When my dad was 17, he floated 60 miles of the Colorado River on a ping-pong table. Along with two friends, he set off like Huck Finn into the wilderness to see what might happen. While they did test their "raft" in the neighbor's pool before setting off, the suburban backyard didn't have the desert winds or rapids that quickly poo-pooed their primitive rudder system. The contraption did indeed float, though. Somehow.
Fast-forward 45 years to a smaller river in Oregon, where my husband, Rob, and I loaded his grandson onto a real raft for a five-day, 70-mile float. Even though I've been on countless outdoor adventures, rafting with a nine-month-old felt a lot like getting on a rickety ping-pong table strapped to some inner tubes: precarious.
While I was pregnant, my friends told me to “get my kicks in” before our first baby arrived. It made me nervous. The thought of waiting a decade (or more) to adventure over high peaks, open ocean, and fast rivers made me more nauseous than morning sickness. Rob reassured me that we would still kick around aplenty in the outdoors, even if it meant adjusting the route and toting extra gear.
Our determination paid off: by the time we shoved off in the raft, Talon had already been hiking, camping, biking, and cross-country skiing. But this was the first true wilderness trip, where we would be out of range of doctors, stores, and cell service for multiple days.
Hence, the butterflies in my stomach as we floated away from the dirt-packed parking lot to drift through the Middle of Nowhere, Oregon.
I took deep breaths, held the baby too tight, and channeled the bravery (or, hell, I'd settle for blissful ignorance) of my father and his teenage friends riding a rickety craft down the largest river in the West.
Turns out that Talon – like his grandfather – is an adventurer at heart. He stood happily in the bow scouring the red cliffs for birds, babbled to the river as it ushered us forward, and napped peacefully to the sound of wind on the water.
While it can be difficult to juggle logistics and packing on the front-end of adventures with our newest addition, once we’re out in the wild it feels simple. Sensical. Natural. Being outdoors brings parenting back to the basics. We cook entire meals while Talon bangs on a bucket, cast a fly rod while he samples rocks, or take a snooze while he grabs at the zippers in our tent.
The raft trip down the John Day River convinced me that we, too, should be more like Huck Finn. Rob and I are better parents while adventuring, simply because we are happier, more present, more appreciative of a new place. It's not easier, by any means. But it's worth it.