Motivating Reluctant Hikers

An enormous eucalyptus tree and some siblings, captured by a reluctant 8-year-old hiker.

An enormous eucalyptus tree and some siblings, captured by a reluctant 8-year-old hiker.

 After stalling at the trailhead with our out-of-town visitors, I finally walked back to the parking lot to find my dawdling 8-year-old. He was sitting on the bumper of our minivan, arms folded in defiance. “I don’t want to hike today!” he insisted. We’d promised our guests a perfect afternoon outing at Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, and now the weather was co-operating but my son wasn’t. He’s too big to carry, too old to be bribed, and too young to be left alone to wait at the car. Mentally filing through my parenting toolbox, I grasped at the first likely solution. “We need you to be our official photographer,” I improvised. “Here’s the camera. Find some cool shots as we hike.” To my relief, he agreed, and although my photography assignment had initially been just a way to get him moving, it turned out that he captured many worthwhile pictures of our hike, including peacocks, deer, the quarry, and several enormous eucalyptus trees.

About a hundred yards into our hike, my 3-year-old announced that he was too tired to hike anymore. Feeling confident from my freshly won victory with his older brother, I looked around for something to keep him going. He’s just learning to identify letters, and I could see a sign up ahead on the trail. “We need you to find all the signs on the trail and read us the letters,” I told him. He took his responsibility seriously and zoomed ahead to the next trail marker, yelling, “Sign, ho!” He continued to scout out signs for the rest of our hike, magically becoming untired.

As if on cue, at the next sign, my 6-year-old began to whine. She’s a sucker for stories, so I promised to tell a story as long as she kept hiking. She hiked through my entire description of the Wizard of Oz, and I didn’t even have to engage any creativity. By the end of the story she had forgotten her complaints and struck up a conversation with one of our hiking companions to keep her going for the rest of the journey.

Towards the end of the hike, my baby started to complain. I was already carrying him on my back, he can’t work a camera, and he has yet to say his first word, let alone identify letters or understand stories. He’d eaten all the snacks, drunk all the water, and was already holding his pacifier. I couldn’t think of a single trick to induce happy compliance. Fortunately, I could almost see the parking lot, so I resolved to tolerate the crying for the last 5 minutes of our hike. Three out of four isn’t bad.

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More Surprises

Last week I wrote about being surprised by a piano at Alviso Marina. Turns out that our unexpected piano is part of an ongoing project called Sunset Piano, wherein two artists place pianos in various unusual locations to see how people react. Santa Clara County welcomed the project this fall, and pianos can be found at four parks that Stroller Hikes frequents: Vasona, Sanborn, Alviso Marina, and Ed Levin. Pianos are also being placed around San Francisco. Sounds like an invitation for a piano hunt to me: get outside and find those surprise pianos!

But this week, my Monday morning hike offered another surprise, this one not as melodious. The first half of our hike was a calm and lovely walk from Shoreline Park along the Bay Trail. Just as we approached our turn-around spot, the spot farthest from our cars and the jackets inside, we were suddenly surprised by wind and rain. Generally I like hiking in the rain, but generally I have warm waterproof gear. This time I was caught completely unprepared, and my toddler wailed the whole hustle back, as our meager T-shirts became soaked and the wind made us shiver. But this surprise inspired creativity. One toddler spontaneously climbed out of the seat of his stroller and climbed into the basket underneath, where he was protected from the weather. Another turned to kneel backward in his stroller, to keep the rain off his face. The rain also inspired generosity when one mom selflessly gave up her own jacket to cover someone else’s child. As we approached the parking lot, the adults were laughing at our adventure and our ill-preparedness. How ridiculous that we had only three jackets among thirteen people. Lesson learned: check the weather forecast. Just another way that hiking and parenting keep us on our toes!

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IMG_0604I’ve been leading weekly events for Stroller Hikes for seven years now, so I feel comfortably familiar with the various locations where my children and I hike. Yet there are still times when something unexpected takes me by surprise, like this week at Alviso Marina. There we were, three moms and six kids, hiking our well-worn path along the water, getting muddy as usual and watching the splashes our rocks made in the salt ponds. As we turned the corner toward the observation deck, several of the older kids let out shrieks and ran farther head, yelling something that sounded like “piano!” And (surprise!) there was indeed a piano on the observation deck, seeming so civilized and out-of-place in that wild spot. Suddenly what had been a standard pleasant hike became novel and the children scrambled to take turns playing the out-of tune instrument.

I have no idea who put that piano there or how it was hauled it over the bumpy path, but it made our routine outing new and extraordinary. It reminds me to be aware of my expectations in other areas. I’ve been parenting for over eight years now, and sometimes I’m tempted to think I can predict how my children are going to react or how a given activity will proceed. But still my children surprise me, like when my introverted bookworm decides to plan a neighborhood talent show. Or when my careful and cautious child voluntarily rides a roller coaster. Or when my toddler learns to walk much later than my other children did. Even if the surprise is out-of-place or out-of-tune, I can appreciate that my children are changing and growing and challenging the limits and boundaries of my expectations. That’s part of what makes parenting and hiking constantly new and extraordinary; there will always be surprises.


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Shout-out from M Magazine

Many new parents experience a panicky restlessness during those early days of taking care of a new baby. Stay-at-home parents, especially, feel a need to get out of the house and find worthwhile activities that can be done with a child in tow. In the May/June issue of M Magazine, Elizabeth Kang describes her search for such activities and how she discovered the satisfaction of hiking with a little one. After listing a few of her favorite hikes in the Bay Area, she spotlights our very own as a valuable resource in her quest for family-friendly outdoor fun. You can check out her article here


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Manzanita Trees

dgThis week, I hiked at St. Josph’s Hill County Park, a hidden gem nestled between Novitiate Park and Lexington Reservoir County Park. During my hike, I was surprised by not only the spectacular views of the reservoir and the surrounding mountains but also the diverse array of plants in the park. While I was there, I saw everything from monkeyflowers to daisies to even silktassels. However, what struck me the most were the manzanita trees next to the trails.

Manzanita trees are interesting because unlike most trees, their bark is smooth and red instead of lumpy and brown. I wanted to find out more about this phenomenon, so I did some research, and I discovered that tannins are largely responsible for the trees’ reddish color. Tannins are molecules found in many plants, including corn plants, grape vines, and even grass. They’re the astringent molecules that cause your mouth pucker when you eat. Although they are not particularly toxic to humans in low concentrations, they are particularly toxic to many herbivores and microorganisms, so many plants, including manzanita trees, use these as a defense against herbivore.

However, although the tannins are responsible for trees’ bark color, they do not play a role in the bark’s texture. Although scientists don’t all agree on one reason for the manzanita trees’ texture, they generally agree that in the past, smooth bark offered better protection against herbivores and other invaders; for example, mountain pine beetles have a harder time climbing on smooth bark.

I never expected a hike to inspire my interest in manzanita trees, but that just goes to show that hiking is not only a great way to exercise but also a great way to fuel your curiosity! 

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