Hiking with Toddlers

30 03 2019

If you are worried about the Camino de Santiago, I would recommend an outing with a 27 month old child in Big Sur. It will make the Camino seem like a cakewalk.

A few weeks ago I took a trip to San Francisco for some rest and relaxation. I’d been working way too much during what us normally for me a quiet winter.

As luck would have it, a friend was finally invited to walk a privately owned area in Big Sur. This 8,000 acre parcel at Big River is only open to scientists and researchers but she had joined the Pacific Grove Museum in the hopes that one day she would be invited to visit. And she was able to have me join her! I was thrilled since B. had also helped me in one of my training walks for the Camino. And I was going to see her little daughter M. who upon our last visit at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was an utter angel. I don’t like kids honestly, but from the moment I held baby M. we had a special bond…

So I was excited. But with my “Camino mind” I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what this trip would be like. This is good practice I found because all along the way you have expectations and most often things do not turn our how you think they will.

I set out from San Francisco super early so I could meet the duo in Salinas, we would drive down together. Upon entering the house I was greeted by baby M. running around naked, their big dog and my friend’s husband thrust a very welcome cup of coffee into my hand while they tried to wrangle the kid into some clothes. This is apparently the stage where everything is “too tight!” And baby screamed and protested, really all she wanted to wear was a pink faux fur vest. Eventually the couple coerced some stretch pants and a shirt on her and then the battle with the car seat began. It reminded me of the Turtle man (“live action!) wrangling a writhing possum. She flailed and screamed as if her father was stabbing her and B. Just looked at me saying, “This is my life. Every. Single. Day.”

I sang to her a bit as her parents desperately tried to find the Choo choo. But it was the Choo Choo (train) book she wanted not he train so there were more tears and frantic searching. After singing a bit she stopped sobbing and once we hit the road she was an angel. It’s so great being a passenger sometimes. I also love driving down winding Highway 1, but it’s relaxing to really be able to look out the window rather than have your eyes peeled on the road and take furtive glances… sometimes the scenery is so mesmerizing I wonder if I could get so caught in its magic that I drive right into the Pacific, Thelma & Louis style.

We had plenty to chat about and soon we pulled into a turnout across the highway from the private parcel of land. The coded gate was opened for us and in we drove, parked and met the other eight or ten people who’d been able to join the walk.

The weather had been frenetic along the way, lots of downpours but I kept envisioning the mists and clouds parting for us and lo and behold they were. Bright sunshine was dappled by the redwoods that still dropped a bit of water from the rain. The area was infused with the fresh smell of that ozonated air and their needles and. Hint of the saline sea so close by.

The group was mostly park managers, scientists and the like, all very smart it seemed as we introduced ourselves but meanwhile a debate was going on in the trunk of the car over the clothes. Baby M. was tearing at her pants and shirt, while one would go on she’d be pulling the other off. This went on for a while as she continued to scream “too tight!” Making it hard to hear the guide introducing the hike.

Eventually we got her distracted enough and she took some interest in some of the people for a moment… but then it was time to put her into the walking pack carrier. Let’s just say it seemed as if B. was torturing her and dropping her into a bag of stinging nettles. The shrieks seemed to shake more raindrops off the trees. The birders of the group clutched their binoculars in terror as every avian creature no doubt shot out of that forest. The Big River was swollen from an incredible amount of rainfall recently and was rushing and flowing loudly and fiercely, but it couldn’t drown out the shrill high pitched sound of her fury. Her face was red and tears streamed down as she kicked and fought, using all the effort of her 30 pounds. This kid was strong! We got her in the pack and got the pack on B.’s back and headed on a few paces behind the group.

I tried the songs again hoping to distract her, and that worked for a second but soon she was writhing out of the straps in the pack threatening to leap off it and pummel onto the ground. We had to stop. Now it was full on tantrum time. She dropped into a pile of mud and once again focused her energy on tearing off her clothing. Shoes, socks, pants and than the diaper all strewn onto the soft damp trail. She wouldn’t go forward and tried to go back to the car. She stood in puddles left by the rain. We tried reasoning with her. B. walked away and I tried to sing with her as I held her hand and walked her barefoot and naked through the trees.

No matter what we did she refused the clothing. Something like “abble” was screamed hundreds of times. An apple was offered and promptly thrown on the ground. B. Begged M. to behave. “Mommy really wanted to come on this hike! She’s been on the waitlist for this for years.” Then she tried threatening, “Mommy is considering leaving you for the condors.” I just stood there in awe. I opted not to become a parent this lifetime. I was trying not to be smug but I was really feeling good about my life choices at that moment. That said I was in it now, there was no way out, I was in this battle alongside my comrade.

Finally a lunchbox was offered and there was utter rage due to the lack of cheese in the metal provision box. “Cheese! Cheese!! Cheese!!!” She wailed. “M. You told me to take the cheese out.”

Negotiations ensued and a half sandwich was offered while the naked baby was hoisted again into the carrier. “Please tell me before you need to pee…” Mom begged.

