Teaching My Daughter How to Hike – Did I Do a Bad Thing?

Teaching My Daughter How to Hike – Did I Do a Bad Thing? August 1, 2012

Years ago, I taught my daughter how to be a “good” hiker. But, in the process, did I do a bad thing?

I have always loved hiking. I don’t need to dangle from ropes, trudge for miles with a hefty backpack, or scale Mt. Everest. But I enjoy getting out into nature, walking on quiet forest paths or along alpine streams. I can cover quite a few miles in a long day hike, which allows me to get far away from the crowds and way into the glories of nature.

When I became a father, I desperately wanted to pass my love of hiking on to my children. My effort began even before they could walk, as I took them in a backpack when my wife and I explored the High Sierra mountains of California. My son, Nathan, became my faithful hiking companion at a young age. He loved hiking as if it were in his DNA to do so.

My daughter, Kara, took a peculiar approach to hiking, however. As soon as she could walk, she took great pleasure being out on a trail. But, for Kara, a trail was not a path to some destination. Rather, it was itself a glorious destination, a place to explore every rock, every log, every flower. If left to her own devices, Kara would progress about fifty feet an hour, thrilled by everything she saw along the way, delighted by every rock she had scaled and every log she had crossed.

You’d think I would have rejoiced over my daughter’s unusual love for nature. I did, in a way. But, at the same time, I found myself impatient with her pace. After all, I wanted to hike to some mountain lake. I didn’t want to lollygag at the trailhead, examining each bit of nature as if it were a treasure. There were far greater riches to behold if only we could walk a few miles further.

My efforts at cajoling and coercing Kara to hike more quickly failed miserably. Begging and commanding didn’t do much better. I began to imagine a future of all-day, one-hundred-yard hikes. Not as bad as sitting in traffic, but not what I aspired to accomplish as a hiker.

On a hike with Kara along Rock Creek in the eastern Sierra of California

One day, when we were supposed to hike Kara’s our cousins, she was enjoying her usual investigation of all measure of trail minutiae. I tried a new motivational strategy. “Kara,” I said excitedly, “let’s see if we can be the first people up the mountain. Let’s try to beat everybody else.” Kara looked up at me, looked down at the rocks she had been admiring, and said, “Okay.” She took off up the trail, boots a-blazing. We soon passed our family, leaving them in our dust. We were, indeed, the first hikers up the mountain. We won.

I had tapped into Kara’ innate competitiveness, her love of accomplishment. Even as a six-year-old child, she wanted to be first. This meant she could hike quickly and effectively if she thought of it as a race, or as a challenge to be overcome. She could also cover long distances with great endurance. Once, when she was about eight, we did an exhausting 15-mile hike, one that included several thousand feet of elevation gain at high altitudes. Kara was the ultimate hiker. Or was she

I wonder sometimes if I did a bad thing when I taught my daughter to think of hiking as a race to be run rather than as an opportunity to slow down and delight in small gifts of creation. Did I steal a precious part of her childhood because of my own impatience with ordinary rocks, flowers, and logs? Or, by helping Kara to cover the miles, did I enable her to see beauty that she’d never have glimpsed from the trailhead?

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  • TomB

    Dear Rev. Roberts:

    Very interesting observations.  Would her observation of minutae have served her just as well as attempting to set records?  Both are definitely useful.

    Has she returned at all to the behavior of her young childhood?  She sounds like a fascinating young lady.

    It’s good of you to ponder these things, Dad!


  • What a fabulous article.  If you enjoy every little thing along the way, you may never reach  your destination.  At the same time, if you reach your destination but did not enjoy it along the way, is that ideal?  This is such a great analogy for life when we all think about goals we want to meet like retirement, saving money for trips, or what have you.  Hiking is such a great analogy for life and teaches us to find in ourselves that balance – and heck hiking gives us that time out in the world to think about it too! 

  • Andrew Chapman

    No, you didn’t do a bad thing, but perhaps if you could do it over, you would try a different tact. Something like spending a day with Kara doing what she wanted to do (going at a slower pace and exploring along the way), and then the next day pushing for the summit like you wanted.