As a father of two fantastic boys, hiking & camping means different things to me, depending on for what reasons, and how it is all done. And the resulting experience is therefore for me also quite different. This can, at times, also be a source of concern and frustration, even guilt as a friend or parent, when there is little time and priorities have to be made in choosing company. I figure there are more people who share similar feelings regarding this, but who may not have managed to come to peace with some of their choices, and I figured I would share some thoughts regarding how I see and reason about these.
Basically, there are four different, basic aspects of this, not here separating between day hikes and more extended ones, nor season or terrain, instead just focusing on company or the absence thereof, when spending time in nature. Some things are true for all of these four, like the tingling sensation and excitement you get from being in completely unknown territory, just like with most things when you were a small child. Exploring things for the first time can bring a lot of energy to your spirit and revitalize your soul, and this never changes, even if we tend to forget this as we grow older and get stuck in mostly familiar grounds and the comfort of habits, forgetting the magic of the unfamiliar. Other things are distinctly different between the four.
Spending time outdoors with friends is great for so many reasons. Getting away from and briefly forgetting regular, stressful life and associated environments, just having the time to talk undisturbed about anything from serious issues and feelings, to the most superficial/important of things, like good coffee, clears your head and heart, while you build a deeper friendship through a shared, memorable experience.
The experience varies of course, depending on what friend, or friends, you bring with you. Some will be more silent and independent, others more talkative and social, and the experience of nature will vary according to how this fits with your own personality. Of course, their experience with nature and outdoors life can affect things a lot too, but at least for me, the friendship is in focus much more than nature with these trips, even being the main purpose of the trips, so that aspect matters less. And most people I know and meet are sensible and respectful enough to not act carelessly when going out. If necessary I can always set up the required, sustainable and nature-friendly camp routines for all of us anyways, regardless of any possible lack of experience of the same.
With kids and their friends
Spending time with your kids and their friends in the woods is a very different experience since they are… well, kids… Meaning there will be laughter, shouting, running about, tears and crying, whining from boredom, and finally, after a lot of chaos… calm and magic, with close connection with your kids in an environment that for most people, and especially the kids, is extraordinary, outside of the daily routine, and thereby creating memories that may stay with the kids for the rest of their lives, even building, or continuing, a tradition where they perpetuate this some 20 years into the future with their own offspring, just like you might do with things you learned from your parents. This is also how Mora knives have stayed within the family for many generations now, used by father and son together, working and learning.
And this is part of the big reason why I want to go out with my kids and their friends: It is an opportunity for me to transfer a bit of my given and earned knowledge, my passions and my experience onto a new generation, hopefully sparking something I feel is important in them, hoping too that it will stay with them for a long time.
However, there is also a less satisfying, and possibly even frustrating aspect to all this, as not all kids will be as interested in the things you love as you are, and even if they are, their attention span is likely to be a whole lot shorter, meaning a lot of the time they will just want to play around with their friends. And soon enough they will all be bored. It comes and goes in circles though, so feed them, and let them play and rest, and they will eventually be open to listening and learning what you hope to share.
Don’t force things thereby creating negative associations with it all. Things must be kept fun, creating a positive experience, and preferably bringing a sense of accomplishment in the kids. Still, be prepared for the fact that for most of the time you will only be there to serve with food & comfort as the kids will spend most of their time with their friends, playing and goofing around. It’s just how things are and need to be for most of us.
This is also why this is my least favourite type of trip, if still quite enjoyable, especially if you have other grown ups with you as company, and while the parent-child experience is very valuable, there is far less of personal experience of nature for myself. That particular need is just not satisfied here.
With your kids
Most of the things said up until now are true also for when you go out with your kids alone, although the experience can also be very different depending on whether you take only one or more kids with you. With just one kid coming along, the depth of the experience often becomes so much greater for the both of you, and things will become more relaxed and intimate. Some will perhaps feel a bit of guilt over leaving one child behind, but as long as they get their turn too, there is no reason for it. Separation is an option that should be considered valuable.
And even if you bring two along, sieblings often tend to be more relaxed with each other, especially as they grow older. In my experience, things get more laid back, more natural, calmer, although of course in some families there will be rivalry and arguments in a way that is not as common with two friends. Still, with the calm, the experience of nature is also closer for all.
Here you become more of a natural travel partner with your kids, and less of a servant, with more equal sharing of chores. I won’t say it is a good opportunity to become friends with your kids, as I don’t believe in that notion, but you do get a chance to come closer as a parent, stripping away all of the mundane distractions and replacing it with something that makes you all feel spiritually quickened and revitalized, even if your body is increasingly smelly and aching from sleeping on the hard ground. I love it, although to be honest, more than my kids do. At least for now… But a seed has been planted, which I hope will take root some day, just as it did for me.
Personally, this is still my favourite type of trip, and it is distinctly different to the other three, both in purpose and experience, as with this there is no distraction at all, nothing inbetween me and my sensing of nature. I won’t call it a deep connection with nature, as the woods and the wildlife couldn’t care less about me and my experience, outside of stealing my food, that is, but the undisturbed experience goes so much deeper and makes it all so much more intimate and intense.
For example, hearing the always changing sound of the wind in the trees, the whooshing of the wings of the great, big raven, long before they arrive, and their cawing and chirping noise, the buzzing bees and smattering of dragonfly wings, the tap-tap of rain on the tarp, and the honking of geese flying around in the twilight before landing for nighttime rest in a calm inlet, the high-pitched noise of bats hunting as the dark approaches and everything calms and goes silent – except for the owls hooting in the night. And then in the early morning, wee birds chirping as the sun rises, with the forest pidgeons long-distance calling with their crou-CROU-crou-cro-croing back and forth across the woods. And of course, the smell of the lake, of dry pine needles and cones, of fire and ashes. And in winter; the biting cold against your cheeks, your breath frozen to ice in your beard, the sizzling of crisp snow blowing over the ice and the crackling and thundering of the lake as the ice settles again at twilight. And a hot fire making your cheeks burn, with hot cocoa and coffee warming your numbing hands. All of it filling your senses, constantly, bringing you into the immediate present, into the perfect now. I need this, regularly revitalizing myself, clearing away a lot of junk, slowing things down to a certain clearness of things.
Still we wouldn’t be human if we also didn’t soon start feeling a bit bored with any routine, having done all the necessary chores, and having settled down and scouted and grown accustomed to our surroundings, especially as the darkness falls, which happens quite early in winter time in the North. There will inevitably be a good number of hours in the pitch black dark before it is time to go to sleep, with only a lantern or a fire to keep a little bit of the dark at bay. For this reason I always bring some good reading with me every time I go out, adding some variety into the perfect stillness.
And this is also where the sense of guilt comes in, in doing this for purely egotistical reasons, not bringing wife, kids or friends with me, staying away from all of them travelling and hiking for well over a month in total, every year, fearing it might be perceived as wanting to get away from them. I am lucky though, with a patient and understanding wife who gets me and why it is necessary; That it makes me better, stronger and happier as a man and father, and that not doing it would do the opposite.
I hope I managed to make some form of sense in my ramblings here, and would love to hear comments from you with your own experiences and thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to read, and stay safe in the woods.