40 Days on the AT with a Baby: The Takeaways [Part III]
The following is a guest post courtesy of Katie Guillemette (full bio at the bottom). Get caught up with part two, On the Trail.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail with a baby was an incredible experience! As we look back, there are many things that made it possible, safe, and fun. During the planning stage, we did a ton of research and as a result, we were able to test, adapt and learn even more once we were on the trail. As we contemplate our next adventure, we are reminded of six guiding principles that enabled us to succeed and enjoy our journey, and which we want to share with any hikers hoping to take their little one(s) along.
1) Be adequately prepared
Don’t be fooled. Taking a baby into the woods is very unconventional in our North-American culture (I picture many concerned parents nodding here), so there is no need to be reckless about it and scare the grandparents out of their minds. This is not a trip for free spirits, following the sound of the wind. In reality, there is no room for an “everything is going to figure itself out” kind of attitude when you have a little human being in your care. The better prepared you are, the more freedom you will have to adjust to situations as they arise. If you missed the article on how we planned this trip, you can look it up in our previous posts.
2) Examine your motivations
Take the time to ask yourself why you want to do this. Don’t take your kid out in the wilderness simply to prove a point or for the sake of doing something unconventional (as if hiking the AT wasn’t unconventional enough!). Don’t do it to impress your single friends who assume your “fun-life” was over the moment you got pregnant. I can guarantee that the opinion of others will be of no help when you are tired and have a hungry baby on your hands in the middle of nowhere. And don’t do it simply to show off that you are still cool. This project should not be used in any way to boost your ego. Uncover your motivations and talk them through with your partner in the early stages of the project.
3) Write down your objectives
For us, it came down to these two:
First, have fun. This meant taking time off work and away from our busy lives to spend (intense) quality time together, get to know our growing daughter, and do the things we love: hike, camp, gaze at the stars, contemplate the beauty of nature.
Second, Be transformed. This meant embarking on a pilgrimage on the AT as a metaphor for the journey of a family through life. As we overcame the hardships of the trail, we wanted to enjoy relationships over material possessions, find joy in simple pleasures, reflect in prayer, applause the views, let the beauty of nature sink in, and be transformed through the laughter and tears.
As we prepared and journeyed along the AT, we used these objectives as a compass when we had to make decisions, and as a good reminder when we needed encouragement.
4) Manage your expectations
On the hike, baby will continue to grow, her appetite and moods will shift just like at home, and she will need to adapt to the new routine, just like you. In our case, Liv adopted the new routine quickly and knew what to expect. For instance, when we were packing up the tent, she would wait in her carrier knowing that she would soon be rocked to sleep on my back.
Don’t expect to grow hiking legs and hiking hunger until a few weeks in! Beating your record of mileage per day is really irrelevant. At some point, you will most likely decide to diverge from the white blaze for a couple of miles, or take more days off than you planned to. It’s all part of the adventure. Make decisions and set goals that are realistic for you, and remember that everything else is accessory. My advice when setting your daily goal is to choose between time and destination. If the day is going to be hot and you think it would be suitable to stop by 1pm to relax in the shade during the afternoon, plan your day around that, and choose your campsite accordingly. If however your goal is to reach a certain shelter because it will align better with the next resupply, then take your time! You have all day to get there, take longer breaks if you feel like it. That being said, depending on how the day goes, it is okay to NOT reach your goal, especially if it can prevent exhaustion, injury, or a grumpy mood. Don’t try to push your limits. While on the trail, your priorities should be to stay fit so you can attend to your baby’s needs, to save a comfortable level of energy and to remain in high spirits for those moments when things don’t go according to plan.
5) Be mindful of community
First, be considerate of other hikers For instance, we decided that we would carry a tent rather than use shelters so as not to wake up other hikers with a crying baby. In addition, respect that not everybody will understand why you are hiking with a baby. Along the way, you will most likely encounter three types of thru-hikers. First, the ones that will completely ignore you, they are on a mission to Katahdin. Then, there will be a few who are bluntly annoyed with you, just because you are there and your baby is somehow diminishing their accomplishment (?!). Finally, there are the friendly, curious, encouraging people. Thankfully, most hikers fall into this category and this is what makes community on the AT worth gold. Your limitations and personal choices should never prevent you from being friendly. Remember why you are there, and whenever possible, apply a good dose of humor to all situations.
6) Do it
Strong relationships are built by sharing meaningful experiences. Create the opportunities. What a most beautiful setting to do so than nature?
Bio: My name is Katie, 31, mother of baby girl Liv, born in August 2014. On a week day, you can see me in a suit and high heels, as a manager in IT consulting, but on the weekends you will find me under a layer of merino fabric and in hiking shoes, somewhere out there. In 2013, my husband and I, started a non-profit that leads groups on wilderness pilgrimages (www.randodupelerin.org). Hiking has always been a big part of our lives, since our very first date… wearing snowshoes (very sexy). In May 2015, we hiked a 415 km section of the AT with Liv on my back. It is to date our most epic hiking trip ever (www.quarantejours.com). We live in Montreal Canada where we get to enjoy all seasons of camping and hiking, even the Canadian winter!
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