Gratitude: it comes in arrowhead form.

I meant to write this article a month ago, as it’s about gratitude, and what I am grateful for this year, but life intervened, and I didn’t get around to writing it until today. But, if you ask me, gratitude isn’t a subject that’s limited to Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving time alone. It’s a subject that’s appropriate at any time, and especially at the end of the year, as it’s a time to look back on what one’s accomplished, and what one wants to accomplish. To put it in wilderness terms, the end of the year is a time to check your bearings, and see where you’re headed by scanning the horizon; or to use another tired cliché, view the entire forest, and not just the individual trees. That, I think is the nature of the holiday season: seeing what you are grateful for in your life; appreciating such people (or things that you are grateful for); and finding out where you will want to go (and perhaps how those people will help you get there). And if that isn’t the nature of the holiday season, along with other good-will type thoughts and feelings, I, the Last Adventurer think it should be.

Before I get to what I am grateful for, I need to backtrack for a moment to give you some context. If you’re reading this blog, you probably think that this is some sort of one-man operation. In some respects, it is, and in some respects it’s not. All the work? That’s definitely all one man. But even though I do all the work, write all the copy, take all the photos, log all the miles, and do everything, it’s not just me.  Along the way, I’ve climbed and hiked with great people who’ve inspired me and been there to tackle the toughest challenges; and as long as we’re talking about gratitude, I’m always grateful for all of them that are there to help and support me in real life or in the virtual realm. Beyond that, for the last couple years, my adventure partner in chief has been @losadventura. While she isn’t always on the trail with me, she’s always there to motivate me and listen to my stories.

The infamous arrowheads: not real artifacts.

If you’ve followed me for a long time, you probably know all of this already. But what you don’t know is that @losadventura and I have three kids. You probably don’t know it, because I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about the kids normally for two reasons. First, it’s outside of my niche. Seriously. I’ve been blogging for a while now. For a long time, I didn’t have a niche. I was all over the place. Then, I found my niche, my groove, and that’s what works for me. Sure, I could change – but I already know that there’s bloggers out there whose specialty is blogging about being in the outdoors with kids -@walksimply, @moosefish, @melissabravery - to name a few, and I’d rather let them do what their good at, and let me do what I’m good at rather than try to compete or copy their work. Secondly, I’m not sure how I feel about my kids being on the internet. While I admire the courage of the above bloggers - and their work, I’m just not sure I feel comfortable about my kids being the focus of anonymous eyes on the internet. After all, it’s one thing for me to be told I’m a “dumbass-Communist-tree-hugging-piece-of-poop” that should be “kicked out of America”, if someone was to say that about my family, I’d probably go medieval on them – with my ice axe, of course.  

Zumwalt Meadows Trail, Kings Canyon National Park

Having said all of that, a lot of my adventures do take place with @losadventura and the family. Sometimes, this leads to tension when people feel like they should have a larger role in a post; and other times, people don’t care at all what I’m doing because I don’t have a TV show, enough YouTube followers, or anything else that really makes me “cool”. While all of this is challenging at times, no one ever said being the Last Adventurer was easy. Then again, it’s not easy dealing with me, the Last Adventurer on the trail. As a former Park Ranger for both the State of California and the National Park Service, and an Eagle Scout, I have high standards for what people are doing on the trail and off the trail.

I have high standards about the outdoors because I do believe that it is up to each and every person to make a difference about the wilderness. I believe this because I know that no park service or volunteer organization has the resources to make that difference on their own. I believe this because I have seen the worst of the worst in terms of offenders, so at times, now that I am a private citizen, it is hard for me to hold my tongue.  But mostly, I believe this because I believe in the power of people to change things through a combination of individual actions that ultimately make up a larger whole. And while I’m being positive, I’ll admit that in some respects, my family is lucky because I had plenty of time to be the Dirty Harry vigilante of the outdoors world with total strangers and climbing partners before I met them (even though I’ll still do it sometimes when I’m out on the trail solo).

When I’m out with my family, it’s a balance for me: I want to instill in each and every one of them the same respect I have for the wilderness, and teach them to do the right things. Then again, I also don’t want to be some hyper-sensitive eco-vigilante that takes the fun and the joy out of the wilderness by promulgating rules about everything. I would never want to be the guy that says: “Don’t touch that! Don’t do that! Don’t smell that flower! Don’t smile, it’s hiking, not smiling!”. That would be awful. Again, this goes back to the mellowing period that’s occurred from when I was out on my own, being Dirty Harry of the Wilderness. It also goes to being a kid again. To me hiking with kids, or climbing with kids, allows one to go back to places, and see things with fresh eyes. It allows you to experience things that you might not have seen as an adult; and it allows you to appreciate things in a different way. For example: that eight mile trail that you hiked across the mountain? That was a great solo accomplishment. But the time that you hiked it with kids? That trail will forever be known as the “I’m-Sexy-And-I-Know-It” trail, because one kid played that song the whole way to motivate himself to finish.

Where the arrowheads ended up...who knows, in a couple thousand years, they'll be real artifacts.

With family for me, it’s always about balance; and it’s always about exploration. We’re big believers in the Junior Ranger program in my family; and even without that, we’re always trying to teach the kids what we know so that learning always coincides with exploration. A couple months ago, we were in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park on one of our trips, and when we were at the Boyden Cavern gift shop, I saw they were selling arrowheads for a dollar. At the time, I figured, “heck, I can get two of these, drop them on the trail, and this will motivate the kids to look around when we’re hiking”. I told @losadventura about it, she thought it was an interesting idea, and on the next trail we were on, I casually walked behind everyone, and let them slip from my hands onto the trail.

On our return, I casually bent down to “tie my shoe”, and then exclaimed loudly, “Hey – what do we have here?”. Sure enough, the kids came running over to look. They picked up the arrowheads. They looked at them. They talked about where they had come from. They talked about who they came from. They talked about Native American ghosts; curses; and Bigfoot. They passed them back and forth. Then, after five minutes, when I said, “Ok guys, let’s get going!” while trying to hide my smile, they put them back down.

At that point, I gave them a quizzical look and asked why they weren’t taking the arrowheads. They stopped, looked at me like I was crazy, and said, “You don’t take things from National Parks; let alone native American things” like I was the stupidest Adventurer, not the Last Adventurer. (The smaller one also gave me a lecture about disturbing Native American things, and being chased by ghosts, but that is neither here nor there). At that moment, I realized that my motivational tactics flew in the face of everything I had been telling them for the last several years. Don’t pick things up. Leave no trace. Respect ruins. Respect the wilderness. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

At that moment, even though I felt like that nefarious stupidest Adventurer, I felt proud. I hadn’t meant to test the kids – all I had meant to do was give them a good story about where they had got some arrowheads – but I had inadvertently done so. Even though it had been a horrible idea, they had listened to all of my good ideas and good pieces of advice before that, and done the right thing on their own. Sure, there may have been a slight fear of Native American ghost spirits, but overall, they knew what the right thing to do was, and they did it. And that’s why I am grateful for my family, because they do listen even when they’re pretending like they’re not, and they don’t listen when they are confronted with one of my bad ideas. Finally, if you’re out hiking by Zumwalt Meadows next spring, and you find some arrowheads on the trail, you can turn them into the National Park Service, but you should be warned that they’re not actually historical artifacts, and I’m sorry for “littering”.