The day of our inaugural backpacking trip had finally arrived. The plan was for the twins and me to hike to Mystic Beach to camp right on the beach for two nights. It was just me and two six year-olds with our packs on our backs. That’s right, I’m going backpacking with twins!
What could go wrong?
It turned out, a few things. But, the nature of them surprised me.
Let’s quickly revisit why I’d planned this trip. Pre-twins, my husband and I’d done a fair amount of backpacking. When our twins were born, we’d had to give that up. I’ve been fighting to get back to it ever since. (Learn more about the impact of twins on my active life).
Now my twins are at an age that they can hike, and they can carry a backpack. In my mind, it was time to take our hiking and camping to the next level, so PROJECT BACKPACKING was born. (Learn about the evolution of PROJECT BACKPACKING)
I had us all packed and ready to go. I was just waiting for them to be done school. I’d been staring at my pack all day – it looked monstrous and maybe a bit ominous. I have to admit that I’d been getting a little bit worried. In order to fit all the gear in, I’d had to switch to my husband’s pack, as mine just didn’t have enough volume.
The thing that had me worried was not just the weight – my husband had weighed the pack last night, and it weighed 55 lbs without my water bottle. Of note: that’s more than my twins each weigh. I knew the weight should be doable. The hike was short, and the pack weighed about a third of my body weight, so it was only a little over the max of what you should carry.
What worried me the most was that my husband and I are not the same size. He’s taller and bigger than me by a significant amount – his pack wasn’t going to fit me properly. So not only would I be carrying a little over one third my body weight, but I’d be doing it with a pack that was much too big. If you’ve ever done any hiking or backpacking you’ll know that an ill-fitting pack can be a misery.
DECISION #1: Do I switch to my pack?
It was a tricky decision. On one hand, my pack fit me properly. I’ve carried it fully weighted on much longer hikes – okay not 55+ lbs, but heavy. On the other hand, my pack didn’t have enough volume to carry all the gear that we needed – I would have to attach several large items, like the tent, stove and the bag with the twin’s clothes in it to the outside which would be kind of awkward.
What did I decide?
I decided to leave things as they were. I believe, that it’s never really a good idea to change plans right at the last minute. I’d put a lot of time into packing and had concluded that this was the best set-up for this situation.
To be perfectly honest though, I think the thing that really cemented the decision was that I’d already spent two whole evenings packing, and I was tired. I didn’t have the energy to make the change.
SPOILER ALERT: This might have come back and haunt me later.
Decision made, I turned to the weather forecast. Despite the fact that we’d been having unseasonably poor weather – basically it’d been raining and cold all spring – the weather forecast was predicting beautiful weather. It was going to be hot! Which brought me to Decision #2, and I hadn’t even left the house yet.
DECISION #2: Do I bring the rain gear and tarp or do I leave them at home?
Definitely, another tricky decision. Rain gear for three people and a tarp take up a considerable amount of space and space was at a premium. Plus, they also weigh a considerable amount when you put them all together. However, if it was to rain and we didn’t have them, things could get pretty miserable.
What did I decide?
I decided to leave the rain gear in our packs. We live on the west coast, and it frequently rains here. Our forests aren’t called temperate rainforests for nothing. And I don’t know if this is everybody’s experience or unique to where I live, but the weather station seems to get it wrong more than it gets it right – I think maybe people who live near the equator or near the north pole have better luck with the weather forecasts…maybe.
Besides, all joking aside, we were going out into the wilderness, and we should be properly prepared. It’s easy to get hypothermia in our cool, damp climate without the right gear.
IT’S GO TIME
I picked the twins up after school. Everything was in the van and ready to go. My husband had hauled our packs out for me, so I still hadn’t really faced whether or not I was actually going to be able to maneuver the monster pack onto my back – I think I was subconsciously or maybe not so sub-consciously avoiding facing it.
I’d figured if we left straight after school, we could miss some of the traffic. I was WRONG. Alas, on this beautiful Friday – probably the first beautiful one of the year – everyone must’ve been trying to get home early and start the first weekend of summer, as the traffic was already backed up.
POTENTIAL ZEN DISASTER #1: Traffic.
