34 degrees.

Fond, fond memories.

Okay. Really there were things I loved about it and I still do love being outside because of those backpacking trips. But the memories of those times and what I didn't like and why are still very clearly with me.

But just in case I had any chance of forgetting any of those things I've now got kids of my own to remind me of what it was like to have your parents force you into doing things you are not totally on board with. Right right right. I've now got kids that I must build character into.

Ryan and I have decided that now that both kids are older it is high time we got on with those character building experiences. I mean introduce them to the joy hiking and soon enough the joy of carrying all your crap for miles through the woods so you can be as far away from electricity and plumbing and all other creature comforts as possible. I mean to foster a love of nature in our children too.

But unlike my dad we are taking baby steps. So while the kids and I often enjoy hiking on the Sope Creek and Leita Thompson trails they've never had to climb any real mountains.

So yesterday we took them to Kennesaw Mountain and hiked around for a few hours.

Beau hiked a lot like I did as a kid. He is what I call a 50 yd dasher: sprints ahead and then has to rest, we pass him and then he'll sprint ahead, rest, rinse repeat.
He also talks non stop the whole time. Really there isn't a single thought he has that you are not aware of. The kid does not internalize anything.
At all.

Yeah, I can't imagine where he gets that from either.
Carmella on the other hand is the walk slowly and carry a big stick type. Seriously. She will walk so slow up a hill I can't even believe that she is acutally moving.
She won't really complain but will just say that is the best her legs can do. But then when we get to the downhill parts she takes off running. Yesterday she and I ran the whole way down the mountain. We finished 10 minutes before Ryan and Beau who just walked down.

So it was a fun and good day but today when I mentioned to the kids the possiblity of a hike at the Leita they both jinx buy me a coke said emphatically "No!"

And I couldn't help but devilishly smile. The character is already setting its mold.


  1. Yea, my idea of camping is a bad hotel with a refrigerator and a tv :-)

  2. Geez, the memories. I haven't been up there in years! My childhood home was right at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain. I spent many hours escaping my family and hiking up that mountain, often to the top.

    Had anyone told me it was exercise or a "back to nature" excursion, I would have immediately dropped this activity...

  3. Remember packing your electric rollers on the trip to Cumberland Island? (and we didn't stay at Greyfield) Lala

  4. what about the little deer that followed you around and slept outside your tent? It wasn't all bad. lala

  5. I was very sad I couldn't keep that deer. And, btw, it was a curling iron. I didn't use hot rollers until high school. And really, a curling is more portable. I bet they make battery operated ones now days and I wouldn't have a problem.

    Wes. I think I would rather sleep in a tent than a dirty hotel.

    Stoph. New post please.

  6. Lance is coming back!!!!!!Please finagle a ride with him Nat. Can't you ride the tour de Ga. or something? Lala

  7. Buy me a new bike and we'll discuss.