by Erin Kirkland – Shanti Hodges has no qualms about admitting she has a problem “overextending myself.” Fact is, though, if she hadn’t, hiking with newborns might not be a thing. Enter Hike it Baby.
Hodges, of Portland, Oregon, is the owner of Hike it Baby, an organization she gestated and birthed in the cool forests of the Pacific Northwest but now nurtures through 290 branches across the United States. Her son Mason, now three, grew up in the front and backpacks of Hodges and her husband, Mark, beginning slowly on trails near their home and gradually working their way up to longer, more challenging hikes with more and more company. Once firmly established in the Portland area, Hike it Baby grew and grew to encompass moms, dads, caregivers, school-age kids and others who find the outdoors a welcome refuge from day-to-day busyness. But there was more.
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Never one to turn down a challenge, Hodges surprised both herself and her husband last winter as Mark was planning a guys-only trip to the Grand Canyon.
“Mark was going on this Grand Canyon tour for 26 days and I was kind of annoyed because I already had a lot of solo time with our son,” Hodges said. “So I told him, “Fine. Mason and I will go on our own adventure for a month.”
Hike it Baby, incidentally, sponsors a quarterly “challenge” of its own, encouraging Hike it Baby branches to get outside and hike 30 times in 30 days, with a chance to win prizes from sponsoring outdoor retailers. Seeing a brilliant connection between hiking, travel, and the chance to meet Hike it Baby branch members in other states, Hodges began to hatch a plan.
A 30 Hikes in 30 Days road trip, with stops at Hike it Baby branches along the way to meet members, take a few hikes and show Mason the world.
“We packed up our Chevy truck with a shell on the back, our camping gear, and traveled through Oregon, northern California, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho.”
At every destination, Hodges said, the Hike it Baby branch would host a hike. Some were urban, some more rural, but all, she said, were warm and welcoming and full of kids. Furthering the organization’s mission to provide access to trails no matter where one lives, the hikes also reinforced to Hodges proof that every town has places to walk or hike. Every single one.
“No matter where we went, we could find great hikes. It was so awesome,” she reflected in an email.
It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, however. At only three, Mason found living on the road with revolving friends and sleeping places to be stressful, and translated that discomfort into more than a few tantrums, Hodges said. There was also a bout of illness and the daily grind of packing and unpacking their temporary home in the truck’s camper with a toddler. In the end, though, Hodges and her son participated in 34 Hike it Baby walks and hikes in six weeks, and bonded as mother and son.
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Toward the end of the journey, Hodges picked up her husband, Mark, from his Grand Canyon adventure, and then spent a week together exploring Utah’s national parks.
“It was a highlight, how beautiful those parks were, and how easy it was to have family time (in them). I had never visited before, and loved the landscape, rangers and camp hosts; everyone was so friendly. We are already planning another Utah trip for this fall because we were so impressed with how family-friendly this adventure was.”
Would Hodges do a trip like this again? Maybe, if she could figure out a way to avoid feeling guilty about not stopping in cities where she knew Hike it Baby had a branch. There just wasn’t time to meet everyone. But overall, the journey gave Hodges a sense that parents across the mountain states and west are indeed working to encourage each other to spend time outdoors.
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“My response when people say ‘Thank you,’ is to say ‘It’s not me, it’s you. You all make Hike it Baby happen in your community. I was just the catalyst to start it all,'” she said.
For more information about Hike it Baby and the listing of current branches, visit the organization’s website and register to become a member.
Erin Kirkland is managing editor of Outdoor Families Magazine and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
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