Book Review: Before They’re Gone by Michael Lanza

Front Cover

If your summer has been like mine, and hiking isn’t happening with the frequency you’d hoped, you probably shouldn’t read this book.  It will create jealousy and sadness.  This great account of hiking with kids in America’s beautiful national parks will leave you desperate for a hike — TODAY!

In just one year, Mr. Lanza hiked with his 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter to locations in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier National Park, Joshua Tree National Monument, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, the Everglades, Glacier Bay in Alaska, Mount Rainier National Park and the Olympic coast.  This book, half climate-change warning, half hiking journal, speaks to a desire most people have– to share the things they love with the people they love.  Unfortunately, many of the things we love, including the national parks, are endangered by global climate change.  While Mr. Lanza speaks very definitely about the way climate change is and will effect some of the world’s most beautiful places, he also talks about the wonderful character growth kids experience with frequent exposure to natural places.

Although the places they visited were probably among the most beautiful and unique in the world, many share one problem in fitting in with my hiking plans:  too many people.  Hiking in a line to see Upper Yosemite Falls doesn’t sound like a way I want to spend a day.  In fact, we spent a recent holiday hiking with many other people, and while I am glad to see others out enjoying nature, I have a hard time enjoying my day with that much noise around.  The time for me to see those wonderful sights will have be a time when no one else is around (I think I’m going to be waiting a long time.)  In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy more pristine (if less beautiful) areas without the company of crowds.

My favorite parts of this book were his details about hiking with his children.  Hearing his children try to decide which was their favorite trip must have made him so happy.  I feel similarly when my kids are making top 10 lists of their favorite hikes.  In a world where so many kids have no exposure to nature and no love of the outdoors, hearing them express their feelings is delightful.  Of course, no one loves the exertion and effort of hiking all the time, and this is reflected in his children as well.  I laughed over his “potty break” to put a little distance between him and his (stationary) children so that he could calm down after listening to the kids complain and bicker.  And his advice about feeding them often is something we’ve put to use in the last couple hikes to good effect.

I hope you find this book and read it.  You’ll enjoy it.  Have you read any good hiking books lately?  Please leave me a comment.

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3 Secrets to Backpacking with Kids

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  • No pressure.
  • Destination.
  • Motivation.

The three secrets to a great backpacking trip with kids are really no different than the secrets to a hike or even great daily living with kids.  Keeping these secrets in mind, you can plan a great trip with your family.

1.  No pressure.  Remember that hurrying takes the joy away from any project.  If your lives are too hectic to schedule in a backpacking trip, wait longer.  Pushing ahead to do something you really don’t have time for will only make everyone unhappy.  Sometimes work, school, or other commitments require the days you really wanted to spend in the back country.  Release them gracefully, and move on to planning at a time which is better for everyone.

Another place to ease up on the pressure is on the amount of ground you are able to cover.  When hiking by ourselves, my husband and I like to keep moving, but the kids enjoy time in camp to explore, build “houses” and relax.  Keeping our mileage goals realistic helps everyone to have a good time.

2.  Destination.  Destination is everything in a hike with kids.  They don’t want to head out for a certain number of miles, or until they feel tired (this could happen in the first 10 feet!)  A waterfall, a great place to climb on the rocks, a lake, or even a certain view, helps kids to keep going cheerfully.  Try to research your trail well enough to find that sort of a location for your kids to hike toward, and the payoff is happier kids.

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3.  Motivation.  Pack your motivation in your pack in the form of sweet and salty snacks to be consumed at set times along the trail.  Pack your motivation in your packs in the form of a special food or card game to be used at camp.  Boost motivation from the start by helping kids plan the destination and length of the trip.

Follow these secrets, and you too can have a great trip with your kids of any age.  Do you know another backpacking with kids secret?  Please leave me a comment.

Backpacking with Kids — Naturalist Basin, Uintas 2013

Our first backpacking trip of the season finally happened last weekend.  Although we had planned two other weekends earlier in the year, one was foiled by cold weather, and another by too busy schedule.  We were so excited to make this trip finally happen.

We went into the Naturalist Basin area of the Uintas, starting up the Highline trail just past Mirror Lake.  This was the first year Lucy carried a backpacking pack with her sleeping bag and clothes in it.  She weighs about 80 pounds, and we gave her 10 pounds to carry — a good start, we thought.  She did so fabulous, we couldn’t even believe it.  No complaining at all.  In fact, the view we had of Lulu and Max for most of the trip was just their backs as they led us along the trail.

lulu and max leading the way

We made sure of the more important things . . . Max was well stocked with sugary treats.

max with nerdsWe woke up on Saturday morning with a little buck patrolling our camp site.

two point buck in campWe also spotted this beautiful bird, who was not shy at all, but showed off to get his picture taken.  We think he is a pine grosbeak.

unidentified red headed birdThe wild flowers were fabulous this year.  We climbed to high meadows in the basin and enjoyed the view before having a quick snowball fight in July.

view from blue lake

The only problem we encountered at all was the mosquitos — huge as horses and swarming to carry us off alive at our second campsite, we scurried for home early in the morning because movement was the only was to avoid them.  A good time was had by all, and after a quick wipe-off and change of clothes at the car, we were ready to buy our “reward” hamburgers in Park City.

Have you been backpacking this summer?  Where is your favorite spot to go with kids?  Please leave me a comment.