Like Father like Son

So how did I start backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, camping, caving, etc.. The short answer, my Dad. As a kid I struggled with Dyslexia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Asthma, add in very poor vision / depth perception, and you can imagine how much fun I had at school. At my lowest points my dad would pack my gear, check me out of class, and take me camping . Say what you will, but I learned more on those trips then I did watching Sesame Street in a Special Education department. Why did the cookie monster never swallow even the smallest morsel of cookie? Was he cursed to fiend for cookies like a crack addict, devour them voraciously, yet never be nourished? A Sesame Street version of Tantalus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantalus

I still don’t know if my dad had a master plan, or if he was playing the “fake it till you make it” approach, either way it worked.  It’s hard to be obsessive when the only thing to eat is chilli topped with cheese wiz warmed in the can. Starting a fire is sort of important when you are cold and wet, there really isn’t time for counting each stick and organizing them into categories of width and length.

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Those trips became “our thing“, other fathers and sons went to ball games, we went camping. There were those random beers while fishing at the ripe old age of 14, the occasional cigar, what mom didn’t know didn’t hurt us.The best trip of my life, the apex of absolute backpacking frozen snotsicle failure would find dad and I upon a serious of trails in Blanchard Springs Arkansas. The weather forecast showed an unusual Winter front approaching,…but how bad could it be?

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Upon the trail head it seemed the forecast  was wrong again, perfect backpacking weather. Putting in some miles we set up for the night. About 3am the rain started and it never stopped. I’m pretty sure Moses came by that night looking for two animals, we were too delirious and frozen to help. Sleet hail, and freezing rain poured down on us till the trail became a stream, the valleys became flooded, and we became Popsicles. Steam rolled from under our Ponchos but when we stopped our teeth began to chatter. Soaked to the bone we pushed on. The low trail was lost to the rain. For a few days we worked the ridge line looking for a way back.

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Planes continually flew over, I assumed we were near a small airport which didn’t show on our map. It never crossed our minds that these planes were searching for us. As we tracked our way back into the park the ranger seemed more excited to see us than we were to sit in his heated office, which says a lot. That night we rented a room in town, defrosted, nursed wounds, and ate a hot meal. The next morning the snow was over 3 foot deep. Like the fools we are we tracked back into the park, after endless snowball fights  we managed to convince a “snowed-in” park ranger to take us on a wild cave tour.

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This trip became my benchmark for adventure. The difficulty, cold, coupled with the joking, sneak snow ball attacks, and stupid decisions forever changed me. My dad had once again somehow taught me a life lesson without ever saying a word. Dad and I later decided that whoever lives longest has to take the others ashes upon one last great trip. A journey of absolute adventure spreading a bit of ashes along the way, but saving the last bit for that ridge-line in Arkansas.

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Happy Fathers Day to all those dads who care enough, or to those moms who have had to take on both roles. May your trail always lead to adventure, your compass point to wonder, your flask never run dry, and your campfire be surrounded by laughter.

9 thoughts on “Like Father like Son

  • I loved reading this personal post about you and your dad’s camping trips. My daughter has dyslexia and that alone was enough for kids back then to find school a bit of a nightmare, so I can understand how difficult it must have been for you with the added problems. We were fortunate in that she did not have to go to school as we lived in remote regions of Australia so I taught her at home. My daughter benefited by not having to fit in with a classroom of kids and we spent many hours enjoying the outdoors. I firmly believe that many lessons are learnt by time spent in nature. I credit part of my daughter’s talent at learning uni level anatomy from her contact and observations with living and dead creatures. I’m glad you had a father who knew what you needed and just did it. What great memories. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. 🙂

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  • Great write up! I enjoyed this read. What a great Dad… Not all of us have/had them. I am a stepmom/ second parent to a teenage daughter. We have recently decided to start hiking and backpacking together. She and I don’t always get along but whenever she and I are out of the house shopping or whatever then we have no problems, so I expect being out in nature (something she and I both enjoy) will help us bond. Sometimes it’s the seemingly little things that make the biggest impression — as it did with you and your Dad. Hooray!

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    • The little things are magic. Small kind words, gentleness in the face of brutality, honesty to lies. These are things which change the world. In the end when all is done and finished there will be love. This remains, it saves, it offers hope, it is as a beacon of light in the dark. Even a attempt is more than most have ever seen. Truly may this trail you are upon lead to love, authenticity, and peace. The teenage years were a rough terrain for Dad and I, but he stayed the path. He was my best man at my wedding, he is my friend.

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  • A great post down memory lane :). I guess some of us (me included) are lucky enough to have been immersed in the wilderness as a part of growing up, in such a way as to make it seep into your soul without you knowing. I too, thank my parents for taking us 5 kids camping wherever the road led to, and often without much of a plan. Those experiences have definitely helped shape me into who I am today, and forged my love of nature. Thanks for your recount of something that clearly shaped you into who you are today 🙂 Leah

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  • What an epic adventure! I have wonderful memories with my Dad canoeing, sailing, picking blueberries on remote islands in Georgian Bay (Ontario) where we have a cottage on our own island. In turn, when my kids were teens, I’d take them out of school for “snow days” and we’d go snowboarding ❤️

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    • It sounds like you had a wonderful childhood, and in turn you are sharing that childhood with your children. It makes me sad that so few kids are experiencing nature. We take so many first timers camping who in their 20s and 30s, thy never realized how wonderful it is to be away from all the distractions hidden in a wild place. So glad you are sharing this with your children.

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  • That’s awesome. My dad never liked camping and that stuck, I never liked it either 😉 though as an adolescent I learned to endure it for the sake of awesome holidays. By now I’m fine with it, at least if it isn’t raining…
    But climbing on things? Yeah, totally enabled by my parents (who didn’t call us back when we were high up in the trees even if they were scared to death we might fall out).

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