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Throw Rocks. Be Wild. I recently read an article by Emma Marris that makes a wonderfully commonsense argument: kids who play outdoors on their own terms develop a deeper connection to nature. She cites solid research suggesting that Leave No Trace philosophies are only appropriate for adults, but kids should be allowed to run a bit wild – even if they will pick some forbidden flowers. I posted the article to facebook and twitter, where lots of people appreciated this refreshingly relaxed point of view. Meanwhile, I congratulated myself for already encouraging this sort of deep, playful connection to nature.

The very next hike my six-year-old son and I went on – a long backcountry romp in the San Gabriel Mountains – I slipped into a routine I didn’t even know I had of reigning in my surefooted, nature-loving boy. “Stay on the trail.” “Don’t throw rocks.” “Don’t scare the lizards.” When I started…

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The mission of the Tin Mountain Conservation Center is “to promote an appreciation of the environment among children, families, and the community through hands-on programs in the schools, at camp, and in the community.”

This place is only 2 miles from our home. How have I not checked this place out already!?

Alex and I started at the Nature Learning Center off of Bald Hill Rd in Albany, NH. This beautiful eco-friendly building boosts a Nature Library, an impressive collection of  preserved mammals (Alex likes the bear that greets you at the door and a large bobcat further in), and a large function room used for educational programs and events.

Tin Mountain Conservation Center

Tin Mountain Conservation Center

After obtaining a map of the Rockwell Sanctuary we hit the trail. From TMC’s website, “The Sanctuary also boasts a fully preserved ca. 1800 barn, an extensive trail system, a four-acre pond, numerous unique plant species, and a small granite quarry active from 1885-1890.”

Tin Mountain Conservation Center & Rockwell Sanctuary

Tin Mountain Conservation Center & Rockwell Sanctuary

There are about 5 miles of trails on the 138 acre protected land, and they are broken into shorter loop hikes and trails with easy to follow color coded animal trail markers. This made the “find the next blaze” game I play with Alex all the more entertaining. I had a couple of hours and wanted to get as much in as possible so decided to do an “outer-loop” run counter-clockwise around the map.

We cruised south along the “Yellow Beaver” trail before descending down and turning right onto the blue “Bear Tree Loop” trail. We turned east and followed it all the way to the Quarry. Alex demanded I carry us up to the top of a tall stack of quarried blocks, which I was happy to oblige. Here there was a distinct lack of trail markers on an otherwise heavily marked trail. After some snooping I decided to follow the obvious boundary line north and came back into the network on that little unmarked trail about 500 feet north of the Quarry. I could see looking back south the Blue Bear trail would be easier to follow if going clock-wise.

We soon turned right on the yellow “Quarry Trail”. Alex really liked the pick-axe on each marker though I could not convince him it was not a shovel. I intended to stay on this trail until getting to the orange “Frog Leap Loop” but when Alex saw trail signs with sandwiches on them, the aptly named “Lunch Rock Trail” he was adamant we change course. Giving up my goal of a circumnavigation of the area we headed up the Lunch Rock Trail and decided to break at the open Lunch Rock area for a snack and a leg stretch.

Lunch Rock

Lunch Rock

Leg Stretch

Leg Stretch

After a diaper change Alex wanted to hike a bit on his own. The trail ahead had just a bit too much underbrush for his comfort though so I loaded him back into the pack with a promise he could explore once we reached some more open terrain. Finishing the short Lunch Rock Trail we turned right on the red “Maple Leaf Loop” and made our way towards the 4 acre Chase Pond. Soon after turning onto the orange “Frog Leap Loop” we saw the pond through the trees and came across an impressive beaver dam at its outlet.

Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam

We crossed the outlet just downstream over a small wooden bridge and turned right onto the blue “Owl Prowl” trail.

Bridges and trail signs

Bridges and trail signs

Alex was starting to tire so I decided to save the north most loop trail for another visit and we turned in towards the pond on the red “Stoney’s Spur”. This short bit of trail was definitely one of our favorites and we really slowed down to enjoy it. Alex quickly spotted the two Canadian Geese and exclaimed “Ducks! Ducks!”

