*Guest Post* No Limitations…even for a single parent!

    I love when this blog encompasses much more than what our own little family can offer as far as tips, tricks and experience.  It is the reason that I welcome guest posts with open arms.  I hope that the insights of others will resonate with someone (or a lot of someones!) in a way that I cannot.  Today I welcome Heather to the blog.  Heather is a single mom of two that just happened to travel cross country (North Carolina to California) and back with her kids, camping and exploring the whole time.  While I am going to let her story speak for itself, please note that her kids were seven and TWO and she was by herself. Camping and hiking and adventuring! (No excuses there!!)  Understandably, Heather’s story is pretty involved and she has lots of great tips.  Therefore, this post will be split across two different weeks.  I hope you take the time to read this and, as always, leave her some love in the comments!

    Journeys have a way of changing you, and they come in all magnitudes and meanings. Some are personal, inward journeys of self-reflection that can last mere moments, or years, or even a lifetime. Others are outward explorations in which we travel and attempt to discover all that we never knew we were missing. While no two journeys are the same, it is safe to say that most journeys have similar destinations in mind: to find out what we are missing, to let go of that which no longer serves us, to arrive at our destination changed for the better, having gained the gift of experience and enlightenment, and to have made the most of the journey, and learned as much as possible, along the way to that ultimate destination.

    This summer I embarked upon the ultimate journey with my children. It all started with a conversation with my dad regarding our annual summer trip to California, my home state and where my dad still lives. I recalled how, in my younger years a decade earlier, I had taken a cross country trip with my best friend between North Carolina, my current state of residence, and California, and how it was a crazy, spontaneous, whirlwind of an adventure. I wistfully mentioned to my dad how I wished I could do things like that again, but do it all differently, and better, with more knowledge and better planning. I had become more adventurous, athletic, and outdoorsy in my latter years, but as motherhood has a way of changing you, less spontaneous. And then suddenly my dad and I both said, “Hmmm… that could be fun!” And then my dad added, to which I agreed, “What a great experience for the kids as well!” I don’t have to be single and childless to embark upon such adventures! And I don’t have to wait for a companion to come along so I can have someone to do these things with! I HAVE KIDS! They are my companions! And kids love adventures! So I did some quick, preliminary research and compared the cost of three plane tickets versus a gas cost analysis and ironically, the difference was minimal. And there, our Ultimate Journey was born.

    Allow me to introduce myself. I am a single mom with two kids, a 7 and a half year old boy and a 2 and a half year old girl, and we live just the three of us in a beautiful North Carolina city, close enough to the mountains we could get to the foothills in an hour, but not close enough to see them on the horizon. Therefore, we take a lot of trips. Scenic drives, day hikes, overnight camping trips, and backpacking trips are what fill our weekends when homework, the farmer’s market, and local seasonal festivities are not filling up the calendar squares. I have been a single mom for most of my kids’ lives, and have grown accustomed to doing all sorts of adventurous things with my kids, as opposed to not doing them at all. I don’t have very many adventurous, outdoorsy friends, or mom friends, and certainly very few, or none, who fit both of those categories. So I get a lot of “Wow, you’re nuts” or “You’re doing WHAT with your kids?!” and “Is that safe?!” My friends listen to all my crazy recollections of our latest adventures and stay on top of what goes on in our lives, but for the most part, that is as involved as they get. And that is perfectly fine with me. I refuse to wait until my kids are “older” or when I have “time away” (I am rarely granted such a luxury) to get out there and explore and indulge in my passions, and anyway, if I want my kids to be instilled with my passion for nature, and lust for the outdoors, what better way than to get them out there with me?

