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Opinion: Snacks, poop and other ways hiking prepares you for parenthood

'In the end, it all dissolves into fuzzy, faded memories'
AN baby
Pique arts editor Alyssa Noel has drawn some curious connections between hiking and motherhood.

Historically, I’ve gone a little wild when the snow disappears from the alpine. 

I would spend weekdays in the summer researching local trails, choosing a hike to tackle that weekend, and roping a few people into coming along.  

It comes down to basic math: if you’re lucky, you have a mere 12 to 15 weekends a year to hit the trails at higher elevations. Factor in weddings, trips, visits with family, work obligations, and you’re looking at eight to 10. 

Then add a baby to that mix—like I did last summer—and your number dwindles to more like four or five.  

I might not get out as often anymore (though bless my Osprey Poco baby backpack for the times I do), but this summer, I realized those years of wandering aimlessly—and a little frantically—around the mountains have actually equipped me with some excellent lessons for parenthood.  

How is that, you ask? Well, here you have it:

Carry snacks. Always have snacks. Too many snacks. A variety of snacks. Like a tiny, tottering toddler, hikers quickly get hangry and snacks are an easy solution to curb a meltdown. 

Bring spare clothes. News alert: kids shit themselves. More specifically, they seem to have the uncanny ability to craft a massive, up-the-back blowout when you didn’t bring a fresh outfit. If you heed the advice of the 10 essentials—which include extra clothes in case of an emergency—you avoid the shitstorm.

Be prepared for poop. Speaking of shit, hiking—perhaps, more specifically, backpacking—sometimes requires you to think outside the box, bathroom-wise. You have to know how to hide your unseemly squat from other hikers, handle your waste in an environmentally friendly manner, and keep it sanitary. Well, guess who is fresh off changing a blowout in the passenger seat of a car in a ferry lineup, just as that lineup started loading? This hiker. 

Embrace exhaustion. I am no expert hiker or endurance athlete, but, in the past, I’ve managed to power through 20- to 30-kilometre hikes with just under 2,000 metres elevation in a day. Add to that a nice Backcountry Widowmaker at the end of the day, and you have yourself a great night’s sleep. With a newborn, you might not actually get any sleep, but pushing through exhaustion is something hikers are pretty good at. In fact, if you really want to make this comparison work, you could draw a parallel between triumphantly standing on a mountain peak with your wobbly Jell-O legs, and staring at your baby’s sweet, milk-drunk face at 3 a.m. in a dimly lit nursery. Both feel pretty great, emotionally, if not physically.

Soak up the moment. I’ve tried to articulate this more than once and I always wind up sounding insane, but have you ever hiked to a mind-blowing, take-your-breath-away destination and been overcome with the desire to consume it? It’s so euphorically stunning you want to not just capture it, but swallow it so that it’s part of you always? (Uh oh, just me?) I’ve felt this way about the millions of magical parenting moments I’ve experienced over the last 15 months. When my daughter leans in for a kiss or throws her arms around me or dissolves into fits of laughter, I want to consume the moment and keep it visceral and vivid forever. Which leads to…

Accept that the moment is fleeting. On backpacking trips, my favourite time is the morning, after you’ve retrieved your bear-hung bag, brewed coffee, and can just sit with your camp cup in hand, taking in your surroundings. Most of the time while hiking, you reach your destination, have something to eat, take a few photos and turn right around again. The joy of it is so fleeting it’s almost painful. Guess what else you stare longingly at in the rearview mirror as it clips by before you fully process it? One hint: it goes from crawling to walking to running before you can finish this sentence. But, in a way, that’s part of the magic. Both hiking and parenting force you to live as wholly as you can in the moment, appreciating it for what it is. Because in the end, it all dissolves into fuzzy, faded memories that make up the happiest days of your life.