When our kids were 11, 9 and 8, we took them to the Grand Canyon for a backpacking trip. The last time I witnessed this massive, almost inconceivable, chasm in the earth was B.C. (as in “before children,” B.C.). As Larry and I hugged the canyon walls while we descended deeper and deeper into the searing heat of the desert floor, I silently vowed never to bring my future children on these trails. Way too dangerous and strenuous for young kids, I thought. There was no way could they could fully appreciate the risk of falling off the trail’s edge, in many places to their death, not to mention the canyon’s greatest danger, the heat. They’d have to take it in from the rim, just like the statistical 99% of tourists who stand on the edge and never venture to its core, ironically missing the “big picture” held in the story of the canyon walls with each downward step towards the Colorado River.
I’m thankful that being a parent versus dreaming of becoming one has taught me to think outside that narrow-minded box–to consider the risk-to-reward ratio, based on their abilities, before drawing any conclusions. We’ve educated them extensively on the inherent risks of backcountry excursions, both large and small, and they’ve developed a strong foundation backpacking safely in our own nearby mountains. Ultimately, it was a calculated risk we were willing to assume, because of our confidence in their abilities to succeed.
Of course none of this removed all the risk and our fears didn’t instantly dissolve because of our confidence in them. Backpacking in the Grand Canyon has increased hazards associated with it, no matter how experienced the hiker. But just think about the life experience our kids would have missed out on if we had let fear get the best of us, despite believing they could handle the challenges.
They hiked out unscathed and took away much more from the journey than the wonderful memories we made as a family. They learned that trusting their courage, despite their fear, led to some of their bravest actions and most meaningful successes, which in turn boosted their self confidence and will trickle into every facet of their life. The natural world teaches with much conviction and clarity, and I love how these treks ultimately make life and its inevitable challenges easier paths to traverse.