    So I decided that instead of taking a plane trip to California and glazing over the “journey” aspect of it, we would instead highlight the journey, and make that the essence of the trip. The plan was to drive no more than 5 hours a day, or 300-400 miles, and take as many scenic highways and byways as possible. We would camp at state and national parks all along the way, hike, and visit natural, geological, and historical points of interest all across the country and back. The itinerary consisted of 8 nights and 9 days of travel before reaching my dad’s house, and the same for the return trip. I decided we would stay about 6 weeks in CA, as we had several camping, hiking, and outdoor adventures and excursions planned for the CA part of our trip, in addition to several trail races my dad and I would run together, and an Oregon rafting, hiking and caving trip to fit in there before heading back home. I did extensive research on every state in our path before deciding upon our route, and finally decided where we would camp, hike and explore in each state. My goal for this trip was to expose my kids to as much nature as possible, and as many different places as possible – climates, environments, geology, and landscaping they had never seen before, and phenomenal structures some kids only see pictures of in books. I wanted to impart with them a love of the outdoors, a love of exploring, and skills of problem solving, trouble shooting, and survival, in appropriate doses. It was my intention to show them the most beautiful places our country has to offer, and learn as much as we could about each one, and to absorb wholeheartedly the life lessons we would each learn along the way. I knew that this would be the adventure of a lifetime.

    To prepare for this adventure, I showed my son websites and pictures online of where we would be going, so that he could anticipate with as much eagerness as I, the beautiful places we would finally be able to see. I wasn’t so much worried about my little one, as I have dubbed her my nature baby since the day she was born. She has always tenderly loved nature, and has an intimate connection with it. My son, on the other hand, is not so enthusiastic about the outdoors at times. He sometimes has a very strong aversion to getting dirty, and will at times complain for an entire hike, therefore missing out on all the great things along the way. It was my goal to creatively combat these obstacles as best as I could. It is a task to get him excited about such endeavors and keep him entertained, while my daughter curiously and happily pokes along, smelling, touching and collecting every little thing along the way. So I knew I had my work cut out for me.

    When preparing for, and discussing with others, such an adventure involving little ones, many questions and concerns come up. All of the “what-if’s” and worst case scenarios, and minor complications that can become greatly magnified due to the presence or addition of children can be quite overwhelming. I try not to be defeated by any of these, especially before even setting foot out of doors, and I see it as somewhat of a challenge, if you will (the good kind, like a dare to go against the odds and then succeed) to prove all of the preconceived notions, reasons-not-to, and doubts, wrong. So here are all of the ways these adventures can, have or will go wrong, and all of the worries and doubts that can get in the way of either setting out on your excursion or fully enjoying it, and the ways in which we have contested them, and won. It is my goal to share this information with others in hopes of squashing those fears of the “what-if’s “and preparing for them nonetheless, but instead focusing on what will go right, thereby liberating moms and families everywhere to take adventures.

    My first and greatest obstacle continues to be a son who would often times rather be at home playing, reading a book, dare I say it – watching television, or otherwise simply not hiking. What can you do to combat your kid’s aversion to some of your favorite things in the world?! Allow me to share with you some of the items in my “Fight Nature Resentment & Boredom” toolkit. I don’t use the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” in regards to my son because there is certainly no deficit. He gets out there. We go places. We do things. He just doesn’t always love it. Sometimes he does, but sometimes he doesn’t. So in this nature resentment fighting toolkit, I got my son a Rand McNally kid’s atlas so that he could prepare and get excited about our upcoming trip. Since the bulk of our trip involved riding in the car, I knew I would have to keep my kids entertained for the hours in between destinations. This atlas lists the nicknames, flowers, birds, trees, and abbreviations for each state, and also has a riddle or game he can play that applies to each individual state. We learned a lot more than we already knew about each state as we entered it. As it turns out, the first six states we traveled through all shared the state bird of cardinal! We anxiously awaited the first state to have a different state bird, let me tell you! I also highlighted our route through each state so he could anticipate where we were going, and this also reinforced his map reading skills and developed his knowledge of road signs. Rand McNally also has several other fantastic “car companions” that go along with the one we had, though we could not find those. We also came across a license plate dry erase board game which made was a lot of fun, because traveling across the country introduces a lot of new license plates he had never seen before! Imagine our surprise finding a Hawaii plate in the middle of the country! I came up with scavenger hunts for my son which I wrote and illustrated on paper to get him exploring at campsites and on trails, and for my daughter, coloring books and crayons and books.

