I remember my first lesson in LNT. It was with my girl scout troop. We were down at the beach at a local park and the troupe leader had setup an object on the table up by the play area. I can’t remember what the object was, a really cool rock or a feather or a crab shell, but there it was right in the middle of the table. The troupe leader told us to look at it very carefully, from every side and angle, to commit it to memory and appreciate it, and then to leave it where it was, without touching it or messing it up. She said this was something called Leave No Trace, and that when we went on hikes as a group we could look at things and take pictures of them but we shouldn’t touch them or take them from their home. That troupe leader was my mom.
Of course that was only a very basic intro into LNT but there was so much more to come. She was the one who organized and took us on our first camping trips with the girl scout troupe and as a family. Every summer the troupe would do one camping trip to somewhere near the ocean and my family would do one camping trip, often to Ft Flagler in Port Townsend, WA. These trips were car camping at its best. I remember vividly our old red canvas tent that she would set up, complete with a comfy full sized air mattress and a rouge earwig or two. She would cook meals on an old coleman white gas stove, which we still have. After dinner we were all in charge of washing dishes in three separate bins, first one was filled with hot sudsy water, second one was a hot rinse, last one was a cold bleach. I would repeat this process years later when I worked for ACE. She created the hand washing station, which had a golf tee as a plug and a single nylon with a bar of soap in the end of it. Those trips were all about exploring small towns and climbing trees and participating in sand castle building competitions and games of sardines.
We weren’t an outdoorsy family by any means, but my mom made sure we knew some things about nature, that we went on hikes, that our road trips involved camping, and that we went somewhere every summer.
I stayed marginally outdoorsy all through high school and college, hiking here and there, but it wasn’t until ACE that I truly got deep into backpacking. For work we car camped every day and on our days off we ditched the cars and wandered into the woods with nothing but a backpack on. I don’t know what my descriptions of these trips were igniting in my mom but they must have done something. Something must have been bubbling just bellow the surface of her desires all along because when Kyle and I announced that we were going to hike the AT she tentatively announced that she would like to come join us for a short section. She went on her first ever overnight backpacking trip in order to prepare for a week on the AT. And then she and a friend, Arlene, came out and joined us.
Something else I have always known about my mom is that she has a paralyzing and real fear of heights. Like the kind that gives you vertigo. Sometimes she would let her imagination run away with her. I remember on a summer road trip to Colorado she put Nelson and I in charge of finding a place to camp that night somewhere in Eastern Oregon. We poured over a map and found a place called Anthony Lakes that looked like it had camping and declared we would go there. My mom got one glimpse of the curvy looking line that was the road on the map and started to freak out. She really doesn’t like driving next to cliffs. The road itself ended up not being that bad, but she still covered her eyes most of the way up. For many people this debilitating fear of heights would stop their dreams of hiking right in their tracks but not my mother.
Many people think it is impossible to change, that the older you get the more set in your ways you are, that turning over a new leaf can’t happen. My mom disproves that a million times over. This is a woman who had never backpacked in her life and she decided she was going to go on her first backpacking trip at the age of 50. She went from the occasional hike to a hike a week and heading her own hiking group. This last summer her and a group of women (who deemed themselves the Wonder Women) did half the Wonderland Trail and plan to finish the other half this summer (I think they could have easily done the whole thing). Every summer she gets a campground somewhere in Washington for a week and does day hikes in the surrounding area every day. She wants to join us on the PCT. She and I hike together during the week to train. And she is still scared of heights. But she is fighting it because she has found something that she loves doing and she isn’t going to let something like that get in the way.
My mom is an inspiration to me. Her willingness to pick up something new with so much passion and abandon lets me know that you never have to settle in life or stop exploring your own possibilities. I am extremely proud of her and excited to continue hiking with her for years to come. I love you mom, happy birthday.
PS When I originally wrote this post I spelled girl scout troop, troupe. Egads! What was I thinking. Am I French? I have fixed it. But seriously. Who wants to edit all my posts for free…