Getting That Toddler to Hike!

DSC02782You know that feeling when you are so excited to hit the trails?  You have everything planned out, everyone is all ready to go, the weather is perfect…and then the toddler decides it is one of those days.  The type of day where her feet must never touch the ground.  I love the snuggles, but Boo weighs over 30 lbs now.  That means 35+ lbs of baby, pack, water, stuff (babies require a lot of stuff).  Hiking like this gets exhausting…and painful…and quite a bit less fun.  I’m not saying I won’t carry her at all, it would just be nice if she’d carry her own weight from time to time, ya know?  So, my tip to get a toddler to hit the trail?  Props!

#1 – Boo’s top pick for toddler hiking gear – A hiking pole just like Mommy’s!  We have Black Diamond hiking poles.  They adjust with a simple clip, so it is super easy to break them down to Boo size!

#2 – Her very own digital camera!  I take a lot of pictures and Boo has finally noticed.  That means she steals my camera to take pictures and I am out of luck.  We ordered her a Nerf digital camera from Amazon for $10.  We ordered this exact product and got something that looks quite different, but we are quite impressed with the camera (and never even noticed the differences until just now!), so we never filed a complaint.  Seriously – this thing even has a video camera!

Most of her pictures are as expected, but occasionally she surprises me!  It is interesting to see things from the viewpoint of a 2 year old!

#3 – Kid-friendly binoculars!  This one is similar to the camera, but just different enough to keep her interested!  These were gifted to her, but there are many reasonable options on Amazon.

We also have a cheapo Dollar Tree magnifying glass ready to go, but we have never made it that far through the list!

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My Favorite Feeding-On-The-Go Products

As a traveling family, feeding on the go is a given.  What we look for in these products is function, ease of use, and size.  All of these products have been thoroughly road-tested by us and proven to be effective and dependable!  Read on to learn more about our top picks!

DSC00584Innobaby Packin’ SMART Stackables.  I was given a 5-tier stackable at my baby shower and I love it!  The tower is customizable, so I can use as many or as few tiers as I want.  I actually have yet to use all 5 tiers at the same time.  Each tier has a removeable pour spout, so they are easy to fill and easy to clean.  The tower is fairly skinny too, so it fits really well in a diaper bag.  It seems to keep things pretty fresh, so we always have snacks on hand when we need them!  We haven’t used this in awhile (because she eats a lot more than this!), but it was fantastic from 6 months to a year!

DSC00227Neat Solutions Sili-Stick Table Topper.  This placemat is great!  My goal was to find something that packed small for the diaper bag and provided a nice clean surface for Boo to eat on.  This particular place mat isn’t sticky really…more like grippy.  That means it doesn’t slide on most table surfaces and is a little more difficult for the baby to flip over than your standard place mat.  They are also easy to clean and inexpensive!  Sounds like a win all around!

A spill proof snack cup.  I really hesitated buying one of these because it is just one more thing to add to that never ending list of baby stuff.  I bought this one at the Dollar Tree (and it has surprisingly lasted 9 months so far!) as a spur of the moment thing before our last trip as more of an entertainment thing than a snack thing.  Boo loves it!  She thinks it is so much fun to jam her hand in and take out snacks (or pom poms or whatever).  About that spill proof thing…it might be spill proof, but when chubby little baby hands try to grab a handful of snacks, nothing can stop the mess!  At 20 months, she can now fill it herself and put the lid back on!

Inglesina Fast Table Chair with optional tray.  When looking for a high chair for camping, we wanted one that packed nicely, worked with any unknown picnic table, was reliably safe, and cleaned up nicely.  This high chair meets most of these requirements.  My one slight complaint is the cleaning thing.  This is a fabric high chair, so it doesn’t just wipe down.  It can, however, be thrown in a washing machine, which is nice!  Basically we can only spot clean while camping, but it gets a nice deep clean when we get home.  That fabric part is necessary to make it packable, so we were willing to bend on the cleaning thing.  I really like that it is easy to install on every picnic table we’ve tried!  Furthermore, if we are eating in the same place for several meals, we will leave the arms attached to the table and stash the chair part in the car in between meals.

The Original Squeeze with Eeeze.  This is our current favorite product.  We use it at least once daily…sometimes 3 or 4 times!  I found this older style on clearance at Target several months ago and have since bought the newer style as well.  This refillable squeeze pouch is awesome because it stands on its own for filling, has a wide mouth for pouring, cleans easily, and is super easy for toddlers to figure out!  The 4 ounce size is perfect for yogurt!  The company is awesome to work with, too!  My one complaint would be the screw top.  Sometimes it is difficult to get the threads to line up nicely for a good fit.  This is better on the newer version, but we still have issues sometimes.  The Original Squeeze comes with two different spout types: 6+ months and 2+ years.  The 2+ years version (“With Eeeze”) was the one I found on clearance and our 16 month old had no trouble figuring it out!  Love, love, love this thing!

