About the Author: Sarah Kiser is an avid hiker, trumpet player, and creative. She has three little kids and works as a pediatric nurse practitioner when she’s not spending time outdoors. To follow her adventures and artful journaling, check out her Insta @journaloutdoors.
Crunching leaves underfoot, birdsongs in the air – the glory of crisp mornings on the trail! Silent aside from nature’s whispers and the occasional complaint from myself or one of my siblings, groaning under the weight of our packs. When I was a kid, family vacation meant exploring national parks and semi-preparedly venturing out for modest, multi-day, backpacking trips. Although I am certain I gave my parents an earful when I was fatigued or needed to re-wrap a blister, I remember catching the outdoor bug early on.
Winter hiking with my elder two
My enthusiasm for outdoor adventuring began in middle school. Specifically, before our family’s inaugural backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park. I recall piling into the family minivan to shop for some basic gear at this massive warehouse, filled top to bottom with products meant to keep us safe and comfortable on the trail. We probably spent the bulk of my family’s savings that day on warm sleeping bags, foam sleeping pads, lightweight tents, packs, our first bright orange plastic trowel (which us kids giggled about the need for), freeze-dried food, even a classic candle lantern. It was toward the end of the day, as we were loading our new gear into the van, that I remember feeling drunk off anticipation for the upcoming adventure. The idea of carrying a few days’ worth of provisions on one’s back and heading into the wilderness spoke to this deep, internal need for a connection to nature.
Not surprisingly, backpacking and exploring national parks led to my most treasured memories growing up. I savored the time outdoors, the gorgeous settings, and the undistracted attention of my parents. No one in the family was particularly experienced in hiking or backpacking, but as we explored various parks, we excitedly learned skills such as how to pack light, manage bear encounters, cook a tasty meal on the Whisperlite, and filter water. Looking back, I find it remarkable that my parents were able to master outdoor preparedness, kids in tow, without REI courses, google, or a relevant Facebook group (like All Women All Trails!) to troubleshoot their questions and fears.
The first time my oldest spied “mounts!” on a trip to Colorado
Unfortunately, it’s been an embarrassing length of time since I’ve had an adventure along the lines of what I experienced growing up. I’m now in my mid-thirties and just gave birth to my third child, a precious little girl with doughy cheeks and a melt-your-heart smile. I am over-the-moon in love with my children, ranging in age from 5 months to 6 years, but kids inevitably make outdoor adventures more challenging. Newborns need diapers, kids want to be carried, and the number of snacks one needs to pack along for “I’m hungry” requests can feel overwhelming.
Yet, despite the challenges, I ache for more time on the trail than what we’re currently achieving. As an outdoorsy woman, packing the kids up for an occasional local trail walk is not enough to satisfy my need to explore. Therefore, as 2018 came to a close, I found myself imagining the upcoming year and what a more intentional, adventuring lifestyle might look like for a family with three young children.
New Hampshire’s Whites!
It was in this mindset that I pulled out my journal a few weeks ago. In addition to a love for hiking, I’m also an avid journal keeper. I’m not always disciplined about daily entries, but I process most effectively through writing and creativity. More recently, I’ve being filling journal pages with small paintings and doodles as an additional means to explore my inner thoughts. Therefore, in considering my 2019 intentions, I opted to crack open my water colors and paint an outdoorsy scene as a means to inspire creative thoughts on what family adventuring might look like.
Mind you, I’m no artist. In fact, I received this first set of watercolors just a week prior as a Christmas gift. But painting a rustic, imperfect piece helped me feel connected to this evolving goal for my family. As the page dried I thought, what if I declared 2019 as The Year of Adventure? Having recently delivered a baby, it made no logical sense (new parents often feel housebound), but I wondered, perhaps, if in making a concrete declaration I’d be more inclined to push through the challenges and find a way?
So, with Sharpie pen in hand, I scribbled my intention as a banner across my artwork, “2019: The Year of Adventure!” Crafting this simple piece felt akin to placing a stake in the ground. I was reclaiming the desires of my heart and also my passion to introduce my kids to the wonders of the wilderness.
The watercolor that inspired my upcoming year
It is one thing to think big ideas, even paint up a clever declaration, but quite another to pursue one’s ideas with intent. To facilitate this pursuit, I’ve been jotting goals and devising concrete plans for adventure in the pages of my journal. Although I yearn for my brood to experience the back, backcountry, my eagerness exceeds my ability, and quite frankly, my energy, at this stage of life. Thankfully, adventuring does not need to involve a sabbatical from work and leading the kids through the PCT. It might not even mean a long weekend of backpacking. Instead, my year of adventure means developing attainable, but exciting outdoor goals that both myself, and the kids, can get giddy about.
Practically, I’d like to plan a couple of big trips but also make space for small, weekly adventures on local trail systems. Residing in the northeast US, I’m contemplating a road trip to Acadia for day hikes and exploration. This summer we have a wedding to go to in Colorado so it also feels attainable to extend the trip for some quality mountain time in the Rockies. I won’t be gearing up the kids to summit a 14er, but there are surely some moderate hikes in the area that could give everyone a small taste of the mountains. I’m also (eagerly!) anticipating taking my six-year-old on a handful of “big kid” hikes in NH’s Whites so he can experience the intense satisfaction that comes with a difficult summit. Perhaps even an overnight on the trail? Time will tell! On weeks where we don’t have trips planned, and the weather is amenable, my goal is weekly jaunts on local trails.
My tiny two-week old “peak bagger” on her first hike
I’m not naïve to the reality that adventuring will be hard. Certainly it will take planning, and commitment, to get everyone outfitted and on a trail. Further, there may be days where the weather doesn’t cooperate or that I overestimate what the kids are capable of. But the struggle, undoubtedly, will be worth it. Worth it like the time my preschooler found a tiny frog trailside that caused her to shriek with delight. Worth it like the time my eldest marveled at the wonder of “mounts” the first time he spied an expansive mountain range. Worth it like the (many!) times my newborn slept peacefully in the crisp, damp-earth-air, while being front carried in her Baby Bjorn for walks in the woods.
I’m excited for 2019! I’m ready to tackle the inevitable challenges, and savor the good stuff, that comes with family adventuring. There will be diapers to pack along, afternoon naps to accommodate, and avoiding trails with steep terrain so the littles don’t lose their footing, but 2019 – here we go! Bring on the year of adventure!
Follow my new Instagram, @journaloutdoors, if you’d like to follow my artful journaling and 2019 adventures. It’s going to be a great year!
Day hiking with three on local trails