Last time I saw my friend Amy, we got purposely lost off trail in southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park, climbed JT’s epic boulders until our fingers bled, slept out under the stars and woke up to one of the most epic sunrises either of has ever seen. In our 5-year career as outdoor adventure friends we’ve also shared a bunk with a black snake in Virginia, dodged a charging mother moose in Montana and triaged a wicked cactus wound in California.
Last week Amy I met up again in Shenandoah National Park. No crazy epic for us this time: Amy is now a mom to 4-month old Josh! Not one to be slowed down too much by motherhood, Amy showed up at the trailhead for the Rose River Loop with Josh in a baby backpack. Her friend Juliette also joined us with her 4-month old son Levi. Between the three of us we had two babies and seven dogs!
I’m at that age when many of my friends are having kids. I’ve never wanted to be a mom, but I do think it’s important to have kids in my life – youth keeps us young – and so I’m trying to be a good “Aunt Mo” to my friends’ kids. I want to be the awesome aunt who takes them hiking and camping and teaches them how to build a fire, catch salamanders and communicate with dogs.
Josh and Levi are just babies, but this wasn’t their first hike. Both Amy and Juliette have been taking their kids outside since they were teeny tiny. They change diapers on the ground and nurse along the trail and let their kids crawl in the leaves, rub their little fingers in the dirt and marvel with them at the tree tops. Have you ever seen a baby who loves trees? These kids do! They watch the leaves sway against the sky and laugh, the way kids laugh at a spinning mobile over their crib. Something tells me these kids are going to be all right!
The Rose River Falls Loop is one of my favorite hikes at Shenandoah: a 4-mile loop past dozens of waterfalls. I’ve hiked this trail half a dozen times now. The trailhead is just north of the Lewis Mountain campground, where I always camp in Shenandoah. Leaf season is peaking right now in Virginia and the place was crawling with people. Every person we met on the trail had encouraging things to say about getting kids out in the woods. The wisest advice I’ve heard: “Start off the way you mean to go on.”
Isn’t it risky to take kids in the woods?! Everything comes with some degree of risk. Most risky of all? Driving in a car. Both these moms are accomplished and experienced outdoorswomen who are as home in these woods as you are in your own neighborhood. In my non-motherly, “Aunt Mo” opinion, this world needs more outdoor kids and more kids need the outdoors. Read more about Raising Rippers here.