Hiking: Becoming an Outdoor Family

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It was a crisp October day when we found out that we were going to be parents. We had just wrapped up a photo shoot in the Sierra Nevada and parked our Airstream trailer in the pine forests outside Mammoth Lakes. Soon we would be on our way to Arizona for a mountain bike shoot in the desert. And then off to New Zealand for a magazine assignment. This was how we had set up our lifestyle, traveling 200 days a year. Much of that was spent in the backcountry. Now we had been given notice that our little one was on its way. We were excited, overjoyed and overwhelmed all at once.

woman stands on mountain top showing her pregnant belly

Over the next few months we couldn’t stop discussing the “what if’s” of combining our active lifestyle with being new parents. It didn’t really hit us until a hike in Red Rocks outside Las Vegas. Heading out on a trail to catch evening light at a spot we knew well, something unusual happened to Agnes. She bonked. Hard. About a mile into the hike, she went quiet and had to take a knee. Turns out the pregnancy had made her hypoglycemic and she was walking around with critically low blood sugar. This was the beginning of our transition.

We were committed to staying active during the pregnancy. It would just require us to slow down a bit and make sure Agnes snacked often during the day. Through the second trimester, we were still skiing, climbing and even running. But all of these options soon fell to the wayside. Short hikes and backpacks were all that remained. These were short in length, but long in duration as our pace slowed to one mile for each hour.

a woman hiking through the woods

At first slowing down seemed strange (we normally hike along at a brisk three miles per hour), but over the weeks we began to not only embrace our new pace, but to enjoy it. We found ourselves savoring the country we were walking through and taking in the details. We found ourselves on short trails (4-5 miles) that we’d never considered in the past, such as a four-mile loop one afternoon in a state park chock full of redwoods and waterfalls. We would have never considered that trail before the pregnancy.

a baby and his mom hanging out in a tent during a backpacking trip

Our son Dusty spent his first night out in the mountains at three weeks old. We carried his eight pounds on our chest for the seven-mile hike and wrapped him in a down jacket at night. We chose one of our favorite hikes in the Chugach Mountains near our home in Anchorage for our first overnight backpacking trip as a family. Even though we had spent many nights out at Williwaw Lakes, this time was different. Sure there were the backcountry diaper changes and he needed to nurse every two hours. But more than changes to our usual backpacking routine, there was a profound sense that we would never experience this place the same way ever again. That we had changed, how we enjoyed the outdoors had changed and our goals had changed.

On the hike in, we would stop to watch the ptarmigan clucking their way over the tundra. Or spend a half hour showing Dusty the gurgling water of a snowmelt stream. We hiked to the top of the more “insignificant” peaks, enjoying our baby boy’s coos just as much as the climb to the summit. We sat outside the tent, listening to Dusty’s tiny snores as he napped inside, content to take in the mountain scenery surrounding us. The white dot of a Dall sheep appeared across the valley. Closer inspection proved it to be something much more rare: an albino black bear rumored to roam these parts. We watched it meander across the mountainside for an hour. We would have surely missed that detail being on the move at our pre-family pace.

We may not move over as many miles these days, but each mile seems to have much more to it now.

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