What I Learned About Parenting On The Hiking Trail

When our oldest was two, Kory and I set out on our first big vacation without her. A ten-day trip to Hawaii, visiting the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. We loved each leg of our adventure, but we were particularly excited to get to Kauai because we’re hikers. And we’d heard friends talk about the beauty and challenge of the Kalaula Trail.

The Kalalau Trail is a hiking trail that leads from Ke’s Beach to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast. It’s the only land access to this part of the coast of Kauai. It boasts rugged cliffs down to deep, narrow valleys ending abruptly at the sea, waterfalls and swift flowing streams, and extensive stone-walled terraces. From the trail, the view of the coast is breathtaking.

Na Pali Coast from Kalalau trail in Kauai, HawaiiAfter doing our research, we decided to tackle a day hike of the trail. Two miles in to Hanakapal’ai Beach, two miles inland through Hanakapal’ai Valley to the waterfall for a picnic, and then back out again, for a total of eight miles. The hike didn’t disappoint.

The trail was well-marked, but as we hiked inland to the waterfall, we were so overwhelmed with the beauty of our surroundings that we stopped looking for markers. Before we knew it, we were standing in a rocky area where there were no clear markings and no other people.

The path appeared to be gone.

We stood there for a while looking around. It was so quiet, we could hear the bamboo creaking from the woods as it blew in the breeze around us. Wonderful if you know where you are. Creepy if you don’t.

And we didn’t.

I remember the fear.

Because my Eagle Scout didn’t know if we were in the right place. And he always knows.

After a few minutes, Kory decided we should backtrack just a bit to find the last marker we passed to make sure we were headed in the right direction. So we did. Our 8 mile hike turned into 9 miles, but that’s better than getting lost! Thank goodness for markers on the trail!

Fast forward to this summer.

When we were at Family Camp, our leaders were sharing real-time stories about their son’s adventure thru-hiking The Appalachian Trail. Unlike the 11 mile length of the Kalaula Trail, The Appalachian Trail is 2,180 miles long, cutting through 14 states from Georgia to Maine.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a mammoth undertaking. Since the 1930’s, only about 15,000 hikers have thru-hiked it from start to finish, and our leader’s son was well on his way to being added to the number.

Our leader explained that the trail is marked with “white blazes,” stripes of white paint, 2 inches wide by 6 inches high, frequently and prominently placed along the trail.

White Blaze on Rock at Jane Bald OverlookRock cairns (high towers of rock) exist less frequently along the trail above the treeline and where snow and fog may obscure painted blazes.

Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains in New HampshireFor the most part, the trail is marked frequently, but in some areas, there are only 4-5 markers per mile. And if someone starts their hike in the winter, many of the blazes will be below the snow line, making them impossible to see.

Such was the case for our leader’s son, who began his hike in February, when the hiking season doesn’t begin until April.

During a phone conversation with his son in the early days of the hike, our leader asked him how he managed to stay on the trail if many of the blazes were covered in snow. His son shared that during those portions of the hike, his only option was to follow the footsteps of the few who had come before.

Roan Winter 7And then he challenged us in our role as parents.

He told us our kids are like the hikers on The Appalachian Trail. And we are like the trail blazers who came before, leaving markers and paving a path so they can find their way.

We do this in so many ways.

Through our words.

Our actions.

Our decisions.

Our mistakes.

Our walk with God.

Our teaching.

We mark the trail. Every day. Whether we know it or not.

Because our kids are watching us.

They crave leadership.

Don’t we all?

It’s human nature.

We even see it in Exodus Chapter 32, when the Israelites are waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain after talking with God. He’s taking a long time. And they grow impatient:

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said: “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.

So Aaron told them to take of their gold jewelry and he formed it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf. The Israelites said:

These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.

The Israelites wanted a leader. And Moses was nowhere to be found. So they started looking elsewhere. They started looking for someone (or something) to fill the void. When they should have kept their eyes on God, they turned instead to an idol.

The same thing can happen with our kids if we don’t embrace our role as parents and seize every opportunity to lead them well, pointing them to the way of Christ.

They, too, will start looking for someone or something to fill the void.

It could be anybody. Or anything.

They may turn to a teacher or coach at school.

A friend’s parent.

A pastor.

A peer.

And we might get lucky.

It’s possible they may fix their eyes on someone who leads well. Someone who can teach them some of the important lessons of life.

But it’s also possible they won’t.

Consider the examples of some of the most prominent figures in sports, music, film, and T.V.

Need I say more?

No, we may not like the example of the person they choose to fill our shoes. But even if we do, that person’s position of influence pales in comparison to our own because we are the most well-positioned people in the lives of our children to influence them every day. Simply for the fact that we live with them.

So our time with our kids is urgent.

We ought to seize every opportunity to expand our influence. We need to lead them well. Every chance we get. Because we have about 18 years to serve as the most influential people in their lives.

It’s a lot of time.

And it’s no time.

All at the same time.

But instead of focusing on what 18 years is or isn’t, let us focus instead on what we are.

We are trail blazers.

We are the ones coming before.

We are the ones best positioned to influence our children in a positive way.

We are the ones who should be pointing them to the way of Christ.

Let’s embrace our position.

Let’s parent them intentionally.

Let’s view every day we’re given as a gift. As an opportunity to lead.

So when the snows of life come, the markers are buried underneath its blanket, and our kids lose their way, maybe, just maybe, they will blaze the trail of the those who came before. And may those trail blazers be us.

What steps will you take today to embrace your role as a trail blazer and lead your children well?

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