Monday, October 17, 2011

Hiking the OT: Lessons learned

Back in "the day", I remember hiking always being a simple affair.   My pack never weighed much more than 20 lbs and that would include fresh foods, often some canned foods, and a small cast iron frying pan.   It still baffles me how I was able to do that.

Fast forward to over ten years and three children later...  Every trip I've taken in the last several years I've also taken my son.  This time, I brought the girls, and one of their friends.  Every trip since those blissful, lightweight days, I've had to learn some lessons.  In the last six years of trips, I've come to appreciate the value of a lightweight pack and a hastily prepared meal, even if it lacks flavor.  But this time, with three little girls in tow, wow: there were lots of lessons to learn!  As every, this blog is for me and me alone so I record my thoughts here to supplement my always strained memory.  But if this helps anyone else out then great!

Lesson #1: It's not enough to prepare the equipment for the kids; you've got to prepare the kids for the equipment.
  Too ill-fitting packs and too much weight and bedeviled us for the first day.  About halfway to our destination, we made some good progress on the fit of each pack, but those were all work-arounds.   Backpacks work by directing the weight of it's contents to a persons hip bones.  None of the hip belts were tight enough for any of the girls!   Fortunately they each brought a hoodie or sweater that could be tied around their waist to help "shim" the belts, but it took some practice to get this down for each one of them.  Also fortunately, the weather didn't turn cool enough that they actually needed to wear these.
  Also I didn't stick close-enough to the 20% rule.   The 20% rule dictates that you don't carry more than 20% of your body weight in your backpack.   While this is a "rule of thumb" for adults, it's an absolute law for the kids!  The 2nd day went much better since we had eaten all of our food and were able to move a lot of the extra weight from the girls packs to my own, which ended up at 40 lbs

Lesson #2: Teaching time was required in advance
  Aside from working the physical details out ahead of time, I should have invested some time with each of the girls during the weeks prior to the trip teaching them about maintaining and using their packs and equipment.  This would've expedited the camp tear-down.
  But more than then how-to's of packing and camping, we should have also spent time talking about team work, facing difficulties and expectations.   A couple of afternoon practice hikes, accompanied by some conversation, would've provided an great teaching platform for this.  Following up with an evening fire and some hot coco or apple cider would be a great finish.
  Expectations should have been established.   For an adventure such as this, the upward-outward-inward model fits.  An appreciation for nature, it's beauties and dangers, as well as what it teaches about the Author of nature directs us upward.  The strengthening of the bonds of friendship through a common experience, shared trials and teamwork directs us outward.  Learning your personal limits and being forced to surpass them teaches us about ourselves.  This understanding would have provided some great context for the kids.

Lesson #3: Responsibilities should have been delegated ahead of time.
Isn't this always a critical point of failure in leadership?!  There was so much to do to prepare that it was quite overwhelming.   There was quite a bit to do at camp also and I had way underutilized my sons abilities.  Practice sessions from Lesson #2 would naturally lend themselves to delegation.   Had the burdens of camp been more thoughtfully identified and shared, our entire second day would have been much easier than it turned out to be.

Lesson #4:  Girls are different
  This is the first trail I ever brought my son on.  It was tough, but he did great and had a great time.  This is the first trail my good friend ever brought his son on, and it went about the same.  For both of our boys, the difficulty of the experience installed confidence in them.   After the trip, they had a feeling of accomplishment.  On this trip, with the older girls, this seems to have been the case; but with the younger ones I'm not as sure.  It will take some time to sort that out- did the difficulty actually act to discourage them?  Or do they just need more moral support than the boys required?  

Lesson #5: More time to prepare
  In order to implement the aforementioned lessons, it would have been necessary to begin planning at least three months prior to the date, and preparations, including the teaching sessions, at least six weeks prior.  During the two weeks prior, as my wife and I were gathering up equipment for everyone, it became painfully obvious we were getting into the game late.   All my previous experiences were inadequate for me to have predicted these lessons-learned.   Experience is, after all, the best teacher.

  There were many positive lessons-learned as well.   The packing list was in good order, thank God!  Had it not been, we might not have been able to have compensated for some of the planning deficiencies.  The time of year was absolutely perfect.  The mileage was right on target for a group like this.   If seen both bad weather and high mileage break down grown men.   A mistake on either of those points would have been catastrophic for this team!  The itinerary was spot-on (we just didn't stick to it on day two!).  My personal pack-weight, while a bit heavier than I preferred, was great.  It included some great meals and accommodated me being able to pick up weight from the girls.  And Lamberts is always a good call.

  The best part, by far, was the team.  The men, including my son, were exceptionally patient through many trying moments and ready to pitch in and help with whatever needed to be done with not a single complaint murmured from them.   At least not to me ;-)  All in all it was a great trip and I'm already excited for the next one.