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our first time

2014 June 2
by Rachel Turiel


We took the kids on their first backpacking trip last weekend. And it was just like that — our decades-old notion of backpacking colliding with little people who would squeeze entertainment from a tube if they could. In a ponderosa-oak forest. For 24 hours. Dan and I used to come to this spot every spring, just a quickie backpack, to greet the new season, to renew our vows to the San Juan Mountain backcountry. To eat wild candytuft, onions, chimaya; to smell ponderosa bark and oregon grape flowers.

This trip brought to light all the disparities between adults and children. Rose was shocked that there weren’t multiple clothes changes available, or at least a few shoe options. I am relieved to dial down the choices inherent to modern life in America. Dan and I like the quiet contemplation of being in nature, a place where your wholeness is reflected back to you. (In fact, being free to simply think uninterrupted thoughts is my new favorite psychedelic experience). The kids like to run and shriek.

I am happy to lean up against the sweet-scented bark of a ponderosa and engage all my senses. The kids need to move their bodies as if recharging batteries. I am soothed by plugging into the network of plant ecosystems. The kids like the tangibility of something in their hands. I am comforted to be reminded of my smallness within the wild forces of the universe. The kids want to throw rock after rock to see their influence on the world.

It makes you wonder about the evolutionary pairing of these two age groups.

The swallows appear at twilight, dipping and soaring, cliff-diving in the watery-purple sky. I watch silently, reverently, filled with gratitude for being here, for being part of a larger whole and…

“You brought this toothpaste?” An aggrieved voice asks.

(In the morning, it will be my own voice asking nervously, “we brought this?” wondering in what universe we decided to leave the coffee at home and bring green tea).

For the kids there were treasure hunts and the reading of the dubiously-literary mystery series Cam Jansen (which the kids inexplicably love). For the adults there were fifteen minute solo pilgrimages to fetch water from a rancher’s ditch meandering through US Forest land (which we loved). Which is to say, somehow, we all got what we need. And next trip, Rose can carry as many pairs of shoes as she can stuff in her pack.

Snapshots from our first family backpacking trip:

:: Col agrees to carry his pack and Rose’s pack for the last 1/2 mile. I bite my tongue because their sibling karma is none of my business. 


:: The oddity of this: Col (who I’d been telling myself just isn’t interested in writing), brought a 5-chapter story he spontaneously wrote the night before (a chapter being 5 sentences) for me to edit. We spent a deliriously exciting hour under the tarp evaluating sentences, plot and word choice. (By the way, I edit professionally and I am available for hire as an editor for most any writing project you have. Good rates and excellent references).


We all slept under this tarp.

:: Wild onions:


:: Dinner, in which there is one choice. Notable: bok choi holds up very well in a backpack.


:: While picking nettles along a creek, all of us debating just how long a sting lasts from a live nettles plant, I look up, see a bear, a very large bear, and because I can’t quite connect my brain with my mouth, start babbling: over there, across the creek, everyone, look, that’s a…a very large bear!


This chocolate-colored black bear was not at all alarmed by our presence. It did decide, in a very relaxed, no-need-to-hurry, way that it would turn away from the creek and head back into the trees. It ambled, in the skin-flappingest, blubber-waddlingest way, across the meadow, stopping every now and then to glance at us. We watched, breathless and silent, until the last sight of brown fur disappeared into the oaks.


One seriously handsome bear.

:: Nettles, back home, ready for a sizzling pan of oil.


Our kind friends, who are maybe wondering if their kids are ready for backpacking, all asked how it went when we returned. Truth? Motherfreaking hard, but will we try again this summer? Oh, yes.




23 Responses leave one →
  1. Danielle G permalink
    June 2, 2014

    darn, i thought you were going to say it wasn’t so hard. we’ve been taking our for 1 mile in type backpacking trips since they were 6 months old, but it does not seem to be getting any easier. ours are littler than yours still and i keep hoping. still completely worthwhile, but man…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      You know, it *was* hard, but I think a lot of it was:
      a) the unknown. Next time, they’ll know more of what to expect. (Even by the 2nd day, the engagement was higher).
      b) we didn’t bring any of their “stuff.” I think next time we could make room for some more books, art supplies, playing cards…shoes?

  2. David permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I think that Adella and Rose would have a fine time comparing, sharing, and discussing shoes!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      Oh yes. Rose is offering mentorships for younger girls in the art of shoe collection, glitter glue make up, stickers are (almost) better than money, endless repetitive singing of the Frozen soundtrack.

  3. June 2, 2014

    Dear Rose, that’s exactly my problem with backpacking too – not enough shoe options.