All week I’d been reminding myself that the goal of this backpacking trip was to have fun. It wasn’t about how far or fast we could hike. It wasn’t about proper bedtimes or perfectly behaved kids. It was about me having fun with my twins. My goal was to stay in a Zen-like state of calm – whenever possible.
How did I handle it?
I managed to stay calm and composed as we inched along in traffic. It was all made that much more challenging because it turned out that I’d been so focused on what I’d needed to pack for the actual backpacking, that I’d neglected to pack anything for the kids to entertain themselves during the car ride. Luckily my twins had a few toys in their school backpacks that I hadn’t gotten around to making them take out – sometimes being behind works in your favour – and there were some colouring things in the van.
The traffic put us about thirty minutes behind, which really wasn’t a big deal. But, about halfway to our destination – it’s normally about a ninety minute drive – Twin A announced that he wasn’t feeling well. He was carsick, probably from the windy road.
DECISION #3: Do I stop or keep going and hope that he doesn’t puke?
I really didn’t want to stop. We were already behind because of the traffic and even this far out of the city the traffic was still pretty heavy and getting back on the highway would be tough. Plus, despite my self-declared goal of just having fun, deep down I had an agenda that I wasn’t quite comfortable ignoring. But if he puked, it would really delay us or maybe even end our trip all together.
What did I decide?
I decided to keep driving towards our destination. I suggested he close his eyes to see if that helped – it helps when I’m car sick. I also handed him a bag, just in case.
He said closing his eyes didn’t really help. I pointed out that he’d only closed them for about thirty seconds and that maybe he needed to give it time to work. He swore he’d kept them closed for a long time. I couldn’t reason with a carsick six year-old and keep my Zen state, so as soon as possible, I pulled into a school parking lot where there was a playground.
In the name of full disclosure, I should mention that I also really needed to pee, which might have had a huge impact on my decision to stop.
I let them play for about 15 minutes, but I was getting worried about the delay. I didn’t want to be setting up in the dark.
SPOILER ALERT: I would later realize that this was ridiculous because we didn’t even need our lantern until almost 10:30 – and yes it gets darker earlier in the forest for the actual hike, but we still had tonnes of time.
We finally made it to the parking lot at the trail head and nobody had puked. Who knew that getting here would be such a challenge? It had seemed easy, get in the car and drive – nothing to it, right?
Now, we’re at the China Beach parking lot about forty-five minutes behind schedule with one kid who is kind of lethargic and sick, so what do we do?
DECISION #4: Keep going or go home?
This decision was potentially no win for me. If I decided to keep to the plan and it turned out that Twin A wasn’t just carsick, I’d be pretty far from civilization with a sick kid and would likely have to carry his pack in addition to mine to get us out of the situation. Plus, as soon as I started carrying Twin A’s pack, it was pretty much a guarantee that Twin B would loss his ability to carry his pack – this is a twin phenomenon.
But, if I decided to turn around and go home, I was going to have two devastated boys on my hands. Twin B, in particular, was bouncing off the walls excited. There would be tears for sure – and to be honest they might be mine.
What did I decide?
I decided that I wasn’t up to facing tears, so we pushed on – besides, I’m kind of stubborn like that. We had a plan, so let’s get going.
I got both twins set up with their packs, and then strapped myself into the monster. I can distinctly remember thinking, “this isn’t so bad,” as I started towards the trail head. Just as we entered the trail there was a sign indicating that the distance to Mystic Beach was 2 km – I’d thought that it was about 3 km. I didn’t know it at this time, but it would turn out to be excellent news.
We hiked along through stunning forest. Twin B was still very excited and happy to lead the way. Twin A, not so much, he was lagging behind. I tried to cheer him up, but he remained morose.
POTENTIAL ZEN DISASTER #2: Morose and potentially sick kid.
I’d like to tell you that I’m one of those people who just ride out life’s little bumps with ease and grace. I’m NOT. I get frustrated easily and patience was not one of the virtues bestowed on me – not in any kind of abundance anyway. Although, in light of his not feeling well, Twin A’s attitude was totally understandable, it was still the kind of thing that could easily derail me.
How did I handle it?
