Four keys to a great multi-generational outing

Thomas and Jacob on some beach, Tomales BayLast summer, I tried taking my sons Thomas (then 17) and Jacob (then 2.5) backpacking.  It was hell.

Yesterday, I took the same two sons kayaking. It was euphoric.

Here are the four main things that were different about the two ventures, expressed as ‘keys to success’:

  1. Check the weather.
  2. Bring everything you might need.
  3. Don’t be married to the plan.
  4. Choose an age-appropriate activity. (When you have two generations of kids, this means something you and both generations will like.)

Bad trip

With the backpacking trip last summer, I had made the campsite reservation weeks in advance, when the weather was mild, and assumed it would be the same at the time of the trip (or cooler, since it was approaching autumn). I failed to check the forecast before we left, and we ended up hiking to the site in 90- to 100-degree temps.

I also neglected to read my time-tested packing list carefully, so we had no bug repellent — and the campsite (once we reached it) was swarming with flies.

At the first sign of misery, I could have decided to scrap the plan, but it didn’t occur to me that we were ‘allowed’ to quit — after all, we had a reservation!

But the real problem was my choice of activities. Backpacking depends on everyone walking, and 2.5-year-old Jacob wasn’t into it. He was like the “Blind Man” in the Sunday school song: He stood in the road and he cried. Thomas and I ended up taking turns carrying Jacob on what should have been a modest 2-mile hike up gentle slopes.

Good trip

By contrast, the kayaking yesterday was a blast for all three of us, the whole time, which shocked me more than anyone because we were on the water more than three hours, and Jacob doesn’t normally have the patience for long boat rides.

We checked the weather beforehand. In fact, our original plan had been to camp and kayak at a river park in Lathrop (far inland). It was because the weather was expected to be hot that we chose the cooler climate of Tomales Bay (this covers “Check the weather” and “Don’t be married to the plan.”) I had no standard packing list for this kind of trip, but in deciding what to bring, Thomas and I at least talked it out. We had clothes for warm and cool weather, bug juice, sunscreen, snacks, water, GPS unit, the works.

Most important, this was an activity that was equally enjoyable for a 43-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 3-year-old. Two adults paddling a tandem kayak in fairly calm water with a small child between them.

This activity would have worked even if Jacob had fought it the whole time — we asked nothing of him but to sit in the boat — but he loved it. He spent most of the time belting out songs of pure nonsense that he was making up on the spot. We all enjoyed the mild ‘wave action’ and seeing pelicans dive for fish.

We were ‘reconning’ the beaches in the national park area of the bay for future camping trips, so going ashore occasionally was part of the plan. This allowed us all to stretch our legs, explore, look at jellyfish and chat with other people (fellow kayakers and a ranger).

Even if you haven’t learned anything new here, you may now be sold on Tomales Bay as a kayaking destination. Either way, you’re welcome!

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