During the course of the 12 Long Walks, I ran into approximately 35 to 40 youth groups whilst out on the trail. Some of these were wilderness therapy groups, others were church affiliated, but the majority were Boy Scouts. Three things stood out for me in regards to these meetings:
1. First and foremost it was fantastic to see youngsters out in the woods. In this day and age when childhood obesity levels are higher than ever before, it’s great to see kids taking a break from their play stations, iPads and X Boxes. I have nothing but admiration for organizations such as the Scouts and Outward Bound.
2. Ninety percent of the kids and scout leaders were carrying packs which must have weighed in the vicinity of 40 to 50 lbs.
3. The majority of kids I spoke to loved the camping aspect of the backcountry experience, but were not so enthusiastic about the actual hiking element. To be honest, I don’t blame them. If I was 12 years old and weighed 110 lbs, the last thing I would want to be doing is lugging around a backpack which constituted almost half of my body weight. Seems like a sure fire way to create the next generation of car campers.
Each and every time I encountered these groups the same question immediately came to mind: How do we help these kids to enjoy the hiking as much as they do the camping?
The answer: Lighten their pack loads. It is difficult to fully appreciate the wonder of your natural surrounds when you are burdened by a knee crunching, energy sapping weight on your back.
With these experiences in mind, I welcomed the opportunity to give a series of four presentations to Boy Scout leaders during the month of January. The talks took place in Sacramento, CA, and consisted of a combination of two principal themes: 1. Going light without compromising safety, and; 2. An overview of the 12 Long Walks. The talks seemed to be well received and on each occasion I had the sense that both leaders and scouts alike were more than a little curious as to my wilderness approach. My initial nervousness in regards to public speaking soon vanished, as I recalled something which a fellow hiker by the name of “Big Sky” had once told me: “………when you are sharing a subject that you both know and love, the nerves seem to disappear.” He was right.
I’d like to thank Dave and Cindy Peters, Nancy Huber, Lynn Boughner and Geoff Miller for making my participation possible.