Frog's and Canadian Geese on Chase Pond

Frog’s and Canadian Geese on Chase Pond

Harder for him to see were the dozens of large frogs milling about in the pond flora around these boardwalk. Some were quite large and I wished I had brought one of the nets the offer at the center for interactive exploring. Next time…

Hard enough for me to see them

Hard enough for me to see them

Alex was anxious to walk himself and I was happy to get him out of the pack. The boardwalks were perfect and he showed great awareness if they went over water. We passed some obvious beaver activity…

Beaver Activity

Beaver Activity

Exploring outside the kid carrier

Exploring outside the kid carrier

Soon we had rounded the northern tip of the pond and were turning onto the yellow “Chestnut-Sided” trail to return to the center.

Almost there

Almost there

We got back to the parking lot 1 hour and 45 minutes from leaving, having completing an exact 2.0 mile loop. Before heading home Alex got to meet a resident dog named Sage (due to her being too smart), as well as the Public Relations Manager Donna and for a brief moment the Executive Director, Michael Kline.

Our route today

Our route today

I feel very lucky to have such an amazing resource so close to home to help us instill the sense of awe and wonder in nature that we all know is important to a balanced life-style. I’m also hoping to find some ways to be more involved with the organization, through membership and perhaps sharing some educational content like my Wilderness Navigation course I teach through EMS Schools. If you live in the area and haven’t made it over to this place do yourself a favor and make time. It’s a great place with great people and a definite gem for our community!

P.S. Adventure With Alex is now on Twitter here and Facebook here! Please follow or share if you like!

 

 

 

Another awesome post by fellow blogger Cragmama. If you have rock climbing kids check this one out!

Cragmama’s Featured #KidCrushers – Round 1.

I’m also added a list of family/kid adventure blogs I have started following under “Suggested Links”. Please check them out!

I may be a little too nonchalant about ticks as I grew up in southern Massachuttes where they are as common as Dunkin Donuts and Red Sox fans. But some things have changed. First, Lyme Disease is becoming more prevalent and spreading. Check out the interactive map from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) here and see how it has spread over 10 years! Ten years ago the White Mountains did not see any cases of Lyme disease, but as the map indicates it has reached us, so it’s time to learn how to protect yourself, and most importantly your little ones, from this disease!

Alex on Slackline

Right after taking this picture my wife spotted Alex’s first tick… can you see it?

First you should be able to recognize the Blacklegged Tick (also called the deer tick). Most transmissions are from nymph’s because they are harder to see.

ticks at different life stages

The good news is it usually takes 24-48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the disease! With regular full body checks (bath time/pajama time) you should not panic if you find an attached tick!

Tick season in the White Mountains is from May to September. The best defense is a 3 pronged approach. Defend your kids, defend your pets, and defend your yard. Let’s start with the first line of defense, the yard!

This is taken directly from the CDC website:

Create a Tick-Safe Zone Through Landscaping

You can make your yard less attractive to ticks depending on how you landscape. Here are some simple landscaping techniques that can help reduce tick populations:

Tick Safe Landscaping

 

  • Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
  • Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment. This will restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
  • Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked.
  • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents that ticks feed on).
  • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees and place them in a sunny location, if possible.
  • Remove any old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.

While there are pesticides that are effective at controlling tick populations we prefer the natural battle first. If you live in a very high risk area it might be worth investigating an early Spring treatment with an acaracide (tick pesticide), such as bifenthin.

Protect your pets!

Our canine and feline friends can easily transport ticks from outside to in, so during tick season there are a few things that can reduce the risk. The above yard landscaping is a great first defense. Then a quick brush and check every time your pet comes inside from playing in the yard can find ticks before they find a good hiding space to attach. Tick & flea baths and repellents will go far at reducing risk. For more info on protecting your pets check out this page on the CDC website.

Protect your yourself and your little ones!

The CDC’s first recommendation is “Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter”. This is near impossible for a family that hikes as much as we do. It just isn’t going to happen. So for us early detection is key. Remember it takes 24-48 hours of attachment for a tick to transmit the disease! I check Alex as best as possible when we get back to the car, then again at home.

While DEET is approved for babies over 2 months old we feel it is too toxic for us to feel comfortable applying it to our thumb sucking toddler but you can not argue it’s effectiveness. For this reason I use this 30% formula on myself when mosquito’s and tick’s are in abundance. For the absolute best protection I am a huge fan of Permethrin.