I’m sure this list will keep growing and evolving as Boo gets older (and more awesome products hit the market), but we have been quite pleased with our experiences thus far!

I Bought My Kid a Leash.

DSC01896Along with every other decision in the parenting world, parents walking their children around on leashes get judged.  “Why are you treating your child like a dog?”  Or “Stop being lazy and just watch your kid!”  Or even “You shouldn’t have children if you can’t handle them.”  You know the sort.  Anyhow, I bought my kid a leash.

Boo is a toddler.  This joyful time in life comes with many positives, but there are also new, challenging waters to navigate.  By definition, toddlers can walk, but 100%, accident-free walking is still a ways off.  Let me put it this way: Boo is clumsy.  She is also a little defiant sometimes – if she is in a grumpy mood, or really can’t resist whatever it is she wants to do, or sometimes just because she thinks it’s funny.  And fear of heights?  Apparently that doesn’t kick in until later.  Toddlers have no concept of mortality.

In my post about conquering McAfee’s Knob, I wrote about the difficulties of hiking with a toddler.  They want to walk, but sometimes it just isn’t safe to let them.  For instance, we frequently find ourselves in this type of situation.  Not exactly toddler friendly.DSC01006

Anyhow, I am all about giving Boo some freedom, allowing her to explore her world, and burn off some excess energy (Read more about that here), but in the hiking world, sometimes complete freedom really isn’t a great idea.  I cringe at the idea of Boo tripping over her own feet and falling off a mountain.  Or racing to the edge of a cliff in a moment of defiance.  Yeah, I don’t even want to think about it.

So now we have a leash.  After a lot of hunting around (and realizing that toddler rock climbing harnesses are difficult to find AND out of my price range), we chose the Zicac Toddler Safety Harness.  I like that this harness is very adjustable, uses buckles (instead of velcro) to fasten, and has a detachable leash.  As a bonus, we chose the frog harness (which happens to come in a not-so-subtle shade of florescent green) making Boo easier to see if the need ever arises (you just never know).DSC01897

We have yet to actually use the leash because we haven’t needed to, but we want her to consider the harness as part of her regular hiking gear.  She seems to be adjusting just fine!

So, my take on toddler leashes?  If it gives your toddler some freedom and yourself a little peace of mind, I’m all for it!

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Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park

DSC00369Pardon my French – or more specifically my Frenglish (Get it?).  I don’t actually speak French.  Thanks to various mini-immersion experiences throughout my life, I am comfortable hearing and seeing the language.  Basically, I can find my way around and maybe even order food in a butchered attempt at the language (at least I try!), but I cannot really speak the language.  My husband is currently in school to be a French teacher – following in his Mama’s footsteps!  Until this past summer, he had never actually been to a french-speaking country or heard native speakers outside of a classroom.

Last summer was a big deal for my husband.  He was separating from the military for the third (and hopefully final!) time AND he finally finished his Associate’s Degree almost 20 years after starting it!  He actually had the opportunity to request vacation time without having to use it for National Guard duty and I was determined to make it a good one.  We blocked off a chunk of time back in February, got the extended family on board (all of mine with the exception of the busy Veterinarians), and started dreaming!

You know those people who book their vacations a year in advance and have everything planned down to the minute, including restaurant reservations?  This is not us.  Growing up, last-minute vacations were not uncommon.  I remember calling my grandmother from Florida to let her know we weren’t home.  Or spending a month touring the West when we really only intended to go backpacking in the Tetons.

Same deal with Summer Vacation 2015.  Over the next several months, we planned out many different vacations – Camping in the Adirondacks, Roadtripping through the Midwest, Houseboating in Minnesota, Exploring Bruce Peninsula…

About a week before we left, we finally chose a destination – National Parc du Fjord-du-Saguenay in (French-speaking!) Quebec.  Good thing we got our passports in order months earlier – you know, just in case!  By the way, trying to get an 8 month old baby to take an acceptable passport photo is definitely a challenge!

Here was the itinerary:

Day 1: Drive from Roanoke, VA to Littleton, NH (12 hour direct drive – took us 17 with the baby)

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Day 2: Hike Mt. Washington – up the Ammonoosuc, down the Jewell Trail.  We almost made it to the treeline before turning back due to dangerous hiking conditions with babies (slippery rocks from the thunderstorm the night before and an impending storm).  For the record, hiking down the Ammonoosuc with a top-heavy baby backpack is terrifying.  I actually have no pictures from this day.  I was too busy trying not to die.  Trust me though, it was beautiful!