  4. Susan S permalink
    June 2, 2014

    Allow me to attest to the professionalness and utter fabulousness of Rachel’s editing skills. She is a kind reader, not so gentle as to be ineffective, but not bruisingly brutal, either. She’s a 100% in-your-corner mentor. I’ve had editing sessions with others where I came away feeling like I’d had an emotional root canal. Not so with Rachel. After both of Rachel’s editing sessions, I found myself thinking, “Dang! I got this!” Yes, indeedy. Worth it at twice the price, no kiddin’. Plus–I don’t know whether or not this is a standard part of Rachel’s editing package–but when I received the printout of my story with Rachel’s comments in the margin, I discovered that Col had drawn an original masterpiece on the last page. By far, one of the best snail mail packages I’ve ever received. If you want a kind, objective, reading of your work and some advice on how to make it even better than it already is, shoot Rachel an email. She’s the best!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      Thanks, Susan. You’re in *my* corner!

  5. mollie permalink
    June 2, 2014

    “In fact, being free to simply think uninterrupted thoughts is my new favorite psychedelic experience”

    Oh yes. I get this.

  6. Elliesee permalink
    June 2, 2014

    I would have died at the sight of a bear, but mostly, I love nettles on rice salad!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      Hate to say it, but there were scarier things than that bear on this trip. We love nettles in eggs.

  7. June 2, 2014

    Yes, backpacking with kids is intense and draining and hard, but oh so rewarding at the same time. That’s why we keep doing it again and again…

  8. Ellie permalink
    June 2, 2014


    I’d love to know what exact parts were “hard.” We’re contemplating venturing out this summer with our 4- and 8-year old. We just did a three day car-camping trip, one of half dozen so far, and it is hard but so much fun. Backpacking, though?…I’ve yet to wrap my mind around it. Also, how do bear and tarp reconcile? No worries the bear might come back at night and just crawl under and snuggle with all of you?…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      Car camping has always been so much fun for us too. Honestly, what was hard was that Rose was incredibly resistant to virtually everything. She likes a lot of entertainment, fun, excitement, sensory pleasure, friends, and there was a lot of quiet, space, waiting, walking. Col was fine with it all. And I think knowing what we now know, we’d do it differently next time. We’d consider bringing a friend for Rose, or more likely more stuff she can *do.* We’re also working as a family on raising our comfort levels with quiet, space, waiting, walking, so that we know how to feel full and whole even when it doesn’t seem like a lot is happening.

      • Rachel Turiel permalink
        June 2, 2014

        Also, I just keep telling myself as I’m falling asleep under the tarp: all the animals are in their own area.

  9. Andrea permalink
    June 2, 2014

    holy fucking bear!
    what a delightful gift from the universe.
    i mean, there is no better example of “part of a larger whole and…”

    who packs toothpaste for a one nighter?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 2, 2014

      Apparently, the people who DON’T bring the coffee. Lesson learned. The hard way.

  10. June 3, 2014

    “I am comforted to be reminded of my smallness within the wild forces of the universe. The kids want to throw rock after rock to see their influence on the world.” nicely put. so glad you got to take them!

  11. June 3, 2014

    There are a couple of families backpacking the AT right now…now sure how they do it, but their kids seem to be trucking along quite well! The Tougas and Kallin families are the two I know of, but I think there is at least one more.

  12. June 4, 2014

    How great. Love that blubbery bear! Cool! and Yikes! We’re taking our kids on their 1st backpacking trip later this summer, if all goes well (here in the land of reservations and lean-tos and you can’t just set off into the wilderness any old time you feel like it because it’s all used up). Keeping my fingers crossed for success, because I want to go on a Very Big backpacking trip next year.

  13. June 4, 2014

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  14. June 4, 2014

    Nettle stings, I got one once and only once when I decided to see if what I had found was indeed nettles. It effing hurts! And the stabbing pain is there for a good half a day or more. But holy moly are they yummy to eat!

    I so look forward to the day we can go backpacking again. With my girls being 2 and 4 right now it will be a while I think.

  15. June 6, 2014

    This post makes me yen for camping so bad! We haven’t gone in over a year, save for a few nights of sleeping in a tent at an event in the high desert, and I’m dying to go 0ut and space out. I think it’s awesome of you to take the kids, though I’m sure, a little nerve wrecking ;) Have you read “The Last Child In The Woods”?

  16. June 17, 2014

    Rachel, I haven’t visited your blog in far too long! I linked from your guest post at Simple Homeschool. Looks like life keeps moving forward in the healthiest and loveliest of ways. Backpacking with kids…wonderful!
    Warmly, Nicola
    (of, formerly Which Name?)

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