SAWYER PERMETHRIN INSECT REPELLANT, 24 OZ.

SAWYER PERMETHRIN INSECT REPELLANT, 24 OZ.

I’ve used this in jungles in South America and Asia, and obviously in the White Mountains. It’s 100% safe when used correctly. This is NOT FOR SKIN! It is meant to treat clothing, gear, footwear, etc. Once it dries there is zero chance of this “leeching” into your skin. I use it on my hiking shoes and pants, and Alex’s hiking shoes’s and pants. I also treated our kid carrier so when I set it down on the ground he has protection.

For information on the safeness of this product on kids (and us) check out this page from the University of Rhode Island. You can pick it up at your local Eastern Mountain Sports or online here. More information on this, and some other tips from the CDC can be found here.

Finally, when you find an embedded tick (and chances are you will at some point), know how to remove it. Improperly removing it can increase risk of infection. All you need is a pair of tweezers. Grasp as close to your skin as possible and pull straight out by slowly increasing pressure.

tweezers grasping a tick close to the skin's surfacetweezers pulling a tick away from the skin in an upward motion

Mistakes like twisting/jerking can cause some of the tick to stay in the skin. If one or both of the “pinchers” stay in do not try to dig them out. Your, or your child’s, body will naturally push them out over a few days but monitor the bite site for any signs of infection, which would require a trip to see the Doc. I would think it would go without saying but do not use a match or lighter on an embedded tick. This can cause it to regurgitate it’s meal, greatly increasing transmission and infection. Once it’s removed wash with soap and water and go back outside to play!

I hope this information helps! While Lyme disease is no joke it shouldn’t keep us from hiking and climbing in areas where ticks may be prevalent. It takes time for a tick to find a spot to embed, and much more time to transmit the disease. Twice daily checks reduces the risk of catching Lyme disease to around the odds of winning PowerBall!

Comment below if you have any suggestions or thoughts on the topic! We’d love to hear from you!

 

Grayson Highlands Bouldering and Baby Z’s First Camp-Out.

Product Review: Friendly Foot Powder “Your Shoes Will Never Smell Again!”

As long as I can remember I have been cursed with some of the stinkiest feet on the planet. Even 2 year old Alex quickly learned to say “Daddy your feet stink!” The fact that I spend half a year not wearing socks in sweaty climbing shoes and half a year sweating in mountaineering & ski boots doesn’t help the issue.

Friendly Foot All Natural Foot Powder

The test subjects

So it was with great relief to come across Friendly Foot. This small earth-friendly company was started in a Washington state garage in 2010, and is now in stores & climbing gyms all over the US and as far away as Japan! I’d long given up on well known foot powders as simply “cover ups”; only effective as car pine-tree car air fresheners at actually removing odor. This is different. This blend has a slight acidic value which actually balances the PH of your shoes and inhibits bacterial growth. Four essential organic oils, Tea Tree, Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Peppermint have microbial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. The result? It works!

Other than the 20 pairs of footwear pictured above I have direct testimonials from my wife. A week after running out of my FF supply I walked in the house after a long day on the mountain and was greeted with;

“You’re out of that foot powder arn’t you?”

and

“You need to get some more of that foot powder.”

Well there you have it. Undeniable proof that the stuff works. You should try it. And to help you try it here’s a chance to win a free bottle! You can get up to 3 entries in the drawing:

First comment below on how you manage foot odor. Then you can earn two more entries by liking Adventure With Alex and Friendly Foot on Facebook. Just let us know in your comment that you liked one, or both, for additional entries. Contest will run until May 30th. On May 31st Alex will draw the lucky winner from all entries!

If you don’t want to wait for the contest you can order your own right now from their website here. As an Adventure With Alex reader you can save 10% on your order buy using coupon code “FF14”. Also orders of 4 or more bottles get free shipping within the US!

Friendly Foot Powder

Disclaimer: While Friendly Foot provided the samples for me to test this product in no way did that influence mine (or more importantly my wife’s) opinion on the product.

 

Balance Bikes!

One of the first bits of parental advice I got after finding out I would be a dad was to get my child a balance bike as early as possible. Even though Alex was more than a year away from being big enough to ride it I pulled the trigger on a Strider bike. Other than some minimal playing around inside I knew we wouldn’t really get to use it until this Spring. At 2 and a half years old his running and motor skills are just at the point where he can start to get used to the bike, and today we had our first true outdoor session!

