Trip Planning: Pandemic Options with a Baby

Before COVID19 paused the world, we found out we were expecting a child in October 2020 as we had been planning. We had been planning for some time, so we had some ideas about how we wanted to spend the first year together already.

We love spending time together away from other people.

We love working through challenges together and the emotional peaks and valleys you go through during those challenges.

Through hiking and our lifestyle has successfully made us closer together and given us tranquility, time for reflection, and common goals.

It is important to us that we can share our values with our child. We hope that our child will find the same joy in it as we do.

Everything we have learned so far suggests you should continue to do your hobbies and share your interests with your child when they are an infant and toddler.

Options

Our plan, at the start of the year, was to take parental leave and take our child on a trip for several months once the child is old enough to start to be more independent. Our options were:

  • AT (Appalachian Trail)
  • PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)
  • CDT (Continental Divide Trail)
  • Alexander Mackenzie Trail
  • SCT (Sunshine Coast Trail)
  • Wilderness Hiking (various)
  • Road trip with short day hikes

Amongst many others…

After scanning through our trail books, we realized there are too many options.

Requirements and Goals

I started thinking about what we want to achieve and what our realistic limitations will be.

  • Natasha will have had given birth some months before – so either the trip needs to be after she recovers, or needs to be easy for her to adjust her activity as needed based on her condition
  • We will have an infant or child – need to carry the child, carry food, diapers, toys, etc for the child
  • We want to maximize the duration of the trip. In Canada we are eligible for a reasonable amount of leave and we want to make full use of it.
  • We want to time the trip so we can interact with our child
  • We want a trip that speaks to us on some level.
  • We want to maximize adventure and minimize unnecessary stress (unnecessary travel, etc)

Realistically, this means:

  • Time the trip as late as parental leave and EI allows:
    • Allow for Natasha to recover
    • Allow for the child to mature and get past some of the more stressful months. Time it for after most of the standard pediatrician visits.
    • With a due date in October, a trip starting on May or June the following year times it when the child is around 7 months, which is around when children can start to use child carrier backpacks. This is also past most of the standard pediatrician visits and shots. This is also the start of hiking season πŸ™‚
  • A long hike (400+ kms) or long road trip are ideal to maximize time out.
  • Wilderness Hiking is less preferred as navigation through thick brush, trees or deep water crossings will either be impossible or very risky carrying a small child. I have been armpit deep in water before, and have had to push past dense brush. It’s not pleasant for me with a small pack. It could be downright risky with a baby on my back.
  • Minimize or avoid high elevation as children may not be able to vocalize any difficulty breathing or elevation sickness.
  • Trips with access to easy resupplies are ideal to minimize pack weight (since we are carrying a child on our back, plus baby gear) and ensure we can access aid if needed. Again, this rules out most wilderness trips.
  • We should try to keep the trip in North America and either make travelling part of the adventure, or minimize time travelling if we can

So if we start the trip in around May and finish in the fall that would:

  • Fit within hiking season
  • Fit within eligible parental leave window
  • Start when the baby is about 7 months – which (apparently) is when kids could start to hold their heads up and be carried in a child carrier back pack
  • Start well after Natasha has recovered and after we get through the most stressful first few months

Assessing the Options

AT is an obvious option.

Pros:

  • Would take up the entire parental leave
  • Is known for being do-able with an infant.
  • Has frequent resupply opportunities
  • Has limited elevation
  • Is a well established trail

Cons:

  • Not a trail on our bucket list
  • Long travel to the start of the trail, and travel back home after
  • Resupply options are maybe too frequent

The PCT is less obvious, but still an option.

Pros:

  • The trip can fill in the entire parental leave time
  • We have done sections of the trail before so we know what to expect in some places
  • We can skip the high elevation sections as we have already done those (JMT)
    • This will keep the little one out of high elevation as well as save us some time
  • If NOBO then travel to trailhead is fairly long, but travel home is short and easy (only 2 hours from Manning Park; we can have friends pick us up)
  • The trail is on our bucket list

Cons:

  • Travel to trailhead is long and needs air travel
  • Resupply may be further apart than ideal

The CDT won’t make sense for us as a family yet

Pros:

  • On our bucket list!
  • Long hike – can fill up a long leave window

Cons:

  • High elevation is unavoidable; or certainly sections we would like to complete rather than skip
  • Travel required to get to/ from the trail
  • Resupply may be further apart than ideal

The Alexander Mackenzie Trail is an option

but less than ideal. Possibly too rough around the edges.

Pros:

  • Canadian, and within BC
  • Could drive to the trailhead
  • Fairly novel as it is not a common thru hike

Cons:

  • Resupply locations are limited
  • Reportedly some sections of the trail may be overgrown
  • Limited information, GPS coordinates, maps available
  • Western trailhead is fairly isolated

The SCT is definitely a candidate

but not nearly long enough.

Pros:

  • Local; can drive or take a shuttle to trailheads. We have done this before.
  • Can camp in cabins or shelters along most of the trail (some shelters or cabins are sometimes overrun with rodents so tent camping is a better option for those
  • Not high in elevation and can be done early in the season

Cons:

  • Only 180 km so will not fill in the entire parental leave.No resupplies, but length may not require it. Depends on hiking pace with baby

Decision

The SCT will be hiked but not as our primary plan during parental leave. The SCT can be used to test out gear and get a routine going with Toothless early in the season before a longer hike.

The CDT will be reserved for when Toothless is older.

The PCT is a top candidate for hiking with Toothless. However due to the pandemic and current state of the PCT permits, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to hike it safely in 2021. We may need to defer this another year or two.

Not originally addressed are two options we have come to the top of our list that are more local:

Vancouver Island Trail

The Vancouver Island Trail (VIT) is:

  • A new long trail, at about 770km long
  • On the island so relatively insensitive to the season (in certain parts at least)
  • Limited in information so requires a lot more investigation and planning to see if it is feasible at all
  • If feasible, may be possible (at least in part) between May to June

It’s going to take considerable planning for us to consider this trail, and we have been actively researching and mapping it. However until we finish mapping the trail, reviewing the resources on it and other hiker blogs, we won’t be confident hiking the VIT with Toothless. It’ll take a lot of work before we can decide to hike the VIT safely as a family or not.

Great Divide Trail

As for the GDT, we have hiked the GDT before in 2018 and while it is quite wild we are familiar with it enough to know where to look for alternates to minimize risk with a baby.

Resupplies are known and feasible. We may need to finish in Mt. Robson or even Jasper with a baby rather than go to Kakwa, which would keep us off of the most wild section of the trail. This is probably the biggest thing we could do to derisk it for Toothless. We would hike this during normal season (July to end of Aug or early Sept).

Originally we were planning on doing the GDT along with the CDT when Toothless is older but we can do it now with him and do it a third time with the CDT. We expect the GDT to be much different in ten years so it’s worth revisiting then. We are members of the GDTA and still plan on doing trail work every year we do not have a long hike planned.

So it looks like our primary options are the VIT and/or the GDT. Both may be able to be hiked in the same season; but deciding on them depends on our final research and how Toothless is doing at the start of the hiking season next year.

Ultimately we need to be flexible so we will see which direction we go in. There is still a lot of planning to do which we would not have to do as much of if we chose the PCT or something more simple, but we are committed to finding something that works for the three of us.

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