I’m proud to say that other than becoming a bit of a broken record – I couldn’t stop reminding them that we needed to keep moving and couldn’t walk this slow even though it had no actual discernible effect on the speed they were hiking – I kept my cool and stayed super positive.
The hike, although a major undertaking, was actually pretty uneventful in the grand scheme of things. It took us about 75 minutes – a pretty respectable time actually for two six year-olds carrying large backpacks. There were some pretty fun moments that I managed to actually enjoy despite the monster on my back.
Just over the halfway point, shortly after we’d stopped at the suspension bridge to have a bribe – I mean a snack – Twin A started to perk up a bit. The path had widened so that they could easily walk beside each other. Bits of their conversation drifted back to me.
Twin A: “I’m going to eat all that poutine,” he said, pointing at the large roots running across the path.
Twin B: “Imagine if everything was made out of poutine,” he said, giggling.
Me: Seriously? Poutine? Despite the fact that my back was aching, and it took every bit of my inner strength to keep moving, I laughed. They were just too cute.
The last few hundred meters to the beach are boardwalks and stairs – including a set of stairs cut into a giant log – and I couldn’t help but get a little worried about how I was going to get back up these stairs in two days. I tried to push that out of my mind and stay in the moment. We could, after all, already hear the rhythmic pounding of the waves. I could see their excitement mounting.
Mystic Beach stretches for about 300 m along the south coast of Vancouver Island. It is the first beach on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, and it is stunning. It has a mix of sand and rock with caves at one end to explore and a waterfall at the other to play in. It is worth the hike whether just for a day trip or for an overnighter like we had planned.
Aside from the feeling of peace that the ocean gave me, I honestly had never been so relieved to arrive at the end of a hike. I’d realized early on, when I’d first looked at my watch and we’d only gone about 200 m, and I was already struggling, that I’d seriously misjudged my ability to carry the monster pack. Thank goodness I’d been wrong about the distance and there wasn’t another full kilometer to go.
How did the twins do?
Amazing! There was next to no complaining. In fact, Twin A had a burst of energy induced by a random poutine conversation with a nice couple that hiked passed us. Twin B lost some of his enthusiasm, but he kept going like a trooper.
We hiked down the beach and found a nice spot behind some of the large driftwood logs that marked the high tide line. We dropped our packs, and the twins, all tiredness gone, immediately wanted to go and play. Despite their insistence that they wouldn’t get wet, I made them take the time to change into their bathing suits. This wasn’t my first rodeo – if these boys are near water, at least one of them is going to get wet.
And yes, I can predict which one it will be…
TIME TO SET UP CAMP
Before I got busy setting up the tent and organizing our gear, I took a moment to enjoy watching my two cuties race around the beach – including running into the water and then shrieking as they ran from the waves. Like I said, where there is water there are wet twins.
I knew that we were going to make some great memories here.
Oh, one last note before I let you go. Remember how earlier I told you about my belief that changing decisions at the last minute was a bad idea? Well, when I went to make us all a nice hot cup of tea, I realized that I didn’t bring the tea strainer.
POTENTIAL ZEN DISASTER #3: No hot tea.
I’d chosen tea over hot chocolate to keep our sugar intake in check. But, I changed my mind about which tea making device to bring at the last moment, and now I won’t be making any tea for the duration of this trip. I guess I should’ve heeded my own advice.
How did I handle it?
To tell you the truth, I was having so much fun at this point that I barely even batted an eye before I heated up the water and squirted some juice flavouring in it – our sugar intake was going up but that was okay.
Despite several challenges – several of which I have kept in my back pocket to talk about another day – we had an amazing time. I learned some things, which I will, of course, blog about. However, the main thing that I learned is that I do have the ability to slow down to my children’s pace and also that next time I’m bringing their Dad – he makes a great pack animal.
And yes, also that I can do it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the first of many backpacking trips for us, and I invite you to share your stories of adventuring with your family.
Update 8 Sep 17: 12 lessons learned on our backpacking trip to Mystic Beach
Update 18 Sep 17: If you’re curious about what was in my monster pack, you can find it here.
Update 29 Sep 17: Find out what we ate on our backpacking adventure.
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