Day 3: Cross the border and drive to Quebec City.  We made a last minute decision to spend most of the day at Lost River Gorge – loved it!  Also no pictures of the Gorge, but it was really fun!  (4 hour direct drive – felt like it took forever)

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Day 4: Explore Quebec City.  We happened upon a Plein Air Art Festival and a fantastic street band – Les Bleu Pelouse!

Day 5: Explore the surrounding area.  We picked raspberries on Ile d’Orleans and toured Canyon Sainte-Anne.

Day 6: Drive to National Parc du Fjord-du-Saguenay.  Celebrated Boo’s first birthday in our own style – on a grand adventure with $50 pick-your-own raspberries on a store-bought flan…no fancy themes, smash cakes, and expensive photo shoots here!  (Google says 3 hours.  I would say 10…easily.)

Day 7: Drive to Tadoussac for the whale watching (didn’t see any).  Hike through Baie-Sainte-Marguerite to see the belugas (didn’t see any).  Apparently this is the wrong season for whales here. (2 hour drive time – each way)

Day 8: Hike La Statue Trail at Baie-Eternitie (This is where we camped).  What a surprisingly challenging hike!  You make it all the way to the top and then there are about a thousand steps to actually reach the statue.  Well worth it because of the view.  Too bad it was pouring down rain by the time we got there!

Day 9: Start the trek home and make it as far as Watertown, New York. (8 hour direct drive – took us longer because we got lost in Quebec City.)

Day 10: Made it home.  Decided I should start a blog about roadtripping with babies – I am pretty familiar with the topic by now. (9 hour direct drive)

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This place was amazing!  Everything I wanted from this vacation.  Something new (for everyone!), French language immersion (I had forgotten exactly how much French was spoken in Quebec), and we actually got to leave the country for the first time in 9 years (has it really been that long?!).  I would absolutely go back – but hopefully with more time to explore!

Here are some things I learned about this trip:

  1. Cell phones do not work in Canada without an international plan…unless you happen to be driving along 401, which parallels the border.
  2. GPS (Garmin) doesn’t work either.  My brother-in law hacked ours so we would have something, but it looked like we were off-roading the entire time!
  3. Canada is really big and driving distances are much longer than they seem.
  4. Rest stops are amazing!  Clean, educated and bilingual personnel, kitchen access, private rooms for nursing moms…I could go on.
  5. The weather really wasn’t what I was expecting.  Quebec City was ridiculously hot and it rained regularly in Saguenay (like 4:00 every day…and then some).

So why I am posting this now?  We just chose our dates for Summer Vacation 2016 and we have absolutely no idea where we are going!  I can’t wait to see where we end up!

Taking on McAfee Knob

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I know I just got finished saying “never hike alone,” but hear me out!  Around the time Boo turned a year old (and had already been camping and hiking all over the east coast), I was getting ready to head back to school as a full-time teacher and part-time Master’s student.  After spending every moment of the summer months with my sweet little girl, I was devastated to trade her in for 150 teenagers.  I was determined to spend the weekends making up for this devastation.  That’s when I came across this article about Morgan Brechler.  This woman takes her daughter on adventures (by herself) every weekend!  I was inspired.

Now growing up, my parents had drilled into my head that I should never go hiking alone.  If you get injured, there is nobody to seek help or provide assistance.  There is also the concern of wildlife.  One person alone is less likely to scare off wildlife (although this can be a good thing, too).  And finally, it seems as though there are an awful lot of unsavory sorts of people out and about these days.  All of this is important and should not be taken lightly, but my husband works weekends and I have yet to find a local hiking crew.  So…stay home, be scared of the world, and miss out on adventure?  Or take a risk?

I decided to take a risk.  I spend a lot of time researching before I choose a hike.  I am hiking solo, not particularly in shape, and carrying a toddler.  I need hikes that are relatively easy, do not include rock scrambles, and are quite popular.  My theory here is that I may be hiking by myself, but I’m not actually hiking alone.  Get it?  I don’t know…I guess it makes sense to me.  Lucky for me, I live near Virginia Tech and those students are always hitting the trails!

DSC01007So how did we end up on McAfee Knob?  This is not a particularly difficult hike by itself, but it is supposed to lead to the most photographed spot on the entire Appalachian Trail (It has a 270-degree view).  Must be worth it, right?  I was in a desperate need to reset my adventure-o-meter and a good look-off works every time.  I was super excited to take on the challenge!

