Monday, March 30, 2015

Open letter to all outdoor adventurous parents – Start family adventures ASAP

I write this open letter to all adventurous parents with small children and urge you to start taking outdoor adventures with your kids now.  Take them into the forest and explore a whole new world with them because if you think you are going to start doing that as a family when they are 10, 12 or 14 years old, you will be disappointed.  Take them hiking or backpacking.  Watch them learn along the trail.  Take them kayaking.  Watch them become aware of their surroundings.  Take them biking on trails.  Watch them become stronger and gain confidence.  Take them rock climbing.  Watch them challenge themselves and accomplish new things.  Take them when they are babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  DO IT NOW!

Exploring local trails early. Photo taken in October 2008.

Often I hear parents say, “When my kids get older, I will start taking them on hikes and other outdoor activities I used to do.” My response was always a polite, “You would be surprised how well they would do, but yeah, it takes some work to hit the trails with young kids.” That was back when my kids were both under the age of 6 and as a family we were adventuring in a wide variety of ways every second weekend.  Inspiring others with our family adventures was one reason why I shared our stories.  Multi day adventures included hiking, backpacking, bike backing, kayaking, canoeing, mtn. biking, caving, rock climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, surfing…you name it, we tried it.  These outdoor adventures have proved to me that nature is the greatest classroom you and your child will ever experience.  Something I am thankful to have realized sooner rather than later.

Today my kids are 8 and 10 and if I heard a parent say that now, my response would be a whole lot different! “Do it NOW! Don’t wait till you think they can handle it, they can. You need to convince yourself YOU can handle it.”  A bit more of a direct response but experience has taught me that if I had waited until they were older, our family adventures would never have started and we all would have missed out on some amazing learning opportunities, outdoor experiences, and family moments.

August 2010, already a couple backpacking trips under our belt and way back when Sammy the dog used to adventure with us. He has since retired and prefers to take care of the house while we continue our adventures. Always happy to welcome us back home.

Life the past 4 -5 years has been pretty straight forward.  Our older child had just entered the school system.  We were settled into life as parents and had our mom and dad roles perfected.  Having moved to a new province 4 years prior to kids entering school meant taking on a whole new way of life and friendships, work, and extra-curricular activities outside of the family were growing. Yet we still had the flexibility to take our family adventures every second weekend.  Things have changed since then.

Weekend adventure to show Liv the west coast of Vancouver Island for the first time, Dec 2007.

Both kids are fully embedded in the school system.  By this I mean school work, projects, homework, events, fundraisers, friends, and schedules.  Throw in soccer a couple times a week x2 and music lessons x2.  I fit in work from home or in office 2 – 3 times a week, coordinate schedules, shuttle kids from point A to point B, manage the household, and maintain fitness level (and sanity) with weekly trail runs and bike rides. Dad has the craziest schedule of all – full time work which involves weekends 2 out of 5 weeks, is an active volunteer firefighter which consumes quite a bit of his spare time as the Training Officer/Asst. Chief, and squeezing in the odd trail run and bike ride when it allows.  And to top it off, add in social events and outings with family and friends.  Sound familiar?  It probably will soon.  So where does outdoor time fit in let alone outdoor family time?

Outdoor adventure and learning opportunities go hand in hand when kids are younger.

If I had to fit outdoor adventure into our life today, it would never happen.  It happens now because I am determined to continue this tradition and ensure outdoor adventure is a priority in our lives.  It may come at the expense of another event or activity but I know what joys, memories, and learning opportunities comes with outdoor adventure, for my children as well as for myself, and that is why I will always seek refuge deep in the west coast rainforest.  I look back fondly at our family adventures and am grateful to have had so many amazing experiences in nature with Ben and Liv.  Never has there been a time in my life that I felt so alive, passionate, loved, and complete.

Up close and personal look at the 1928 Pesuta Shipwreck. A family travel adventure backpacking across Haida Gwaii that sparked future international travel.

