How do you make memories that matter? Henry reminisces on the time he took his two year old son on his first proper overnight hike.
I triple checked there were enough nappies and baby wipes in my pack, then confirmed with my partner that I’d indeed packed enough kid snacks to feed a small army. Dinosaur head torch, star gazing app and a micro-library of his favourite Julia Donaldson books. Check.
Slinging my pack into the boot, I kissed Susi goodbye, gave a final ‘we’ll be fiiiine hun’, then clipped Jet into his car seat and roared off into a late Northern Rivers afternoon. Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ blasted from the windows of the X-Trail. It’s fair to say I was a tad excited to be taking my 2 year old on his first overnight camping trip.
We parked at the end of the valley to begin the short but mighty steep ascent. Within 30 seconds of leaving the car, Jet decided enough was enough with this walking malarkey and demanded a seat upon the shoulder throne. Once I’d tossed him up top and swiftly added a wriggly 10kg to my pack weight, the hike began.
Susi and I have given Jet an outdoorsier start in life than most. We relocated from Sydney to a remote cabin in the Byron Hinterland a few weeks after he was born and have raised him a wildling ever since.
We’ve explored Europe, Sri Lanka and New Zealand together, but found equally epic escapes right here on our doorstep (including a dedicated week of back-to-back microadventures).
‘We made a conscious decision to wrap his life in nature and fill his cup with experiences. ‘
If we can raise a curiously minded, happy kid then that would be a job well done, as far as I’m concerned.
The real point I’m attempting to prove to myself here is that whilst adventuring changes significantly once you become a parent, introducing a child to the outdoors offers a wonderfully refreshing and joyous lens that potentially makes adventure even more rewarding.
A father/son camping experience is the stuff most dad’s dream about and with my wife at the bulbous end of our second pregnancy, this trip was a particularly special one for us.
‘Jet and I had hiked and camped once or twice before, but it had never been just us, two blokes and the wild.’
I was soon to crawl back out of the relative safety of the trenches and into the beautiful chaos of another newborn, whilst Jet was about to unwittingly become a big brother.
My jelly dad calves ached as we reached the top of the climb. Sweat stung my eyes and I blinked violently, pausing just in time to see a prize-winning carpet python cross the path a few metres ahead. So much for the watchman on top deck! We took a moment to watch the stunning creature slither away before continuing along the ridgeline to our campsite.
We put up our Blackwolf Mantis tent on a patch of grass with sunset views across the Tweed Valley to Wollumbin (Mt Warning). Jet may have made the process four times longer than it needed to be, but we giggled our way through his attempts to put the poles through the netting and into the ringlets.
We fired up the stove and heated up a pre-made pasta dish, munching it as our campground morphed into a million star camping retreat on the side of a mountain. I did my best to impress him with the stargazing app, but he was way more interested in throwing the spare camera battery into a bush beside the tent.
Parenting is hard work and exhausting at the best of times. You’re always tuned in to potential risks, particularly in environments where lots could go wrong.
‘The alertness is a weight of responsibility that can feel so intimidating pre-adventure that it often puts parents off even starting.’
A combination of the punchy hike and being hyper attuned to not losing my child meant I was absolutely knackered by the time we sank into our sleeping bags. Jet plonked his head on my chest and, once I’d pulled his mop of scraggly hair from my mouth, we started reading under the light of a headlamp.
I felt dribble through my shirt and heard a light snore before the snail had even rallied the villagers to save the beached whale. It had been a big day for him too.
It was only then that I really took stock of how special this moment was. Here I was, sleeping on the side of a mountain, doing what I absolutely love, with a dribbly-mouthed boy who happens to be my own flesh and blood. Despite my life being wrapped in an adult veil of mortgage, family and running a business, I’m still just a dribbly kid myself.
But look at us! Two boys in the bush, one with a heart bursting with pride and contentedness, one sleeping soundly in the armpit nook of the other.
Will this memory become an anchor for our future adventures together? I begin to wonder what misadventures we’ll get up to in the years to come. Bikepacking across Scotland? Driving across the US in an RV?
‘I’d love to climb a proper mountain with him one day. Maybe he’ll be the one lugging me up it. Man I hope we spend more nights in a tent together.’
My mind drifted further into sepia-toned daydreams as I passed out.
In the morning we went peak bagging in pajamas and Jet threw my head torch into the bush. Conveniently, it landed right next to the camera battery from the previous night, so I found both in one hit. Score!
We walked back to the car with grins on our faces, passing an older couple who were coming the other way.
‘Wait, did you guys sleep up there last night?’ he enquired. ‘You’re starting ‘em young mate!’
Damn right we are buddy, damn right we are.
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