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In my short time as a dad, I’ve learned that parenting is a perpetual feeling of being unprepared. It’s like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle while someone is slowly trading out the pieces of a new one.
The Baby Steps of Adventuring with a Baby
My wife and I have been avid enjoyers of the outdoors for years, so it came as no surprise that we would continue our hobbies with our infant son. First, we learned to just be outside safely and happily. Then we tackled the challenge of hiking safely and happily. We quickly tried our hand at camping safely and happily, followed by backpacking…all baby steps leading to something more challenging, but ultimately more fulfilling. What frustrated the process, however, was the ebb and flow of feeling like a master and then an apprentice, over and over again.
By the time we decided to take an overnight trip on the Colorado River, we had already visited 10 National Parks, car camped countless times, and backpacked in Northern Arizona, Yosemite NP, and Bryce Canyon NP. As seasoned veterans of the outdoors, canoeing with an 8-month-old still somehow scared us.
Can a canoe really handle the mighty Colorado River?
Can someone paddle while watching an infant?
How would we protect our son from the sun?
Where will he sit in the canoe?
What new gear do we need?
What if we flip?
Accepting the Challenge
After scouring the internet for answers, we accepted the challenge and courageously set off into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We began our adventure accompanied by a couple of friends who had guided this section of river and camped it previously; their knowledge of the area provided us with a great deal of comfort. After a short drive from our home, we arrived at Lee’s Ferry where, unlike most rafters on the Colorado, we’d be heading upstream. Lee’s Ferry marks the official border between Glen Canyon NRA and Grand Canyon National Park and is therefore where Grand Canyon rafting trips set off. We took a backhaul (a boat that transports both you and your gear/boats) upriver until we nearly reached Glen Canyon Dam. After organizing our gear at the beach, we set sail.
October had just begun and the weather was about as perfect as it could get: a high of 80ºF and not a single cloud in the sky. As the river wound around like a snake, the canyon walls would periodically shelter us from the sun, gracing us with cool breezes and splashes of 50ºF water, but in between these moments, we lived in direct sunlight. We dressed our son in a sun hat over long sleeve wool layers that would regulate his temperature in both conditions and protect him from the brutal sun. With just a bit of infant-friendly zinc sunscreen on his face and hands, he was ready to take on the changing conditions!
The river was friendly and our time there was blissful and relaxing. While there were a few “fun” spots on the river, it was almost entirely flat and easy. The thought of a tipping canoe never crossed our minds. The river also moved so quickly, only one of us needed to paddle for most of the trip (until the very end where the river gets wide…I definitely didn’t need to work on my upper body for a couple of weeks after). My wife, Brittany, occasionally paddled, but she spent most of the time sitting in the hull with our son.
For most of the trip, our son made home between mom’s legs on a closed foam sleeping pad. We added a couple of life jackets along the gunwales for padding, and our son was good to go! We coasted right along, paddling mostly to steer, and even hooked a couple of trout along the way. Before we knew it, we found a home along the banks of the river at one of the first come, first served, free campsites. We emptied our dry bags, tossed our paddles and life jackets (and our adorable new infant life jacket!) in our beached canoes, and set up camp.
Our friends prepared the best steak anyone could taste: backcountry steak, and after a couple of cookies, we called it a night. The nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid 50’s and our son was snug as a bug on his Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad and in his wool base layers, and Morrison Outdoors Little Mo 40º sleeping bag. He slept through the night without a single peep.
In the morning, snuggled up in our sleeping bags, we prepared coffee and burritos for our friends and set off once again. As we floated below tourists at Horseshoe Bend and past fly fishers at Waterholes Canyon, we kept smiling, both at the beauty of the canyon and at our success as paddling parents.
Conquering the Fear
The fears we brought with us were ultimately unfounded…which has always been the case for any activity we’ve tried with our child. The fears of being ill-equipped and unprepared have ironically prepared us as parents. With some trial and error, we are becoming masters of our craft. And if we can afford ourselves the chance to take a step back and take it all in, we can marvel at the masterpiece we’ve fashioned from the endless jigsaw puzzle pieces…one more stunning than any individual puzzle could ever be.
Josh, his wife Brittany, and Callan (age 2) enjoy backpacking together and travelling to places that stretch their comfort zones. They began hiking, camping, and backpacking as soon as they safely could with their son, starting small and growing as they gained experience. They have backpacked the Southwest United States, the Tour du Mont Blanc, Spain's Cami de Ronda, and Patagonia's W Trek as a family and have plans to continue trekking in Guatemala later this year. Find more of his blog posts and links to his YouTube channel and Instagram at www.GoByJosh.com.