Spending time outdoors and adventuring with your children serves more than just feelings and memories.  It sets up the framework for your children to live and maintain an active healthy lifestyle.  It is so incredibly important to be active with your children and if you start this habit early, it will be so much easier to continue.  Outdoor adventures have built a foundation for my family to be active together and it does not need to come at the expense of pursuing a certain fitness level.  I can trail run with my kids and still work up a sweat.  Dad can head out for a couple hours of mtn. biking with the kids and still have to hustle to keep ahead.   Ben and Liv have never limited our desire to explore the outdoors or try new things.  In fact they enriched the experience.  Win win for everyone.

A few months ago I realized life was taking over and our family adventuring every second weekend was slowly slipping away.  Not getting out and experiencing nature as often was eating away at my adventure heart.  I tried a couple adult only hikes and some other outdoor adventures with friends that fit into my schedule, hoping I could feed my outdoor addiction, only to find I felt emptier.  What was supposed to bring me happiness left me with sadness.  It was not the lack of outdoor time or exploring new places that left me feeling empty, it was who was not by my side. No one was asking me for rest breaks or more food.  No one was running ahead yelling to come see what they found.  No one brought a smile to my face or warmed my heart as they overcame an obstacle or realized their capabilities, finally.  The only ones who could do that are my children and husband.

Yes, they are special and all mine. <smile>

Today I am content with my personal outdoor time on trails, be it running or mtn. biking, and small outdoor moments with Ben and Liv in between schedules.  As a family we have made adventuring together a priority and will continue to work in one multi-day adventure a month.  My heart can hold out that long in between adventures.   Being a parent is a constant life changer and making sure your child has all the necessary tools to grow up and become amazing adults means fine tuning the mom and dad skills constantly.  We may not be enjoying outdoor adventures every second weekend but I still have those moments tucked away and can dig out whenever I want.   We are adding international travel to our outdoor adventures which have and will deepen our life experiences.  As long as we keep moving forward, I am a happy adventure mama.  Plus, I have a whole crew of other outdoor parents to support and adventure with in spirit.  My heart was never really empty, it was waiting to be filled.

Sincerely, Jill Collins

The OTBP crew today.  All grown up and riding xc and downhill mtn bike trails with big smiles.


  1. Great article! I found for my family, geocaching was the key to getting them engaged on the trails. The treasure hunt aspect kept them excited and motivated- on to the next! All the time, learning about nature as we trekked forward.

  2. Absolutely beautiful. I wish more people had your attitude. It breaks my heart when i ask my students what they did on the weekend and the only thing they remember is playing on their DS.

  3. Fantastic post.I completely echo your view.Getting started early has huge educational,wellbeing and bonding benefits not to mention fostering a passion of the outdoors to last through the years ahead.

  4. Love this post, Jill. Not only do the kids get much busier as they get into the school system, but if they're not used to outdoor adventures by the time they're that age they may never discover the beauty of them. Yes, it's inconvenient to bring little ones but it is so worth it in the long run!

  5. Love this article. Lucky me, I have an older sister who has always been the nature and sports enthusiast as well as AT thru-hiker. With her help and experience we had the kids out hiking, caving, skiing, snowshoeing, etc. since they were very young. The trick we found was starting small -- a short nature walk then the next year grew into a local hike, which the next season was a few longer trail hikes. Or one ski weekend in a month, over the years has morphed into skiing every weekend between Dec and Mar. Now they are 6 and 8, and we're hiking the 4000' peaks of the White Mountains, tackling them one by one. It's so true, they can handle much more than we expect.... my sister had to convince me to stop worrying and give it a try, and it turns out I'm the one always bringing up the rear during our hikes!

  6. YES! I have a 2 1/2 year old and one on the way, and I found myself saying to my husband yesterday the dreaded, "when they're older." We're going to start small with some outdoor camping in the yard, but this has definitely inspired me to get out there and go for those bigger adventures.

  7. I wholeheartedly agree! There is more time when the kids are young and you only have so many years to get em hooked on the outdoors. we play outside every day and get to the mountains 2-3 times a month almost year round (more in the summer!). Don't delay! : )