The Joys Of Hiking—With An Infant

The Joys of Hiking—With an Infant

jr rangerNot long after he became a hiking guidebook author, Jonah McDonald became a parent. Here’s his account of how having a newborn changed his hiking life–and didn’t.

Before she was born, I didn’t believe what people told me. Everyone assured me my life would change drastically with a baby, but somehow I imagined I could continue working while still hiking on weekdays and camping, canoeing, and rock climbing on weekends.

All you parents are probably laughing right now—and you are right to do so. Caring for an infant is a challenge! When Annie Mae was born, I took time off from work and still felt like I could barely keep my life together. Sleep deprivation and the constant care she needed hit me like a rock.

Annie Mae would come to my book talks where I would speak passionately about the importance of spending time in nature and hiking on forest trails. But I felt like a fraud, knowing I’d just go back home and sit indoors with the baby while she slept. But one day a friend (with a two-month-old) gave me a gift. She said, “We couldn’t do anything just for ourselves when our daughter was born…but we could hike!”

Really? Hiking with an infant? In the winter?

I’m no stranger to adventure, so I wrapped Annie Mae up in warm clothes, strapped her to my chest, and walked a three-mile loop through Deep Dene Park near my home (see Chapter 11 in Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests). Instead of crying (as I feared), Annie Mae was quietly alert—mesmerized by the movement, the smells, the colors, and the light.

What an epiphany! Most parents know that babies love to go outside (a great technique for calming a crying infant), but how did I not figure out that she would also love to hike with me! Since that first gentle hike in Deep Dene, we’ve hiked miles and miles of trails through Atlanta’s hidden forests. At the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area one day, a ranger got so excited to see an infant out with daddy that she pinned a Junior Ranger badge on Annie Mae!

Beyond Atlanta, we’ve explored in the Ozarks of Arkansas, the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, and the forests along the Charles River near Boston. My day pack has grown to include bottles, diapers, and extra layers for both of us, but I’m happy to report that Annie Mae and I are a great team in the woods. “Daddy” may be my new title, but I haven’t had to give up my old identity of “hiker!”