When I had my baby, I had only just moved from my social mecca of Vancouver to the quiet suburb of Port Coquitlam with my partner. I found myself truly lost in the social landscape of my new town, without local friends, colleagues or baristas who knew me by name. After a couple of months of new-family bliss, my partner returned to work, and I took a long, hard look at the community I had adopted. I needed to get outside, and I needed to get comfortable spending a lot of time close to home.
I started with long walks on the Coquitlam River trail that passes by our house. Even on the rainiest days, I knew that mental clarity, and the baby’s much-needed nap, would come somewhere between my third and fourth kilometer. In those early days, I would sometimes stay out for hours, staring at the newness of the world and marveling at the buds on trees, the glistening rain drops on leaves, and of course, at the tiny beautiful bundle of human being in the stroller.
Every day, I saw the same women and men with their babies on the trail, idly scrolling through their smartphones while their babies slept. I could recognize myself in them – sleep deprived, happy to be outside despite the inclement weather, and eyes glued to a tiny screen as they wandered, zombie-like, along the river.
It was almost accidental when I stumbled upon the Metro Vancouver Baby and Me hiking series. For years, small groups have been meeting weekly in Metro Vancouver parks, including Lynn Canyon and Capilano on the North Shore, and Stanley and Pacific Spirit Parks in Vancouver, for medium to strenuous hikes with new parents. Without hesitation, I joined my local tri-cities group (which hikes in Belcarra and Minnekhada Regional Parks), and laced up. I was ready to break a sweat, meet some new people, and spend quality outdoor time with my baby, and without my smartphone.
I am pleased to report the group was as serious about hiking as I had hoped. The parents (all moms in this case, though dads are welcome!) were warm, but eager to hit the trails and cover some ground. In the first hike, we tackled the Low Knoll trail at Minnekhada park, and kept a brisk pace for well over an hour. I finished this session happily exhausted, and proud for lugging 15 extra pounds around with me… and I am referring to the baby.
In subsequent hikes, we explored other trails at Minnekhada, and circled Sasamat Lake at Belcarra. Each time, the leader, Shelley, was knowledgeable about the local area, set a brisk pace, and pointed out dozens of animals and their tracks that may have otherwise escaped our notice. On one hike at Minnekhada, we saw beaver, toad, hummingbirds, and finally a young bear, who presented itself in our path not twenty yards ahead. We backed away slowly, never turning our backs, and chatted happily about the encounter for the rest of the hike, which was re-directed towards the lodge. These adventures provided us with exactly the stimulation, inspiration and cardio that I was looking for. And how many other babies have their first bear encounter at four months old?