Strider Balance Bike

Strider Balance Bike

For those who have never heard of a “balance bike” let me fill you in. Many of us learned to ride bikes using training wheels. These awkward wheels may actually slow a child’s ability to learn to balance on a bike… you are basically just relying on one crutch until you lean to far one way and now you are relying on the other crutch. Balance bikes have no training wheels. They also have no pedals. At first that seems odd, until you watch a toddler struggling to learn balance and the leg coordination to pedal correctly while trying not to bee-line it into the nearest tree. By removing the pedals a child can simply focus on learning to balance (and steer). Essentially they walk around until they feel comfortable sitting down and gliding.

Today we headed to our neighborhood park for a true biking session. Alex’s best buddy Rowan joined him with his brand new Smart Gear balance bike.

Strider Balance Bike

Couple of future X-Gamers

While there was no real “gliding” going on yet both kids enjoyed “riding” the bikes around the park for almost an hour! They took turns on each bike, and Rowan’s mommy and I started formulating a plan for weekly ride-play-dates. While I liked the eco-friendly nature of the Smart Gear bike, and the “anti-jackknife” feature, I think the boys liked the thinner profile of the Strider bike. It was easier for their little legs to stay under them on the narrower bike. This probably won’t be an issue once they both get a few inches taller. The Strider bike though also has foot rests which are definitely going to be needed once he starts gliding.

Strider Balance Bikes

Ready to race

Strider Balance Bikes

RoRo is moving, Alex closes the gap

While we were at the park multiple parents came over with their kids asking if they could let their little ones try. Alex & Rowan were happy to spend time on the slides & swings while their bikes were demo’d. I got the impression that many of the new parents didn’t realize they could start their young toddlers on a “real” bike at such a young age. At least one parent seemed like he was heading to a store to buy one right after leaving the park!

There are some pretty amazing Strider videos out there. Check out Strider’s official YouTube channel here.

How old were you or your kids when you starting riding? Did you use training wheels? Any tips for other parents?

Also please subscribe at the top right if you enjoyed this! This blog lost some momentum over the long winter and it’s nice to know people are reading. We have a busy Spring/Summer planned so there will be at least a weekly post… here’s a preview of next weeks product review update:

All Natural Friendly Foot Powder

It works!

This week we made the 7 hour trip south to visit Grammie C. on Staten Island, NY. I have to admit I was surprised to find a couple kid friendly gems on this very urban island.

On Wednesday we visited the Staten Island Children’s Museum located in the scenic Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Admission was only $6 per person over 1 year of age, and we lucked out as Wednesdays happen to be free admission for Grandparents!

Staten Island Children’s Museum

Staten Island Children’s Museum

“The mission of the Staten Island Children’s Museum is to nurture the creativity and curiosity natural to all children, to recognize and celebrate different learning styles, and to demonstrate vividly that learning can be exciting and fun.”

There is easily a half-day of fun to be had here with two levels of exhibits. A restored firetruck from 1941 that was retro-fitted for hands-on learning and play was one of his favorite exhibits, though he spent a fair about of time in in the “Great Explorations” area and in the “Sea of Boats” outdoor play space.

Staten Island Children’s Museum

1941 retrofitted firetruck

Staten Island Children’s Museum

Learning about an exo-skeleton

Staten Island Children’s Museum

The Captain of the Ship

Staten Island Children’s Museum

Snack-Time

Our visit coincided with a “Safety Day” expo which featured a couple dozen booths with various child safety organizations sharing information ranging from lead paint, proper bike helmets, oral hygiene, and the benefits of water over high sugar sports drinks. The highlight was getting to see the inside of an ambulance.

Staten Island Children’s Museum

Ambulance visit

After about 3 hours of fun we sought a late lunch at the nearby excellent Mexican restaurant, Adobe Blues. Very kid friendly, with some of the freshest Mexican food I have had this far north. If you find yourself on Staten Island with a couple little ones in tow, be sure to check out the SI Children’s Museum, we will certainly be returning whenever we are in town!

