(Jeff and daughter Loren, survey a beaver dam in Ontario, CA – circa 1987)
Sitting down with adventure Dad, and Packit Gourmet co-founder Jeff to glean insights from him on the value, risk and reward of providing his daughters with rich wilderness experiences at an early age.
You’ve amassed decades of adventures in the wilderness, many of these with your full family. In today’s literature, you’d be labeled an “adventure dad”. Was this ever a conscious decision between you and Debbie? Or, was it just assumed that the time in the wilderness would be compatible with your young family?
“I guess you can say we assumed it’d be compatible, but we really didn’t look at it like that. We liked to canoe and camp and be out in the woods, so we took our kids along. But we agreed that we wouldn’t take our kids wilderness camping until they were out of diapers, so they both went on wilderness canoe trips at age 3.
I think the key to taking your kids on outdoor adventures is to start young. Start them as young as you can take it. Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a hike or a canoe trip, long or short, when they’re little, they’re just tagging along. If you wait until they’re older to introduce them to the outdoors, they’ll prefer to watch Power Rangers or think it’s too hot outside.
Start early, expose them to everything that you’re doing and make them part of the experience. If you’re not afraid of the bugs or getting dirty, they won’t be either. And these experiences will set them up for life. But as soon as you can handle taking them out in the wild, the better.”
(the Packit Gourmet family explores Boquillas Canyon, in far West TX, 2021)
What fatherly challenges can one expect, when ushering their young children into wilderness experiences? (i.e. what were some challenges you faced?)
“The burden of camping with kids is that they’re dependent on you, so it’s up to you to ensure they have a good experience. You have to carry more gear, sometimes carry the kids … you have to make sure they have a good sleeping arrangement and get up with them in the middle of the night to pee.
We’ve always paid special attention to meal time and eating well in the wilderness, and would plan accordingly by dehydrating and drying whole ingredients ahead of time. Overall, the challenge is on you and it is a lot more difficult. You have to think about their well-being and protection, more so than normal … you don’t want them falling out of the canoe or stumbling over a cliff, so you have to keep a very close eye on them.”
(Jeff handling food prep for a family canoe trip in the Canadian Wilderness. In some ways, the origins of Packit Gourmet as we know it!)
What was the most rewarding aspect of these trips with Debbie and the girls? Any Special memories?
“The whole experience is very rewarding, but one special memory with our daughter Sarah was having her 3rd birthday on a wilderness trip and we threw her a little party. She was asleep in the canoe when we paddled up to the campsite, and while she was asleep we hung the balloons in the trees, and Debbie had packed a little birthday cake. She iced it and set it up on a rock. So when Sarah woke up there were balloons all around and we all sang happy birthday!”
(Jeff, Sarah, and Loren take a break while hiking through Tennessee, 1989)
What would you hope these experiences have taught or instilled within your, now grown, children? What are some ways that they’ve maybe continued to shape their lives today?
“I think all of our trips instilled an appreciation of nature and the outdoors, and all of the enjoyment that comes with that. Being in the outdoors, the woods become more like a classroom. We’d always pick up the books with the flora and fauna of the region … we’d see an animal and read about them … how they raise their young, how they live and what they eat. It teaches you to respect other forms of life, other than your own.
Also, those kinds of trips teach fortitude and instill a determination to achieve your goals. They instill a strong work ethic. We always make the kids do a little work so that they’re part of the team … you’re carrying your gear and you’re achieving something.
And when you’re all out there together, hot and sweaty, they learn that it’s okay to be sweaty and dirty. They learn to tolerate being uncomfortable.”
I think one of the better things you can do for your children is to give them the outdoor experience.
“It doesn’t have to be a wilderness trip … little kids don’t really know the difference between a canoe trip in the lake in your local city or 100 miles down the road, it’s just a lake you’re on with mom or dad. You learn to appreciate that later as an adult when you want to get away from planes, trains and automobiles, but kids can learn a lot from a little piece of property.
Don’t be afraid to include your children in your life, that’s just a life lesson there. But the trick to them enjoying it is starting young, before they know any better.”