Excerpt From “You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby” by Jack McClure

This is a guest post brought to you by Jack McClure. McClure’s new book, You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby, is available now through all major online book retailers.

Following the birth of their daughter, Jack McClure and his wife Alana had every intention of continuing their life of adventure. After an extensive hiking trip in the desert southwest, they found that having a baby with them was no excuse to stay home and dream of adventures that could’ve been. With lofty ambitions, they set their sights on thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico as a family, beginning when their daughter was 9 months old. What followed was a 1,500-mile odyssey filled not only with primeval forests and sweeping mountain vistas but also countless lullabies, hundreds of diaper changes, and innumerable tears shed.

Sparking warmth and inspiration, You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby paints a vivid picture of the joys and numerous stressors of one family’s experience raising an infant on their terms, all while hiking 20 miles a day for months on end, in a journey that challenges them every step of the way.

The following is excerpted with permission from You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby by Jack McClure.

Excerpt From Chapter 12: Into Oregon

Certain moments on the trail reminded me of a story from the book Kabloona, which details the fifteen months the French adventurer Gontran de Poncins spent living with the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic in the late 1930s. The author quickly discovered the many cultural differences, a distinction defined by one event during a hunting trip with a group of Inuit. After traveling with the group for multiple days from the village, de Poncins was looking forward to getting back before a storm arrived. Yet the group had different ideas. A few miles away, they decided to stop their dog teams, start making tea, and set up camp for a night or two. The author stomped and howled. Town was right there! They could basically see it! They could beat the storm! Why didn’t they just continue? But the Inuit were content to just be where they were, not obsessed with some destination or goal.

The West is explicitly results-, destination-, and goal-oriented, and the trail mindset often serves as an extension of this. Questions like “How many miles to the next water source? The next camp? The next resupply?” can create a sense of urgency, in which one is focused on some future destination rather than the present moment.

Babies, however, have the gift of not yet being indoctrinated by the dominant culture. So with that, Din served as an antidote to our often destination-oriented and frantic ways. One day in Oregon we had a long water carry, needing to travel 19.5 miles between sources. The day was hot and much of it was spent in a recent burn, so we wanted to move quickly to avoid dehydration. But Din had other ideas, fussing in the pack for a couple of miles and refusing to be consoled by the usual jerky, rock, or medley of songs. We decided to stop in a rare spot of shade beneath a small stand of live trees to see if she wanted to sleep. She didn’t, so instead we played for an hour, mimicking each other’s sounds and throwing around broken pine branches. Under similar circumstances on a different day, we hiked off-trail to a nearby lake and splashed away in the shallows, Din just as happy as could be. Refreshed, we carried on—just 30 minutes later, after only a slight delay. Neither moment required us to forge on at some hellish pace, and in fact we easily made up the “lost” time. By stopping and focusing on the present, we had found joy. At least for the moment, we had found enough.

Excerpt From Chapter 15: Northern California

Near the halfway point of our journey, at Sierra City, California, we took a break to head off-trail for a few days and join friends for a reunion of sorts in the Mojave Desert. On the way down, we soaked in hot springs, filled ourselves with food, and enjoyed great company. The rest of our break would lead to more of the same — time spent with friends, chatting and hanging out around a bonfire under a night sky with countless stars.

Despite taking a few days off from the trail, we found that we still weren’t recovering nor did we feel fully rested. On-trail or off-trail, our problems were mainly the result of not getting adequate sleep. Off-trail, we’d engage in less physical activity, but that was often counteracted by worse sleep for Din, presumably from being in a new environment. As a result, even when we took “breaks,” we would return to the PCT feeling even more tired. Sleep became our one focus and the determining factor for how each day would go, but unfortunately it was also the factor over which we had the least control. My journal during the trip reflects that, with most of the entries talking about hoping for sleep or lamenting poor sleep from the night before:

August 29: “…Practiced walking with Din between us back and forth before bed. Quite a few other people nearby on the creek. Away from the creek we have company, too. Some deer walking around making noise behind our camp. Hopefully they let us sleep.”

Aug 31: “Dragging my feet all morning. Dead tired and my shoulder was bothering me. I think I slept in 30-min stretches. Din was up frequently, and then there was another deer crashing around camp…”

September 6: “…Din struggling to go to sleep, screaming and crying, so I took her to the lake outlet to stare at the water, which calmed her down. Still a struggle but down at last.”

September 7: “Cry, cry, and cry some more. Din was nearly inconsolable throughout the night and into the morning…”

September 15: “Din woke up at 10 p.m. last night just screaming on top of my chest. Alana took her and tried feeding her, but she wouldn’t take it. A few minutes of confusion, and then she settled down after we took her jacket off. It was the theme for the night and the rest of the day. Upset and bothered about something, but we can’t figure out what. Maybe a wonder week?…”

We’d get immensely frustrated at night as a result, just wishing for some continuous rest. But the trip and confined quarters accentuated Din’s poor sleep, and after two months on-trail, we’d only had one night during which we slept more than three hours in a row. Yet come morning or midday, Din would win us over once more, playing with us, babbling away in her pack, and exclaiming, “Yee, yee, YUH!” over and over again. We were dead tired yet couldn’t help but smile.

Fortunately, time on the trail generally got easier. Din became more comfortable in the pack later in the day, and there were even a few days when we found ourselves racing sunset with her still mostly content. However, there were still difficult days and moments when she was fussing and we still had to continue, either out of desire to set ourselves up or there not being any water and/or campsites nearby. In these situations, I would resort to carrying Din in my arms instead of trying to calm her down in the pack. She would stop crying and fussing immediately, and become very excited. We would walk down the trail mimicking each other’s noises, waving at random things as I tried to make her laugh. These were possibly my favorite moments on-trail, and sometimes I wished we could have hiked the whole PCT this way. The farthest I had managed was 5.5 miles. I wondered half-seriously whether my arms would be strong enough for a whole day’s worth of carrying by the time we reached the desert.

It wasn’t until we were well past the halfway point that we learned how truly different our hike was compared to everyone else’s. One night we were camping with our friend Vista, who emerged from her tent around 9 p.m. to tell us about the George Foreman documentary she’d just watched. What?! People were watching movies? Turns out, it was far more common than we thought. In town, people would download movies and TV shows, watching them sporadically throughout each section. What a life! While they watched sitcoms and movies, our nightly entertainment was me singing a rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” fifty-three times to get Din to sleep while Alana dealt with diapers and other chores, before we did our nightly check-in, and maybe—if our heavy eyelids hadn’t slammed shut—wrote in our journals. During the day, while others listened to audiobooks, music, and podcasts as they hiked, our “audiobook” was recounting Dr. Seuss stories from memory, and our songs were our own renditions of lullabies and folk songs like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Over and over and over again.

Get a Copy of You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby

About the Author

Jack McClure is a man with simple tastes, finding fulfillment in North America’s wild spaces. McClure’s writings and photographs have appeared in Alaska Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. He lives in a self-built home in Northern Alaska with his wife and daughter. You Carry the Tent, I’ll Carry the Baby is his first book.

Follow McClure on Instagram @jackmcclure24 or at his website, animaltreks.com

All images, including featured image, courtesy of Jack McClure.

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