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Experiencing the Great Outdoors...with a Baby
August 17, 2013

A new mom’s perspective, and advice, by Carrie McMillen

When I first learned I was pregnant in 2010, I wondered how exhausted I would be with a newborn. Or how I would know when she was teething. But the one thing that really had me wondering was whether I’d be the active, outdoors person that I had been for so many years. Since 2005 I’d been going on AMC trips, and even became a Young Members leader in 2008. Hiking, biking and rock climbing were my passions, and I spent most of my free weekends on trips to Vermont and New Hampshire. I had no idea what my life would be like with a newborn, but I did know that I didn’t want to lose my adventurous self nor my connection to the AMC.

I’m happy to report that two years later, after the birth of my daughter, I am still that active person—it’s just that now I’m an active mom. It’s been a gradual process, but I did it through carving out tiny chunks of time to call my own, whether it was a walk in a forest or scaling a rock wall at the gym. I’ll be honest—it wasn’t always easy and much of it has been trial and error. My husband and I decided from the start to do active, outdoorsy things with our daughter, which helped keep me active (to a degree) and outdoors. Early on, this meant relatively simple things like local walks or lying on a blanket under a tree. Then, near the end of summer 2011, we decided to test our adventurousness: we threw a bunch of diapers and gear in the car and took a road trip to AMC’s Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire.

Once there, we figured we would just walk up the trail a bit until our daughter got cranky; amazingly she was fine. Wanting to take full advantage of an opportunity we feared we wouldn’t have again soon, we decided to forge ahead and climb the 2,000 feet to the summit of Mount Cardigan. Looking back, I’m not sure it was the smartest thing to do with an 8 week old, but our logic was foggy with lack of sleep and raging hormones (mine, not his). Thankfully, we also had a bit of luck on our side: the weather was good and we had packed enough diapers, milk, and clothes to last an entire weekend. It was a fortunate thing we were hyper-prepared, because the blanket we threw in came in very handy at the top of the windy summit. And we changed her outfit three times because I took the saying ‘cotton kills’ very seriously and found out it applies to all ages. (Who knew an infant could sweat so much?)

We gained more knowledge and confidence the next summer, after our daughter turned one. We decided to take her on on her first camping trip with the AMC Family Committee, up in Waterville Valley. It ended up that group camping was definitely the way to go with a young one, especially since meals, hike planning, and ad-hoc babysitting were already built in (we were actually able to set up our tent in peace!). It was during this trip that we tried out our new baby backpack—our daughter ended up loving it so much, we did two 4,000 footers later that same summer, some Colorado hikes, as well as several Metrowest mom-baby hikes which I coordinated. All in all, that summer was a great success, especially because we were able to enjoy hiking as a family.

However, the actual camping part of that first group camping trip was another matter. I must admit I was exhausted creating a camp experience with a soon-to-be-toddler. We did do a few things right: we brought a tarp for her to play on, and a bin for bathing. But we also did the unthinkable: worried she might be cold, we woke her in the middle of the night to put extra layers of clothing on her. We had forgotten the mantra of new parents: never wake a sleeping baby (sorry tent neighbors!). In addition to multiple other night wake-ups, she also had dozens of black fly bites all over her head by the next day. The best parental camping advice I got while we were there was to only camp for the number of nights that they are in age. I couldn’t have agreed more—we went home after one night.

Today, we are still figuring it out. And we’ve learned that the only way to figure it out is to keep trying. And so this summer, when she is two years old, we plan to try more hikes and camping. She is at the age where she can run, climb, explore, and verbalize her experiences, so I think our expeditions will be a lot more interesting, both for her and for us. Now that we’ve laid the “outdoors foundation,” I think I’m most excited to see what she can teach me about the outdoors. She already reminds me to be in awe of the small things—ants, spiders, leaves, a worm in the backyard. And in doing so, she is teaching me about patience and joy. So I think my goal for this summer is to truly experience nature through her eyes. That…and to camp for TWO nights in a row.

Carrie is a local mom and active member in AMC's Boston chapter. She lives with her family in Boston MetroWest and enjoys hanging off of rocks, cartooning her travels with her favorite black pen, and baking chocolate chip cookies.

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