I’ve been back in Virginia for a few days and have been telling the Princess all about my backpacking trip on the Long Trail with Whiskers and his students – B3, Toog, Jukebox, Aviator, and Sinatra. She’s encouraging me to write one last blog post to talk about what I learned while spending ten days backpacking with five teenagers so here goes…
1. I really enjoy hiking, backpacking and spending time in the great outdoors. Of all the sports and fitness activities that I have participated in during my life, the physical and mental benefits of hiking ten miles or more per day are by far the greatest. I encourage everyone to consider a backpacking or trekking trip for their next vacation. One or two weeks spent backpacking in the U.S. or trekking in Europe, New Zealand or some other interesting location is a fantastic way to see new places and rejuvenate yourself. If you don’t like camping you can still trek overseas with a small backpack and stay in hostels, eat in cafés and meet interesting like-minded people. Give it a try!
2. Vermont is a beautiful state and I hope to visit again soon. During my Appalachian Trail hike in Vermont in 2013 it rained every day and I was constantly soaking wet. On this recent ten-day trip it rained hard three times at night but only once during the day, and it was just a light rain. The Green Mountains of Vermont are green because they get a lot of rain but from what I can tell late summer and early fall are the ideal times to hike there.
3. Many young people have little or no experience walking in the woods and almost everything about hiking is new to them, so it is important to be patient and explain things in detail and demonstrate what to do. An example is following trail markers to make sure you stay on the right trail. On the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail there are places where side trails branch off and trail markings are unclear. This can cause confusion but there are clues to help you navigate. They can be subtle, such as determining which path has seen more use or noticing a tree limb laid across one of the trails indicating that it is not the main trail. This is an important skill for a novice hiker to learn and it takes time to gain experience and become a proficient trail navigator.
4. I know very little about teen culture – the films, books, music, etc. that they like. We talked a lot while hiking about all kinds of things and I was clueless about much of what they discussed. I’ve never read a Harry Potter book or seen a Harry Potter movie and this is something I need to work on. Interestingly, the students know a lot about pop culture from my college years such as the original Star Wars movie, which came out in 1977, and the B-52’s song ‘Rock Lobster’ from 1978. (The students said that if my trail name was not already ‘Walker’ it would have to be ‘Obi Wan Kenobi’, the wise old man from Star Wars.) As my grandsons get older I will make it a point to read books with them such as the Harry Potter series, or whatever happens to be popular with children their age.
4. I have had first aid training several times during my life but I am not currently first aid certified. When leading a group hiking or backpacking trip it is critical to have current first aid certification, ideally a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. I hope to get the WFR certification in the coming year.
5. As an adult helping to lead a backpacking trip for young people you are responsible for their well-being. I think that I did a lot to help the students learn about packing and carrying a backpack, hiking, campcraft, and enjoying the outdoors. What I did not consider are the legal ramifications of what would happen in the event that someone was hurt during the trip. This is what caused me to leave the program after ten days. I did not have liability insurance to cover myself in the event that one of the students was seriously injured while backpacking. Unfortunately I didn’t address this prior to the trip and only thought of it after a couple of incidents caused me some concern. In the future I will talk to my insurance company and a lawyer to make certain I am protected while leading young people on any sort of outdoor program.
My hike with this group was thoroughly enjoyable and I regret not addressing the liability issue in advance because I would have liked to finish the trip. Whiskers is a remarkable young man and his students are amazing. I know that they will all benefit from this experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a short time with them, get to know them and to help them get started in backpacking and enjoying the great outdoors.
P.S. I recommend a book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods about how important it is for all of us, but especially children, to be able to play freely in the woods. My generation was probably the last to spend a lot of time playing in the woods without adult supervision. Today there are many competing activities for children’s time and we are so concerned with protecting them from harm that we are reluctant to let them out of our sight. Last Child in the Woods has started a movement that is getting children back into natural settings for free play and it seems that there are many positive benefits.