We tried to strap her in but with her now bare shoulders thrusting against the straps she was hurting herself, her tender skin growing red and angry. If I latched one side she was unlatching the other. So we made her promise to just sit and left her loose in the pack.

We met two of the team at the fork in the trail. . Thankfully they’d waited because this is an unmapped area. Our only other option was to go back to the car but we would not have been able to get out the gate. With no cell service there was no way to let them know if we’d wanted to bail, so we had to keep on going.

Luckily the sandwich distracted her enough for the steep ascent on a narrow and somewhat slippery surface up from 0 to 1000 feet elevation. She liked the scenery and was even laughing and smiling and reached out to give me a hug from her carrier as if she was the best behaved girl on the planet. At the top we all rested looking out on the Pacific to have our lunch and snacks. She sat her bare bum on the bench gazing out on the ocean as we looked for whales. We saw whale spouts off shore moving North on their migration. A few birds even returned so the birders breathed a sigh of relief. Mind you everyone else was in sweaters and windbreakers and such.

After the break clothes were once more offered but to no avail. A diaper luckily was agreed to and baby began the remainder of the walk barefoot on what was now a rocky service road. At a certain point baby decided she needed to be carried, but refused to get in the pack. I had her right leg and shoulder and B. had her left side. We tried to gently wrestle this 30 pound child who was writhing and screaming as if we were taking her to the gallows. With all my effort I could not hold her in there. It crossed my mind for a moment how frustrating a two year old can be and how they could drive you to the edge. I looked at my friend trying to hold it together with a mixture of incredible respect, pity, and amazement. Parenting is not for the faint of heart or will.

I’m 98% sure that if we’d been in public at a mall for example we would have been arrested for child endangerment. Her screams were so blood curdling. We did everything we could but to no avail, and once again we were lagging behind so B. Just picked her up in her arms and carried her in front of her body, The now empty pack on her back and body completely off kilter. Luckily I wasn’t quite as steep or narrow as the ascent , but consider carrying a case of wine in your arms for three miles. She tried to explain to the child how heavy she was and that Mommy couldn’t possibly carry her the entire way but M. was not sympathetic.

We stopped a few times to debate with her and I even took a turn for about 20 minutes. The kid was HEAVY and awkward! I kept telling her to pretend she was a monkey and I was the banana tree. “The banana tree is swaying!! Hold on tight! Cling!” And she’d laugh. She rested her head on my shoulder, meanwhile I was just trying to be sure I didn’t trip and fall and drop her off a cliff or into the rushing rapids next to us.

The dappled sun was fading a bit and baby M. was finally starting to shiver but no clothes would touch her body until we reached the car and she grabbed her beloved pink faux fur vest. The hike ended up to be about six miles and six hours!

We bid adieu to our co-hikers, nice people but they honestly seemed relieved to say farewell. We headed back north, exhausted both mentally and physically.

A stop at Nepenthe, a plate of hot French fries and shrimp BLT and things were looking better. The sparkling Anjou and warm hugs from our friends who work there made for a large sigh of relief as we eased into the atmosphere of that comforting scenic restaurant. Whales in the distance were once more spouting. The best part was the feeling that you get after easing in after a long day’s hike. I had a big smile on my face. It was between the lunch and dinner shift there, mostly empty so it was fine that baby was walking around the tables near the banquette.

B. was engaged in conversation when I noticed a quizzical look as the baby said two words that instill horror in us non-parental types. “Poo poo.” She said quietly… and then repeated it once more.

In disbelief I got B.’s attention. “Um… I think she just said ‘poo poo'” I said. B. finally had a chance to relax so she calmly told baby how if she’d just told us in time then she could have gotten her star and maybe a gummi bear or whatnot and then said, “it’s ok, we are going to take care of it.” But she didn’t immediately jump to the task as she was finishing up her chat. Just to provide confirmation baby M. thrust her a hand into the stretchy leggings and held it in the air as if for a timid high five saying those terrifying words once more…

I backed away from the scene up as if negotiating a hostage situation. “Stay where you are!,” I implored the tot. I tried to create a barrier from the whole situation wielding the burgundy napkin attempting to protect myself from a charging bull. Our friend the manager, had just come over to check on us. I kept the suspect firmly in my sights and muttered from the side of my mouth, “Adam, I think we’ve got a Code Brown.”

Needless to say the day wasn’t exactly as I’d imagined, but the funny thing was it was great. I let almost everything roll past me. I didn’t get hung up on expectations because I didn’t have any. I let life happen and adapted as needed. This is how I try to live daily. Sometimes it is harder than others, and of course I don’t mean to say that you should just let life “happen to you” without intentions and trying to create goals and aspirations, but if you can realize when and where your efforts can be fruitful and when they cannot you’ll be much happier. And seeing the fun in a difficult situation is part of that.

I look forward to when baby M. Is sixteen and her mom and I embarrass her with this story. I’m so glad I was there to share this day with them but I think I will wait til she’s four before we try this kind of excursion again.