Several years ago, when my firstborn was almost 7, one of her peers biked the Going-to-the-Sun Road all the way from Avalanche to Logan Pass. He chugged 15.5 miles on a seven-speed bicycle, climbing over 3,200 feet in the process and getting an adorable writeup in the Daily Inter Lake.
It was a fantastic accomplishment, and we were all really, genuinely happy for him. I figured that our kids weren’t far behind — we usually made it out to bike the Sun Road at least once a season, so if we didn’t get to the pass that year, we’d probably make it the next.
Nope. Fast forwarding eight years, we have many, many photos of the kids throwing rocks in Logan Creek and zero newspaper clippings. We’ve made it to The Loop a few times, but never without someone having some, um, “big feelings” somewhere along the way. (A quick side note: two-thirds of my kids will read this and immediately protest this characterization of their inability/unwillingness to bike to the pass. All I can say is that we have not ever made it and I am not the limiting factor).
Anyway, this same scenario plays out across our outdoor pursuits. We ski, but our 9-year-old isn’t boot packing up Chair 2 on Thanksgiving. We hike, but you’ll find our family on something like the Stanton Lake Trail, not the top of Great Northern. We camp, but only our oldest child has been on a backcountry trip. (She was 13, it was two nights, and we went less than five miles each day).
I will freely admit that this is hard for me. I like pushing myself, and it’s difficult to accept that only some of my family buys into the idea of Type II fun. (If you’re not familiar with the Fun Scale, Type I fun is fun the whole time, while Type II fun is really only fun in hindsight and requires embracing a lot of suck during the activity. Think walking to the ice cream shop vs. running the Highline Trail). I struggle even more when I hear about friends’ kids embracing big adventures while most of my family is perfectly content to do a small adventure, or even better, go tubing in a boat full of chips and Oreos.
Last summer, I read an article in which Sara Boilen, the owner of Sweetgrass Psychological Services who also has a doctorate in clinical psychology, mentioned the pressures parents in mountain towns face to not only go harder and faster themselves, but to have their kids doing the most epic things. I felt like she was talking to me.
So I called her for some answers. What do we do with that feeling that our family’s adventure isn’t good enough if it isn’t epic?
“I love the quote, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’” Sara says. Her very first suggestion is to get off social media, to stop basing the value of your experience on how it stacks up to what your friends—and your “friends”—are doing.
(I would add that if you stay on social media, remember that you’re seeing everyone else’s highlight reel, the happy summit photo with a chirpy caption, not the sobbing “I hate hiking” moments that happened 37 times on the way up).
I also had an absolute lightbulb moment when Sara pointed out that many of our mountain activities are not actually that enjoyable in and of themselves; we love them because of the company we keep, the places they take us, and the memories we’ve made over the years. Experience has taught adults to gloss over the hot, sweaty, unenjoyable parts in pursuit of the larger experience (hello again, Type II fun). Some kids naturally love an activity and willingly embrace the effort behind it. Most don’t. They state the obvious when their legs start to burn and breathing takes effort: THIS HURTS AND I WOULD LIKE IT TO STOP NOW, PLEASE.
Maybe our kids will absorb our love of going big on a trail, especially if they get a say in the route or the snacks or picking a Type I fun activity for tomorrow. Maybe not. Either way, the key to making this season a good one just might be this: remembering that your day doesn’t have to beat someone else’s to make it a win.
Find more of Katie Cantrell’s thoughts on parenting and life at www.katiecantrellwrites.com or on social media @katiecantrellwrites.