Boo and I packed a bunch of warm clothes (It was November after all!), a lunch, and we hit the road.  Our hiking gear lives in the trunk of my car – for easy getaways just like this one.  It was a long 20 minute drive to the trail head – No kidding…I live 20 minutes from this apparently gorgeous panoramic view and I had never made the trip?!

DSC01016We decided to take the fire trail to ease the trek a bit. (Read: We missed the turn off for the Appalachian Trail because it was covered in leaves and I am terrible with directions.  Whatever.)  Turns out the fire trail has some pretty awesome rock formations – Remember, half of this trip is for the Boo and looking at cool stuff like this is definitely a perk for her!

Somehow, we made it to the look-off and it was absolutely gorgeous!  1,010% worth it!  (Yes, I am a math teacher.  I’ll use impossible percentages for emphasis purposes if I want!)

“Most photographed spot” means “covered in people” – which, in turn, means lots of people around to take a picture of the solo hiker and her papoose!  Yay!

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We could sit at home waiting for Husband…or we could experience this.

Alright, so now we get to the part about how I didn’t think through the whole baby-on-a-cliff thing.  I had been trekking uphill, by myself, with 30 pounds of baby and gear on my back.  I was in need of a rest from the pack…but that pack was a toddler without fears of heights or steep drop-offs.  There was no way I was taking that pack off anywhere near the cliff.  Sooo…we spent about 5 minutes actually enjoying the fruits of our labor before backtracking to find a safe, flat area to take a break.

DSC01009This safe, flat area was actually covered in bear warnings, but here’s a little info about bears around here.  In southwest Virginia, we have black bears.  Of course they are wild animals, but they are typically happy to mind their own existence as long as you mind yours.  So the 30+ people just up the trail?  Yeah, that bear is not interested.  Not to mention, these bears are actually quite noisy stomping through the underbrush.  Under a watchful eye, I felt pretty secure in allowing Boo a little time to explore.

The trek down was largely uneventful until about mile 6.  At this point we both hit a wall.  I was exhausted and Boo was tired of sitting.  Unfortunately, we still had a little more than a mile and a half left.  DSC00999This is part of that whole “if you walk in, you have to walk back out” business I was talking about in my Hiking Tips Post.  I was by myself and unless Boo and I were going to live out the rest of our days on the fire trail to McAfee Knob (which really doesn’t sound all that displeasing), I was going to have to walk us out.  One foot in front of the other, working through sheer exhaustion and taking frequent breaks for the (now fussy) toddler, we finally made it out – just before dusk.  Whew!

Now, what did I learn from that trip…

  1. DSC00991Distance – Neither Boo or myself were ready to take on quite that distance with a baby in a carrier 100% of the time.  I am thinking about trying some sort of toddler climbing harness, so I can tether her to me just in case she decides to walk a little too close to the edge (we were walking on a ridge with drops on either side).  Until I find a solution, Boo and I will be choosing flatter or shorter hikes.  {Edit:  I found a solution!  You can read about it here!}
  2. Temperature – While it did not seem too cold, it was definitely too cold for an immobile toddler.  I have now purchased warmer layering clothes for her (performance long underwear and wool socks), but diaper changes are definitely an issue.  Stripping a baby down to her delicates in colder weather was not something I thought about before leaving.  This is another vote for shorter hikes while she is still in diapers.  Although taking a bathroom break in the woods still requires a bare bottom…
  3. Timing – While researching this hike, people talk about completing it in less than 4 hours.  We finished it in about 6.  We left the parking lot around 10, so I thought we had plenty of time, but just like everything else, hiking with a toddler just takes longer.  They require more stops and longer stops.  We were dangerously close to hiking in the dark, which would definitely be less than desirable.  (Although there are plenty of people who enjoy the view from McAfee at night.)

Anyhow, we did it!  I am extremely proud of our accomplishment, but we will not be taking on a solo hike that intense again until she is a little older, I think.  It was nice to feel hardcore for a moment in time.

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7 Tips for Hiking with a Baby

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Mt Washington circa 1991-ish.  That’s me in the back with the bandana.  I was 8-ish.

In my family, hiking is just something we do.  A lot.  If we are on vacation, we are taking some sort of hike (usually several!).  As a child, I was game for a hike – the more adventurous, the better – but, I have not always enjoyed hiking.  I went through a difficult teenager stage that lasted well into my twenties.  I was only interested in hiking if it was really worth it – a gorgeous vista or an amazing waterfall.  Even then I used to think that once you had seen one waterfall, you’d seen them all.  Like I said, I was “difficult” – “an idiot” might even work here.

