Fathers & the Outdoors: Reflections from the Gossamer Gear Team
The month of June brings with it a day to acknowledge the role fathers play in the lives of their children and communities. For many outdoor adventurers, fathers may be the ones who took them on their first hikes, or otherwise encouraged them to journey into the solitude of nature. Father's Day is a time to celebrate the fathers who have inspired us, to reflect on how fathers can best support their children's adventurous pursuits, and also to grieve the fathers lost.
We asked our Gossamer Gear team of staff and ambassadors a few questions about what their fathers mean to them, or how they view their own role as a father. The answers are as unique as each of the people who shared them. We hope you enjoy them as you reflect on whatever this days means to you.
Glen Van Peski, Gossamer Gear Founder
One of the things a father wants to impart to their children is confidence with humility. The outdoors is a perfect vehicle for this training. Growing up, I did a lot of car camping with my parents, and then later when my parents divorced, day hikes with my mother. This instilled in me a love for the outdoors, but I never picked up any skills for "living" in the backcountry.
My education in backpacking began when our oldest son Brian joined Boy Scouts and I became an adult leader in an active backpacking troop. For our first weeklong trip in the Sierra, we went down to REI and purchased everything they told us to, resulting in me leaving the trailhead with a 70-lb. pack. This was the start of my interest in lightweight backpacking and making my own gear. Through that start, I have been blessed to meet, and in many cases hike with, many of the legends in the ultralight movement.
Brian got busy with college and career, but some years later was invited on a backpacking trip by friends. He was surprised that he seemed to know more than his friends, even after not having backpacked for years. The trips we took, eventually with very light loads, and surviving some harrowing conditions and big mileage days, had left him with a confidence in his skills, abilities and physical reserves. Time in the outdoors also left him with a humility; an understanding that you prepare as best as possible, but that conditions beyond your control are always possible, and that flexibility, innovation, and improvisation are important ways to cope with changed conditions. I think these abilities and understandings continue to serve him well in all areas of his life.
The backcountry is also something that we continue to share. As our lives move in different directions, the love of the outdoors is a tether that keeps us connected. And what more could a father wish for?
Ryan "Dirtmonger" Sylva, Brand Ambassador
He never let me down. But when I finally met him 12 years ago I looked at a rundown version of myself. A foreboding meeting, an encounter of acceptance, and all I wanted to see a look of wonder in the eyes. Yet I only saw pain behind his eyes, the depths of a paincave I could only imagine. What was it? A disease? Regret or shame? Drugs? Yea, maybe it was drugs. Nah, it was a bipolar disorder. That's it. It has to be with eyes that filled with pain. I mean, he was a hobo, a fucking skid row derelict for his life; not this hippy happy hobo trendy thing, but a REAL hobo. His paincave ran deep; he endured everything, no regrets.
I watched his mannerisms, observed his gesticulation, studied our similarities, arms waving and his face convulsing, his fingers gyrating, hearing tales of a hobo life. I mean, being a hobo to me is like a Mexican being a Mexican or any ethnicity that bleeds that ethnicity. Watching him: fuck it; I bleed hobo.
I rove over lands like a coyote, on the fringe, rather, within a fringe of society feeling 'outside.' I often wonder how I have made it, or not lost it. How am I still here? I often wonder how I have not ended up like him, even though I am him.
Read the entirety of Ryan's blog entry, "The Blood of a Hobo" on his website.
Sirena Dufault, Brand Ambassador
My dad was the one who got me into the outdoors. His love of photography, travel, and state and national parks were always part of our family vacations, though we never did any hiking.
My dad has been my support crew on my long distance hikes and will sometimes walk in a bit to meet me. His enthusiasm for the outdoors is infectious and we're always excited to share our photographs with each other. After a long stint in the wilderness, it's such a great thing to have my dad waiting for me to share my experiences.
My advice for fathers looking to support their children in living adventurously is don't discourage solo female travel. My dad has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders even when others voiced their concerns.
Jon Schmid, Head of Product & Marketing
Parents are so easily distracted; I find it so much easier to disconnect from the noise of our constantly connected lives and just enjoy my time outdoors with my son. It's not about how many miles I can get in this weekend anymore. Children force us to slow down and notice things we may normally overlook. I can hike the same trail I have hiked 50 times before and Bruno will point out a feature in the limestone I never noticed, or point out the most well-hidden wildflower in the brush.
I feel lucky that there are already too many favorite memories to keep track of when it comes to time spent outdoors with my son. From Bruno's first time playing in the snow above tree line to watching him discover a snail or move some rocks to divert a stream, they all magically blend together. The first time we put him down to walk the trail instead of being in a carrier stands out in particular.
It is so important for children's physical development and mental health to experience nature everyday. Thankfully, all of the research on the benefits of being outside is becoming more mainstream. Children definitely thrive outside. Sharing our passion for the outdoors with Bruno is an amazing inheritance to leave him with.
Whitney "Allgood" LaRuffa, Brand Ambassador
My father always encouraged me to get outside and see the world around me. We were raised in New Hampshire and right out our back door we had 3,000 acres of woods to explore. From a young age, he encouraged me to go walk in the woods, pick blueberries in the summer, and took me along when he went deer hunting in the fall. My dad wasn't the biggest fan of hiking, but when I was still small enough to ride in a child carrier, he hiked me up to the top of Mount Monadnock, one of my earliest memories in life. Later, I joined the boy scouts; my father always encouraged me to go on the trips–canoeing, backpacking, camping, etc.–and he helped keep me focused to become an Eagle Scout.
I think my favorite memory would be the trip I took with my dad to Yellowstone National Park in the fall of 1995. We had traveled to Montana for me to visit some colleges, and while there tacked on a trip to Yellowstone. Both of us being hunters and lovers of the wild, we woke every day before sunrise and went out into the park to watch wildlife in the early morning hours. We saw bison, moose, elk, and various other wildlife in the park. That trip will always be a special one, as it was just the two of us enjoying our time outdoors enjoying all the beauty that Yellowstone has to offer.
I think my father actually understands my relationship with the outdoors and how to me it is the place I feel most at ease. He often jokes that I am a masochist because I spend so much time outside in less than ideal conditions. One thing I do wish he understood was my desire to go out there alone–he often worries if I am by myself that something will happen to me. However, after a lifetime in the wilderness, I have the skills to minimize my risk and keep myself safe; I guess that a parent will always worry about their child no matter how old they are or how many miles they have logged in the woods.
My advice for fathers in supporting their children to live adventurously is to encourage your kids to get outside and understand that they will learn from their mistakes. I know that it was a big leap of faith to let me go thru-hike the Appalachian Trail when I was 18, but the fact that my father let me go and then spent that summer sending me food drops along the way meant more to me than he will ever know. While my father may not want to go hike a long distance trail, he has always done a great job of being the support person on the other end of my adventure and gone out of his way to help with logistics so I could complete the goal I had set for myself. Fathers should encourage their kids to go outdoors, follow their dreams, and help them strive for a lifetime of adventure.
Ras "Ultra Pedestrian" Vaughan, Brand Ambassador
It's been an amazing journey, both literally and figuratively, seeing my daughter grow from an adorable little girl carrying a homemade walking stick around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail, to a young woman with a college degree serving for 27 months in the Peace Corps in a remote village in northern Madagascar. Her time living both off the grid and on the trail throughout her life has made her into the unique and exceptional person she has grown to be.