By Ethan Hipple
years ago, when our kids were 4 and 2 years old, my wife, Sarah, and I bought a
simple 5-by-8-inch artist sketchbook. It’s the kind you find in art supply
stores, with the hard black cover and stiff paper inside. It is a good, sturdy
little book, and we decided to make it a family trip journal that we would all
write in during family adventures.
got the idea for keeping a group trip journal when we led trail crews for the Student
Conservation Association (SCA). One of the defining parts of SCA was that the
crew leaders—us—would provide a journal in which the teenage crew would write
during the 30-day trail-work hitch. Journal writing was part of the daily
rotation of chores, along with getting drinking water, packing up our trail
lunches, and doing dishes in camp.
journals were filled with daily impressions from all of the crew, as well as
drawings, maps, inside jokes, lists of books to read, bands to get into, and
places to go. When the experience was over and everyone was safely back home,
we would make a copy of the journal and send it to all of the crew members as a
holiday gift. We treasured our SCA trip journals, so once we had kids of our
own (our own little trail crew), we decided to continue the tradition by
starting a family trip journal.
that little sketchbook we bought 10 years ago has some stories to tell. It has worn
in and softened after years of paddling and backpacking trips, getting dropped in
Central American markets and on countless beaches, toted along on bike trips in
Maine and North Carolina. The edges are frayed; there are more than a couple of
coffee stains; and the binding has started to come loose. But the memories
contained within are rock solid.
a little gem of an entry from our son, Jackson, then 13. It was the first night
of our family’s first
bike touring trip
in Maine. My memories of that day have been a little whitewashed, as I only remember
the rocky outcroppings, the blue water, the abundant sunshine, and the sense of
freedom of being on the road under our own power. Jackson’s realism brings me
back down to earth.
Starting from the
parking lot of the carwash yesterday I felt excited to start our trip. It took
Papa and Tasha a while to find a parking spot where they could leave the van
for five days, but they asked around and we parked behind a dumpy carwash, one
of the only places we were allowed to park. It took us a while to get going due
to some crying and grumpy attitudes. Once we got going though, everybody had
smiles on their faces.
thumb through the journal on this cold and blustery November day, and my heart
is warmed with memories of time spent outdoors with my family: impressions of a
loon calling out over our campsite on Umbagog Lake; a timeline of our
hectic first three days travelling through Nicaragua; long lists of foods tasted
in Peru; hand-drawn maps of islands we camped on in Maine; lyrics from songs we
wrote together while deliriously passing the time on bike touring trips; jokes
we told around countless campfires. There are packing lists, menus, card game
scores, pressed leaves, and lists of things to do. There are travel
itineraries, bus and ferry tickets, and scavenger hunts.
brings me to today. As Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, we’re all
planning trips to the store to stock up on provisions and packing our bags to
see friends and family. Soon we’ll be gathered together to celebrate the holiday
season. It’s a nostalgic time, when we pause life’s hectic pace to name what
we’re thankful for and what matters to us, to pull close the ones we love.
this usual season of reminiscence, I’ve found myself a little more nostalgic
lately. As I turn 40 this month, I’m taking stock of my first 40 years and
making plans for my next 40. You reach this arbitrary, yet symbolic, halfway
point in life and you can’t help but begin to ponder the big things, the
connections between us, the goals accomplished, the dreams yet to come, the
things you’ve been meaning to do, the meaning of it all. I don’t have any
answers to the big questions of life, but there is one thing I do know: The memories
in this little journal are the most valuable and prized possessions I could ever
family’s own trip journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just a simple,
sturdy book that will travel well. Write with a good pen; keep it in a ziplock
bag when you’re outside; similar to cats and fire, journals don’t like water.
importantly, have the kids write in it, even if they don’t want to. Have them
draw a map to their favorite swimming hole or write down the funny thing Mom
said at the campfire. Make a list of the foods you taste on a trip. Write down
your accidental-but-awesome backcountry recipe. Make a list of the hikes and the
paddles and the climbs you want to do together—then go check them off. Later,
when the kids are older and Thanksgiving comes around again, you’ll have much
to be thankful for.
own well-loved journal is thick, filled with ten years of memories. I feel its
heft in my hand, the weight of something solid I’d like to keep with me. I flip
through the pages again. The writing and drawings and maps take up the first
three-quarters of the book, but the last quarter is blank. These just might be my
favorite pages: unwritten, ready, and waiting for the adventures yet to
Labels: AMC, Ethan Hipple, journals