    Now, I am not one for bribing, but after reading Extreme Kids, a book on “how to connect with your children through today’s extreme (and not so extreme) outdoor sports, by Scott Graham, I realized what I had already known to be true: nothing gets a kid more excited about an upcoming adventure than his very own gear! Sometimes actually carrying that gear (namely, the backpack) is a different battle in itself. But both my kids were extremely thrilled to have their own gear. For my son, a backpacking pack that will hold his sleeping bag, his water reservoir, his daytime snacks, and his headlamp and perhaps a map or identification chart of some sort is about the limit to what he can (or will) carry. For my daughter, simply a camelback with a couple granola bars is sufficient. We also spent some time researching the areas we would visit and purchasing wildflower, insect, or animal track identification charts to keep things interesting!

    To be continued…..


    Heather Paladini is a semi-crunchy, natural parenting, green living, earth loving single mom of two adventure loving kids, of 7 and 2 years old. She is currently studying environmental studies in North Carolina with intentions of working for our country’s incredible National Parks. She spends her free time hiking, camping, and backpacking, visiting state and national parks across the country with her two kids, trail running and yoga, cooking, painting, and writing about her experiences. 
    © 2012, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.
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      1. What an awesome story! I was so sad when today’s post came to an end; can’t wait to read more. My family traveled cross-country for two summers when my sister and I were teens, but I’d like to do it sooner with me daughter! This post totally makes me feel that hiking and camping and road trips with young kids can be done!

        • Angela – make sure you read next week then! 🙂 So glad you were inspired!

        • Thanks Angela! Make sure you keep your eyes open for my upcoming posts as well! Traveling cross-country is so much fun, and it CAN be done, no matter what ages your kids are! Sometimes you just have to tailor the trip a little more to accommodate your travel companions – after all, nobody wants an unhappy camper! I hope you embark on a journey with your daughter soon! 🙂

      2. That brought back memories.

        When I was 14, and my youngest sister was 2, my family moved from Connecticut to New Mexico. My Mom & Dad loaded up the station wagon with all 7 kids, between the ages of 14 and 2, and the dog. We pulled a pop-up tent trailer. The family spent about 30 days crossing the country to Southern California, where my Mom’s family lived and then going back to New Mexico where we settled. We camped in National and State Parks all across the country. That trip was one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime.

        • Oh so cool you could relate and what an experience that sounds like it was! Thanks for sharing!

        • So glad to bring back fond memories for you Edward! Your trip sounds immeasurably awesome. 30 days of traveling – wow! A pop-up tent trailer sure would be fun! I can’t imagine the fun you must have had (and the hilarious stories to tell later) traveling with such a large bunch! Thanks for reading about my experiences and sharing yours 🙂

      3. Wow! Great story. Like Angela I didn’t want the post to end. Will look forward to next week.

        Heather if there were more moms like you inspiring the kids to get out there and enjoy nature we wouldn’t have generation of kids texting all day saying they are bored. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

        • Thanks so much Claire for your amazing feedback! It is so important that the kids of today learn to appreciate, explore, and preserve our pristine places for the future, so that they still remain tomorrow, and how else can this happen if we don’t get them out there?! That’s why I do it, and perhaps I have inspired others to do the same! Thanks again!! 🙂

      4. I love this and can’t wait to read part two!

      5. Awesome story Heather :). I am sure you have lots more to talk about in regards to this. what an opportunity to do so and with your kids even. :). can’t beat that

      6. I truly admire Heather’s sense of adventure! 🙂 She is creating memories of a life time for her kids.. 🙂

      7. Alexa Brooks says:

        Inspired by you! I have been wanting to take our kids 10 & 13 on a road trip from CA to NC and wondered if I could truly do this. I don’t have the time to spend plotting out the itinerary right now. Have you considered creating an ebook that includes your planning and plotting the course you took with stops, fwys, trails, etc could be sold to moms like me?

        I’d be interested….


      1. […] But first, and more importantly, I’d like to share with you all this wonderful opportunity I have recently been given. Tales of a Mountain Mama, a fellow blogger and adventure mama with far more experience than I, has given me the opportunity to share with the world, via her blog, the amazing adventures this past summer I was able to experience with my kids on our cross-country expedition! You can find my post, No Limitations, here. […]

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