6 Lessons Learned While Taking My Mom Backpacking
And Why Moms Make Great Adventure Partners
Alex, one of our writers, took his mom on a backpacking trip through the Colorado wilderness a couple years ago. Here’s what he learned along the way.
Raising five kids, caring for two grandparents, and dealing with a crazy dog all in a three-bedroom house—my mom’s entire life has been an adventure. The effort required just to get ice cream or visit the local park was equivalent to what it takes to climb a mountain.
Though life was never simple, in the 25 years of living in a small, Pennsylvania valley town, my mom left the “city” limits fewer than 10 times. Over the years, she watched her children grow up and leave to start their own journeys. When my brother and I picked up the hobby of backpacking, my mom started the hobby of listening to us report back on our trips.
But last summer, I invited my mom to join me on a last-minute backpacking trek through the Colorado wilderness. Without skipping a beat, my 60-year-old, never-slept-in-a-tent-before mom accepted with tears in her eyes. She was ready to be a part of one of the adventures she’d heard so much about.
Since I only had two weeks off a year for backpacking, I almost immediately regretted inviting my mom. So, like a great son, I jumped into scare tactics in an attempt to dissuade her from coming. It didn’t work.
“If you want to come along,” I warned her, “these are the conditions: No hotels, we’ll sleep in the car or the tent. No dilly-dallying—we have a strict itinerary to keep if we want to get there and back on time. And it’s backpacking, you’ll have to hike with a big bag, taking a few breaks, and covering a lot of miles. Think you can do that?”
“That’s fine,” she replied. “It’s your show. I’m just tagging along. And I’ve been chasing after the five of you for 25 years. I’ll be able to keep up.”
A few days later, my mom and I loaded up her soccer-mom van and were on our way to Colorado. The 1,700-mile, 25-hour drive went smoother than I had expected, and we reached our destination, the Never Summer Wilderness just west of Rocky Mountain National Park, without a hitch.
Over the course of the next week, my mom and I laughed, cried, and explored the Colorado Wilderness together. In that one week, I learned more about her than I had ever bothered to absorb in the previous 23 years. Here are six key takeaways from taking my mom on her first backpacking trip that will come in handy for my next mother-son trip, and maybe yours, too.
1. Know Your Mom’s Limits
Being aware of your group’s limits is important to the success of any outdoor adventure. While she’s still busting with energy, my mom is not as sprightly as I remembered her being in my childhood. I quickly concluded that our original plan of a tough four-day hike was just not in the cards. I still wanted the trip to be an adventure, so I decided a single, alpine overnight would be a fair compromise. The hike was still challenging, but the extra time allowed us to take breaks more often, which let my mom enjoy the trek.
2. Be Willing to Adjust Plans
After deciding to cut the backpacking trip short to better suit my mom, she suggested that we road-trip a few more days to make up the difference. We camped among the bison in Badlands National Park, hiked the tallest peak in South Dakota (Black Elk Peak clocking in at 7,244 feet), and visited the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While it wasn’t the trip I was expecting, I ended up seeing much more than I originally planned, and it was so worth it. Without my mom’s suggestions, most of those places would have never made my list.
3. Stop & Listen—You Might Learn Something
Over years of hitting the trails, I’ve come to adopt a head-down, pound-miles-out hiking mentality. On the trail, I have a job to do, a destination to reach, and miles to make. Trail walking was a completely different experience with my mom beside me. With nearly 50 years of gardening and bird-watching experience under her belt, my mom enthusiastically named every flower, plant, and winged creature we encountered. While the miles ticked by slower than I was used to, I found myself loving the nature lessons. My mom tried to impart a lot of knowledge to me growing up, and while I can’t say I truly heard much of it then, on this trip, I listened to everything she said.
4. Her Excitement Can Be Your Excitement
One of the greatest joys in life is experiencing firsts through someone else’s eyes. It’s why we share our favorite movies with our friends, or insist that our kids adopt our hobbies. You’ve been-there-done-that, but they haven’t. Possibly the best part of the trip for me was reliving what it was like to go backpacking for the first time through my mom—watching her eyes light up upon seeing mountains, or sharing the excitement of climbing into the tent for the first time. The adventure may have lacked adrenaline-rushing moments for me, but I fed off her first-timer energy.
5. Experience Something New Together
After spending countless nights under the stars and days out on the trail, I thought I’d seen it all. While the snowy peaks, wild bull moose, and alpine thunderstorm were all new and exciting for my mom, I just wanted to reach camp. Once we had the tent set up, the clouds parted to reveal a double rainbow stretching across the valley. We were so high that the rainbows were nearly eye level with us—something I’d never seen. The rainbow sparked an idea: Why not go out of my way to try new things with my mom? For the rest of the trip, when it was my turn to make a decision, I always chose something I had never done or seen before. Now, whenever I do those things, I remember doing them first with my mom.
6. My Mom Was So Much More
As the second kid to move out of our packed house, I never spent much one-on-one time with my mom. During our adventure, I was able to see her from a new perspective. Instead of my mom, I met a wonderful woman who sacrificed her own interests, hobbies, and adventures—not to mention years of her life—in order to make my interests come to fruition. I met a woman bursting with knowledge, skills, and wisdom that she was excited to share. I took my mother on a trip and came back with a new friend.
Alex Moliski is a writer at Backcountry. When he’s not typing, he’s exploring the country, climbing, or backpacking somewhere remote. See more of his stories on Instagram @alexmoliski