My daughter, Abby, and I have hiked hundreds of miles together. She scrambles over the terrain and crosses the water, and so much more. She consults the map or checks the GPS before discussing trail options. As we hike, she makes sure I am all right. Often Abby is the trail leader, something she loves to announce. So she decides when and if we need to stop and turn around. And I let her.
Abby is four years old. And I trust her to lead the way.
Follow the trail leader.
At just 18 months, she completed her first solo mile on the Appalachian Trail—happily. Since then, she’s started a hiking challenge and has finished many treks on her own two feet. She’s hiked trails many adults have struggled with, such as the second half of Breakneck Ridge. Recently. She completed an almost six-mile hike over Mount Frissell, crossing the highest point in Connecticut as well as passing through New York and Massachusetts. She’s doing a section-by-section hike of the Appalachian Trail. And over the winter, she completed her first winter summit climb at Mount Beacon. In the first half of this year, she's close to 200 miles.
Abby feels proud and important about her hikes. But that’s not the only benefit. Hiking gives Abby a sense of independence, responsibility, and accountability. She’s also building her confidence and her mental and physical strength, all important life skills that will help Abby in the future and right now. Plus, we know all the great benefits of just being outside.
Even though I’m the adult, I let Abby take the lead. I even let her pick the direction we take. I encourage her to make decisions by asking her questions such as, “Which way would be the wisest to tackle that obstacle?” There are times I just don’t want to go on or even begin a hike. But, she takes on the role as leader and encourages me to keep going.
Are you tough!?
She’s also learned to check in with her mental and physical self. Abby has to be mentally engaged in the hiking. If she isn’t, we don’t hike. Sometimes hikes don’t go as planned. The weather might turn, the hike might take longer than expected, or the trail to the summit might be mentally challenging. We prep for the hike by yelling “Are you tough?” and then growl loudly. It psyches us up for what is ahead. Lately, Abby has started doing a summit dance. When we reach the top, she busts a move.
The trails are also teaching her to be a compassionate and respectful steward of nature. I smile every time she hugs a tree (and I also pray it isn’t covered in something poisonous)! She has a respect for nature, and it resonates with how she goes about her everyday life.
Abby’s hiking challenge has taught me a thing or two about the importance of letting our children lead. I’ve learned the importance of saying what I want and of challenging myself. It also shows Abby that I trust her, and that’s an important thing for our children to know.
A minute in the woods is better than any video game to us. We are living in the moment. She is learning and growing from the trails. As her mom, I am amazed by her and very proud to call her my daughter and best friend. She is my inspiration.
You can follow along on Abby's adventures and get trail reviews and tips at our blog, Adventures of Abby Girl. You can also watch Abby in action below.