Anyhow, at some point hiking and I got to be good friends.  It might have something to do with this little girl I am now tasked with raising.  Or maybe I finally realized that every waterfall has its own story to tell.  Or perhaps I decided that exercise is a lot more appealing in the great outdoors.  In any case, we hike – My whole extended family, my tiny nuclear family, just the baby and I – We hike.

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I told you I love that Boba Carrier!

My daughter was 3 weeks old for her first hike (and so tiny!).  Actually, it was our first major escape from the house since she was born.  This short, one-mile hike taught us a lot.  We learned exactly how much stuff a newborn requires, how to nurse in public, and how important (and difficult) it is to make sure no stray tree branches accidentally scratch that sweet little baby.

We have really refined our hiking-with-a-baby skills and knowledge since this first hike.  Read our 7 tips below to find out how we hit the trails!

    1. Proper gear is essential.  Not using good quality gear means pain, potential for injury, and general misery while hiking…all things that make returning to the trail seem undesirable (sad face).  I highly recommend the Osprey Poco Plus for any type of hiking with older babies and a soft structured carrier (we like the Boba 3G) for newborns and light hikes with older babies.  Make sure you read the manual for properly fitting your carrier and try it out before you start your hike!
    2. Proper gear for mom and dad (and anyone else joining in) is also important!  So, let’s talk boots!  Maybe you can find some nice cheap deals for clearance boots at your local shoe store, but my feet (and I would imagine most people’s) are not that generic.  Keep in mind that you are going to be carrying an extra 10, 20, 30 lbs on those feet!  I highly recommend getting your feet sized – by the same sort of people that wear those boots!  I’m talking about an outdoor specialty store – REI, LLBean, etc.  You know the type!  These people know how to get a good fit because they understand the importance of a good fit first hand! They might even throw in a life-changing lacing strategy if you’re lucky!  Trust me on this one…I’ve finished a hike barefoot because my boots were not team players!
    3. Layers…for everyone!  I almost always hike in layers.  You start out chilly, getall that blood running and take off some layers, and then put them back on when you get to that cold, windy peak!  Layers are awesome.  Baby needs layers, too.  That adorable little one doesn’t get the benefit of blood pumping warmth, so don’t be afraid to dress him in long underwear, wool socks, a hat and gloves when you are wearing shorts.  Just make sure you check his comfort frequently so you can adjust layers as needed!  Be sure to research your hike in advance and choose appropriate layers for the season, weather, and altitude.  DSC01006*Another quick note about clothing.  Boo is wearing leggings, socks, leg warmers, fleece lined pants, and sneakers in this picture.  Her feet and legs were still cold and we have since adjusted our game (lightweight long underwear and wool socks!).  Be careful!  Babies can get frostbite easily!*DSC01009.jpg
    4. Take explore breaks!  If your baby is old enough, let them get out and crawl or walk around.  This is a chance for your miniature hiker to really get out and experience nature hands-on style!  Choose your breaks carefully and keep an eye out for unfriendly wildlife, plants, and terrain!
    5. Be realistic about the hikes you choose.  You are carrying quite a bit of extra weight on your back.  Make sure you are prepared for the chosen distance and terrain.  Just remember, there is no magic “End Hike Now” button.  You started that hike, you will have to finish it!
    6. Feed that baby!  If your adventurer is still a nursling, this is super easy!  Just find a comfy rock/log/patch of moss (you’re going to be there awhile) and enjoy the privacy that nature provides!  Or if you are super talented (or choose a good carrier), you can just nurse on the go!
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      Snacks on the go!

      If your baby is eating solids, don’t forget to pack some non-refrigerated, finger foods!  Our favorites are cheese chunks, crackers, summer sausage chunks, fruit snack packs (packed in 100% juice), BelVita Breakfast Bites, Goldfish…you get the idea!  Oh and don’t forget water!  Teaching your baby to drink out of your water bottle or reservoir ups the convenience factor!

    7. Dog poop bags make excellent on-the-go diaper disposal bags!  Most hikes don’t have convenient trash cans along the trail, so you will need to pack out all of your trash.  If your baby is still diaper-bound, you will likely have 1 or 2 dirty diapers making that trip with you.  Dog poo bags do a great job of containing the #2 stink!  They also make the whole carrying-around-dirty-diapers thing slightly more tolerable.

Other than all of that, I would say follow standard hiking safety rules!  Don’t get stuck out in the dark (Make sure you leave early enough to complete your whole trip – unless you are planning on camping out!).  Don’t get stuck out in bad weather (thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, etc.).  Don’t hike alone (hiking companions can help with accidental injury, unruly wildlife, and unsavory people).

Babies naturally love the outdoors – help them develop a lifelong love!

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