Outdoor Advocacy

The Many Hats of Leading Children Through the Wilderness

kidhike2It was day five of our two-week adventure trip, and my group of kids were scattered across our open-field campsite like it was the end of a civil-war reenactment. Backpacks were exploded everywhere, a lone hiking boot was flung across the field, and audible moans could be heard in the muggy evening air. We had just finished our first full day of backpacking; a modest 7-mile bushwhack across the ridge-lined knife’s edge of North Mountain in Roanoke County, Virginia.

Everyone in the group was struggling in one way or the other; chickenpox-like bug bite patterns, Xbox withdrawal, and a general array of orthopedic concerns; if one thing is for sure, it was that it had been a tough day. For most of the campers it was their first introduction to backpacking, and it was no joke of a hike. Some struggled up hills, while some struggled against homesickness, and others struggled to keep the language to a PG-13 rating. It took every last bit of my energy to juggle the push to the finish, the support needed, and getting these twelve kids across a mountain. But we made it, and it felt great to be sprawled across our campsite.

It wasn’t until the end of my trip, lying in my tent on one of the last nights, was I able to start thinking about what we had done that first day of hiking. Everyone in our group had finished it, all twelve of them. All twelve of the unique personalities, dealing with big concepts such as perseverance, achievement, and struggle each in their individual ways. My job was to motivate this group of kids, these individuals, and myself along the mountain.

It was getting late and the twelve campers with all their worries and attributes, collectively snored and rustled their sleeping bags outside in their tents. My eyes were getting heavy, and in those few moments between awake and dreaming, somewhere between the struggle on the mountain and my damp-smelling tent, I put my finger on just how many hats a leader must wear when guiding children through the wilderness. I had to be the Inspirer, The-Man-With-The-Plan, and the The Listener. Next time you are out on trail; ask yourself, what hats do you wear?