A Mom and Her Kids: A First Backpacking Trip

There once was a single mother, out of shape, with some extra pounds, tired, and ragged. Yep. That was me in 2009. I had more to-do list than time to do it. It’s not a unique story. But I had these kids. 6 of them. I adored them and my time with them. I loved traveling and adventuring with them. We hiked and went camping as often as we could. And they joined scouts. It was hard work, but it was a very good fit for our outdoorsy, adventurous lifestyle as a family. The scout troop went backpacking and was preparing a group for Philmont, the BIG scout backpacking trip in New Mexico. It’s about 75 miles long. Even if scouts weren’t going to Philmont, they could and were encouraged to go on weekend backpacking prep trips. That meant lots of backpacks and lots of gear - 4 kids’ worth. It took me a LOT of time combing through gear and prices and eBay bidding to finally get everything they needed. It wasn’t cheap either. But they went and they fell in love. They wanted to go more often and they wanted to go as a family. My oldest daughter, who has now traveled abroad many times, was the ringleader in the family backpacking trip. They wanted to go so badly, but I was mortally afraid of 2 things - bears and dying of exhaustion. I was really out of shape! I read about bear activity and talked to some of the scout dads who backpacked. I began to feel better. Everyone seemed to think that bears are more afraid of us than we are of them. I doubted that but I began to relax and picture me and my littlest kiddos (5 and 8 years old at the time) in bear country having a lovely sunshiny day. I started to walk in my neighborhood and even ran a few times. Our packs took weeks to put together - we needed 3 more for me and my 2 youngest kids. There are so many details and rules to know. Living in the wilderness and carrying everything on your back is an art form! I wasn’t sure how in the world I was going to get along without any “smellables” like deodorant and lotion and how was I going to live if I had to eat a cold breakfast??? I was used to a big hot breakfast every single morning. That was one thing we always treated ourselves to. I couldn’t imagine a protein bar and a Slim Jim for breakfast!

Our packs were packed, and we spent our last prep day making trail mix and dividing up the food and group gear (like the stove and first-aid kit). We had an official “shakedown” where we took everything out and our Fearless Leader went through it all and eliminated what wasn’t needed or allowed. And we weighed. My pack was 45 pounds with food and water. My oldest son and one of the kid’s friends who was along for the ride had packs weighing in at 65 pounds each. We thought that we were doing pretty good!

The night before we left I had awful dreams about bears and getting lost or losing one of my children. I felt horrible after a fitful night. But the sun came up and we were finally going! We drove to the beautiful mountains of north Georgia. We were going to hike up Blood Mountain and sleep in the shelter at the top. This was part of the Appalachian Trail that we were just learning about. The trail was beautiful and the weather perfect. The 5-year-old had a fanny pack with his little water bottle, goldfish, and gummy bears. He took the lead a few times. He was doing great and wasn’t even winded in the least. None of them were. They were in their element. I was falling further and further behind and we needed more breaks for me. Every time we took a break, the boys would quietly take something out of my pack and put it in theirs to lighten my load. The pack felt heavier and heavier. I was really struggling. By force of my will, I scrambled up a rock face and climbed over a mountainside. I felt very satisfied when we finally got to the shelter in the late afternoon. The kids still weren’t tired and ran a half-mile to the creek and back with fresh water. I was able to sit in the stone cabin ruins (a one-of-a-kind shelter) and decompress. I found a notebook and began to look through it. I now know that it was a logbook and every shelter has one. People leave notes or just sign in to leave a record. As I sat there reading, I found that the shelter had been closed a long while due to aggressive bear activity. It had just recently reopened. I was terrified all over again. My heart was racing and I was sweating. I had to talk myself down by saying what I knew about bears being afraid of humans. We had been very careful in our packing. We would hang our food in a big tree over 100 feet from the cabin. I really had nothing to fear.

Dinner was incredible. Food in the wild tastes so good especially after a tough climb. We made camp by setting up our tents in the cabin. I held my little ones close to me all night and hardly slept. In the morning, we found fresh bear scat just outside the cabin. Because we were diligent in our bear safety practices, we had nothing to fear. We started out in the cool morning mist with our cold breakfast, and I discovered that I loved walking gingerly through the forest nibbling away. The hike down the mountain was less strenuous, beautiful, and filled me with that sense of satisfaction you get after accomplishing something really difficult. I had faced my fears and won. A little birth of something wild was happening in my heart and in my life. I was falling in love with backpacking and trail life. The first night was the most difficult but was one of the most rewarding too. The kids and I went together many times and tweaked our trip plans, food, gear, and wildlife information on every trip.

If you are new to backpacking -Fb group for hikers transitioning to backpacking:

Fight your fears; be informed:

Here is a great site about black bears, safety in bear country, and bear behavior.

Blood Mountain Shelter