Before we had kids, Thomas and I saved every penny for adventure travel. On our first date, I captured his heart with stories of mountain climbing in the Lake District and backpacking through Europe in search of Holy Grail sites. He hooked me with tales of eating fried scorpions and frogs that poured down from the skies in China and scuba diving in Phuket. The year before our marriage, we trekked the Inca trail through the Andes to Machu Picchu.
We moved to Alaska with plans to summit Denali and jump off helicopters strapped to our boards. One month after we settled in Eagle River, I got pregnant with Kyra. Over margaritas (don’t worry, mine was virgin), I remember crying to the Conaboys, a young couple we met on the Alaska ferry, that I had ruined the adventures we planned together.
Fortunately, the Conaboys didn’t seem to mind babies or pregnant ladies. And Thomas reassured me that he would strap the baby on his back so we could continue to travel. In photographs, it looks like I snowmachined, snowshoed, fished, hiked, and camped my way through those long nine months. Somehow, like DJs, we managed to beat match Kyra into a single and couples-without-kids crowd.
One day, I’m sure Kyra will ask me questions about some of the photos in her baby album. Decked in a pink dress, five-month-old Kyra crawled among a pile of snowboards in an Alyeska cabin rocking with Air force pilots. Gore-Tex overboots nearly up to her hips, eighteen-month-old Kyra teetered across Ruth Glacier towards a Cessna 185.
Either I was in denial, afraid that adventure travels had to end with parenthood. Or I had forgotten that my mother made it work. She was proud of being the kind of mother that never went anywhere without her kids. Every summer, my parents, my brother Jon-Jon, and I road tripped through nearly all the national parks in the United States and Canada.
My dad would watch nervously as MaMa photographed us on the edge of cliffs. She would march up to park rangers and demand, “What’s the most thrilling adventure you can offer?” And if their answer was too boring, she searched for unnamed caves that we could squeeze into.
My shelves are lined with scrapbooks capturing our horseback rides down narrow trails carved into canyons or frightened faces as the raft we clung to disappeared into white waters.
To this day, my dad claims that MaMa nearly killed us in Death Valley National Park, “You know your mother. Leap first, then think.”
The four of us slid our way down reddish orange slopes of a 600 foot deep volcanic crater. What seemed like a few minutes to get down turned into an excruciating steep return trip involving hours of taking a step and sliding backwards. I remember dehydration, hunger, and panic. My dad spread-eagled on the silt and sediment, dying beneath a desert sun.
I’ve always considered this story an example of why it’s not advisable to take kids on some kinds of adventures, until my godmother gave me an extraordinary gift: a tape cassette my mother had mailed her more than twenty-eight years ago. Without a tape player in the house, I had to spend a lot of money just to digitize the recording. But what MaMa preserved was priceless. To the nine-year-old Leslie, Ubehebe crater was not a near-death experience. Jon-Jon and I sounded excited, triumphant.
Jon-Jon: My father fainted in there.
Leslie: Well, we called him and he wouldn’t answer. Then, after a while, he raised his hand. I was the first one to be up.
Jon-Jon: I was the second one to be…third one to be up.
MaMa: What Daddy was doing down there?
Leslie: Lying on the floor.
Jon-Jon: My sister had to go all the way down to get our stuff, climb up, with the camera and the purse!
Leslie: That’s why I’m very tired after that. And that’s how…
MaMa: Were you scared?
Leslie: No, I wasn’t scared because I knew I could get up.
Jon-Jon: I was scared too.
MaMa: I was scared. I thought I would never make it up there.
Leslie: I was just sweating real hard. I even saved some rocks and I had to carry them up while I run up. Some boys took the easy trail.
Perhaps, all the risks MaMa exposed us to made me the woman I am today. To put us in the mood for tomorrow’s addition of “Family Travel,” tell me some crazy adventures you’ve taken your kids on? And whether it was worth it?