Like most of nature Adventure With Alex slumbered through most of the winter. That isn’t due to a lack of wanting to get Alex out in the snow, but my guiding schedule in the winter isn’t too conductive to finding time to take Alex hiking (or blog about it). We did get a few ski days in and I documented his very first ski day here. While it has officially been Spring for a few weeks the 1.5 feet of snow in my yard could convince you otherwise. In search of some snow free trails I decided to head an hour south and around Lake Winnipesaukee to climb the popular Mt. Major.

At just under 1,800 feet and just less than 3 miles round trip this would be a perfect break-in to see how much heavier my now 2 and a half year-old was. We had to run a few errands in town so didn’t arrive at the trailhead in Alton, NH until noon. Alex had napped a bit on the drive and seemed excited to go hiking again, but within just a few minutes on the trail he started in with “Wanna go home Daddy”. For a moment I thought that might be best given the trail was anything but snow free. It was actually water-ice for the most part, and I was without any form of traction. However it was softening quickly in the 50-60 degree sunny day, and my beloved Five Ten Camp Four approach shoes were actually getting pretty decent traction. I distracted Alex by creating a find the next blaze game, which he took to quickly and loved pointing out the next blue blaze he could find on each tree.

Hunting blue blazes

Hunting blue blazes

It was quite bright out, and I had been smart enough to bring Alex’s sunglasses when we left the house and dumb enough to forget them in the car, so I soon passed my sunglasses back to an appreciative toddler following me closely up the mountain.

Sunglasses a bit oversized, but that’s the style right?

Sunglasses a bit oversized, but that’s the style right?

We took the direct route up to the summit, and while not steep by my standards I realized I usually like trekking poles with Alex on my back. I’ll also be honest and admit I forgot a few other items on this 1st toddler hike I would recommend to never go with out, mainly my first aid kit and headlamp. Luckily neither would be needed, but I noticed there were sections of the trail with no cell coverage… my work issued PLB (Personal Locator Beacon, SPOT  Gen 3)  was also sitting safely at home… well, reflections like this make us more prepared for the next hike!

We reached the summit in just over an hour, having only passed a young couple just off the trail right before we hit the summit.

Lake Winnipesaukee still frozen with a white Mount Washington in the clear distance

Lake Winnipesaukee still frozen with a white Mount Washington in the clear distance

We grabbed some shelter from the light winds in the old stone foundation that used to house a shelter for hikers and snacked and explored.

Alex loves his organic fruit/veggie push pouches

Alex loves his organic fruit/veggie push pouches

Osprey Poco Premium Child Carrier Season 3!

Osprey Poco Premium Child Carrier Season 3!

iPhone 5s Panorama

iPhone 5s Panorama

Bluebird

Bluebird

After about 15 minutes we started back down, Alex under his own power holding my hand. He loved hopping down the rocky slabs and sloshing though some spring corn snow. 10 minutes down the trail we decided it was time for him to hop back aboard and we made our way down the Boulder Trail back to the car.  Much of the upper part of this trail was south facing and snow free, but as we dropped and turned east then north the trail was a running stream bed of melt off. It wasn’t too hard keeping the feet relatively dry by linking exposed roots and rocks and we reached the parking lot just 2 hours and 2o minutes from our starting time.

Mt Major, Our Route

Mt Major, Our Route

I’m very excited for this Spring/Summer/Fall season with my toddler son. The fact that he can communicate desires like food & water, warmer or colder, will make hiking so much easier. I’m also hoping to build up a network of other rock climbing dads & moms who have toddlers so we can spend more time at the crag. Finally, I am most excited to be able to represent a couple great companies that have supported me with gear.

Friendly Foot and Piggyback Rider have provided me with some samples of their products and I am really stoked on being an ambassador for them. I extensively tested Friendly Foot throughout the winter in my backcountry ski boots and ice climbing boots, and the results have been very positive. Alex is just reaching the age to be able to use the innovative Piggyback Rider so expect a detailed review on that early this season once we have some miles “on the bar”.

So the winter slumber is over. It is pretty easy to spend time outside with a toddler now that the mercury is above freezing and I have a bit more spare time to plan adventurers. I hope you enjoyed this trip report and follow us this season, I’m sure it will be a busy one! See you in the mountains!

Great post from Cragmama!

How to Cultivate Independent Play in Your Child.