When you become a family known for doing a lot of camping and backpacking the same question comes up often. “How did you get started?” There are always the comments from people about how they are waiting for their kids to get older, for money to be saved to invest in the right gear, and there are many that make a sour face while we answer their questions about our trips exclaiming “THAT SOUNDS AWFUL!” But, by and large, most people are always curious to find out what our jumping off point was since neither of us grew up backpacking and our childhood car camping experiences were more glamping than camping.
As a family, we have been camping since I was pregnant and got back into it when Maddie was around two. Once you own the gear it is the cheapest way to get away for a weekend and have a vacation. Our gear was nothing more than what you buy at target and we would get our $6/night pass and drive two hours to a lake off a dirt road outside of globe, az. It wasn’t much, but it was something we could all do outside of our little apartment.
When we moved back to southern California we began winter camping in the desert with friends who were the type where bringing chairs was almost too fru fru. This challenged us to become more mindful with what we packed over the years and may have pushed them to bring some non-essentials as well. We were car camping after all! This gave us many opportunities to try out gear to find what worked, upgrade to a bigger tent (which was way too big, I still have it, and Greg hates taking it anywhere,) and to realize that our dog is most certainly not cut out for hiking.
Fast forward to finding the blog on Scrambler and Balls who hiked the PCT together as a father and daughter team and later went on to do the AT, CDT, and other trails. I was intrigued as I worked on pushing myself to let go as a parent and encourage my child to take risks. Maddie was intrigued too and had me read the whole blog to her. I remember her sitting there curled up at around nine years old as I read post after post to her, Greg behind us in the kitchen making dinner, while she looked up at me and talked about how we should hike the PCT too.
I laughed. I told her how expensive the gear was as none of our equipment was light enough and it takes a ton of supplies we don’t have. I told her how hard it would be as you have to carry everything. I could foresee it as any kid who wanted to start a sport where you have to invest in all sorts of money on gear just to have them play for a few weeks and quit… I laughed it off and told her we would have to stick to car camping and maybe one day if she wanted to when she went off at college, she could.
I looked at her and listened to all my excuses and then thought… why couldn’t we. Why couldn’t we go on family adventures together to see things we couldn’t get to by car and have those memories forever. How after the investment of gear, the actual trips are cheap for a family of three and we could do more vacations for a substantial amount less than traveling traditionally. Oh, the age-old nagging question of, what if…?
Slowly we accumulated backpacks, backpacking tents, and real sleeping bags – the ones from target are not real. Side Note: If you have one with flannel lining – it is not real. If you have the cheap Coleman 50 degree bags, they are not real. The day you slip into a real sleeping bag and actually realize how wonderful they can be – you are screwed for the rest of your life and will never be able to look at a sleeping bag under $200 (if you are lucky to find a good one on sale.)
Because I’m type A, I researched like a mad woman. Everyone has an opinion on EVERYTHING in the backpacking communities and they all seem to contradict each other. What works great for one person is terrible for the next. What one person would never dream of carrying, the next person can’t live without. Thus, because we didn’t know what was important to us and were on a budget still scared that we would never go again, we invested in a lot of the wrong gear that was either a good deal but much too heavy and not compactible or in gear we thought we needed but was actually something we could absolutely live without.
We left for our first trip the day after Thanksgiving in 2016 and drove up to the Gabriel mountains. It wasn’t a disaster but due to weather and bear activity, it was cut short. It was incredibly challenging. And we talked about it for months after without planning another trip.
In 2017 I found myself laid off with some time on my hands and a wonderful sister willing to do a 6-10 day trip despite having never backpacked before in her life. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done (apparently, I chose one of the hardest sections of the PCT… whoops). But I was hooked and was now committed that one day I would do all of it at once.
We went on another trip in 2018 back to the loop we had attempted on our first trip. We completed it despite bear encounters, privies closed by the health department, and a grotesque amount of graffiti as it is so close to the city of Los Angeles. Maddie who had grown more into her pack and kicked butt this time around expanded her 1 backpacking trip per year quota as she said we deserved a do-over with more nature and being able to just go to the bathrooms in the woods.
Because we can’t ever do anything easy, I picked to do a hike in the Eastern Sierras that we had done as a challenging day hike a few years back. This time we would carry it all with us and had the intention to go all the way to the seventh lake. We did upgrade our tents and sleeping bags to some of the best on the market that saved us lbs we had to carry and also allowed for much easier packing.
It was beautiful with its crazy summer thunder and lightning storms, the abundance of deer (dubbed forever more Deer TV), and epic lake views. At one point after Maddie and I were sharing a tent to ride out an afternoon thunderstorm she elbowed me exclaiming “oh my gosh!” I immediately sat up worried it was a bear, still a little traumatized after the last trip. She pulled me to look out over the lake and said, “look at the sunset, it is so beautiful with the lake and mountains!”
We are no longer beginners but it has taken a long time and we are by far still no expert. Some people do their first backpacking trip on a thru-hike, others go on shorter trips for years but never do a thru-hike. The internet makes it so much easier than it used to be to learn about info but can also be overwhelming. When starting out, take as much time as you need to research and evaluate, ask questions, and most importantly – just go out there and try it!