It was a warm, moon-less summer evening. I hiked in silence along the damp lakeside trail, my father behind me. There were a couple dozen of us — young boys about 8-9 and our fathers, solemnly making our way from our campsite to the campfire. My foot slipped off the embankment and into the muddy, murky water. The mud sucked my leg in, but my dad was right there to hold me steady and slowly extract me from the muck — sans one moccasin. And I learned one of my first real lessons of the outdoors. Adventure is messy.
Growing up in the midwest we didn’t have great mountains to climb. But we hiked and camped and fished. My dad would wrestle the giant, bulky Coleman tent out of the car and mutter to himself as we tried to remember how what seemed to me to be a hundred different aluminum tent poles fit together. After several hours of campsite engineering, we managed to get it to stand — a tent large enough to sleep 10-12 comfortably!
When I was old enough, I joined the Boy Scouts. Dad was there, too, helping corral the boundless energy of young boys at campouts and helping me earn one more merit badge. I was hooked on the outdoors.
At 16, My family moved back to California where I discovered the Sierras. Backpacking in real mountains with snow, glaciers and alpine meadows, I felt like I was truly on an adventure of discovery. At graduation, I thru-hiked the John Muir Trail with friends. Dad loaned me his down sleeping bag — my most modern piece of equipment at the time. The seeds that my father planted when I was young had taken root, and sprouted making me a lifelong lover of wilderness adventure.
Fast forward a few years. My first child — a beautiful little girl — was not quite a year old when we went on our first backpacking trip. It was an easy one — up the Palm Springs Tram, then a short hike to Round Valley near Mt. San Jacinto. And she crawled and “bouldered” (as much as a toddler can) and ate dirt.
My sons followed a similar path. I helped out as a Scout Leader and we hiked and backpacked. It wasn’t long before they would outdo their dad, climbing and hiking further and faster.
Today all three now-grown kids have an appetite for adventure.
How to create a legacy of love for the outdoors
As Father’s Day approached, Andy Hawbaker at Sierra Trading Post asked me to reflect on how fathers can influence and nurture a love for the outdoors. Whether you’re a father or not — you have a father. If you’re lucky, your dad may have encouraged you to explore further and given you a taste for outdoor adventure. What matters now is what you do. How will you encourage the people around you to climb that mountain? How can you leave a legacy of love for outdoor adventure?
Here are four simple ways you can help build the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts
1. Lead by example
Kids are like sponges; they soak up everything even when you think they’re not paying attention. One of the very best ways to inspire a love of the outdoors is by… loving the outdoors yourself. Not with mere words, but through your actions. Does your life reflect your passion for the outdoors? Are you an explorer and an adventurer? Give your kids something to shoot for. They’re watching you.
2. Try things together!
Life is an adventure, and every day is an opportunity to live. Take a rock climbing class. Go kayaking or whitewater rafting. Or turn a local walk into a photo expedition. Mix it up and make life fun! Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity. As you try new things, you might discover something they really love.
3. Plan epic outdoor adventures!
Vacations shouldn’t be about napping on the beach or visiting Wally World — at least not all of the time. Plan a big outdoor adventure. Visit our great National Parks. Take an extended camping or backpacking trip. Plan it together and you’ll find the sense of adventure and excitement build with anticipation. Maps, guidebooks, photos, videos and sites like SoCalHiker can inspire your adventure. Preparing the equipment, planning the meals and training for that adventure help reinforce that excitement. I know for my kids, the memories of our backpacking trips in the eastern Sierras will last a lifetime.
4. Spend time together in nature.
The most precious gift that you can give to another is your time and attention. Invest that time in them in the outdoors, and you will help create in them a lasting, positive relationship with nature. It builds self-esteem, security and strengthens your connection. And you might find it’s good for you, too.
My greatest desire is that I can play some small role in inspiring my own kids to out-do their dad… just like my father did for me. It’s my hope that their sense of adventure and love of the outdoors will be something they pass down to their own kids — and to those around them. I’m creating a legacy of love for the outdoors… one step at a time.
How will you inspire the people in your life?