Back in May, I set a goal: to take Oliver hiking every week throughout the summer. Not for the purpose of increasing my fitness by hauling him around in his cushy backpack carrier, but to help him learn to hike on his own two feet.
We are 11 weeks in, and so far we’ve managed to hike on all but two of those weeks. One week we were out of town, and the following week I had to attend a medical appointment.
Initially I was tracking distances, trying to measure Oliver’s improvements metre by metre, week by week; but I have since realized the futility of this endeavour. Because of the way toddlers hike — walk 15 steps, stop to admire a bumblebee, pick up a stick, wander a few steps in the opposite direction, sit on a tree stump, say “hi” to a passing dog, continue walking — the distance we cover is, in a sense, irrelevant.
Instead I focus on time: How long can I keep Oliver moving under his own steam, before having to pick him up and carry him, or put him into the backpack? As he grows, I assume that he will naturally be able to move faster, and thus cover more ground in the same amount of time.
I am looking for growth in his physical skills: his balance, coordination and agility on uneven surfaces; and his endurance.
And perhaps most importantly, I am looking for improvements in Oliver’s enthusiasm and enjoyment of the experience. Is he whining incessantly, or is he content? Is he willing to walk, or constantly asking to be carried? Is he eager to challenge himself on more difficult terrain, or grasping desperately for my hand whenever the ground becomes uneven?
I think we have made great progress in all of those areas. Yesterday, Oliver hiked for an hour and forty-five minutes! That included a 15-minute snack break mid-way, but Oliver was on the move for an hour and a half, without being carried even once.
Lately I’ve been sticking to shorter and easier trails, and leaving the backpack carrier at home. Out of sight, out of mind. Oliver will still ask me to carry him (as in carry him in my arms), but it’s a lot easier to say no to that request than to refuse to put him into the backpack. Or at least he seems to more readily accept that I can’t (or don’t want to) carry him in my arms.
Despite Oliver’s protestations, I’ve been insisting that he hike at least part of each trail without a death grip on my fingers. I’ve realized that when he holds my hand, he blunders along, relying entirely on me to keep him upright. When he walks on his own, he can quite skillfully maneuver over small rocks and roots. He just lacks the confidence to go off on his own without my encouragement.
I’d like to get a little more ambitious as the summer progresses. Not Chief or Grouse Grind ambitious, but I’d like to challenge Oliver to some more difficult and unfamiliar terrain. As a side benefit, because I know that on longer or more difficult trails Oliver will need to be carried sometimes — at least for the sake of time-efficiency — I will have the opportunity for some much-needed outdoor exercise of my own.
Has anyone else been hiking with kids this summer? Do you have any tips or exciting achievements to share?