When my wife and I met, we talked about having children and the fact that they were not going to keep us from our adventures outdoors. We would not let kids slow us down.
When our first daughter, Lauren, came on the scene, we waited until she was about 6 months old before we took her on our first family backpack trip — sort of.
Deb, my wife, carried Lauren in a kid carrier on her back and a duffle bag in each hand while I had a 65-pound backpack. Each of our two golden retrievers chipped in by carrying their food and our wine. We carried everything into the Elkhorn Mountains for a half mile and it was a lot of work.
Maybe kids would alter our outdoor habits after all.
After the arrival of our second daughter, Cody, we started doing more car camping. There are lots of remote and wild-feeling spots you can drive a car to in Montana. Car camping let us bring all sorts of food and gear for a family of four and it made getting out pretty easy.
By the time our daughters were 4 and 5 years old, both had taken swimming lessons. We would go to Canyon Ferry Reservoir and they would swim wearing their floatation devices. After a few swims, they both gained confidence and felt safe in the water. They loved to float in the lake with their life jackets on.
Next we took our canoe to the lake on a hot summer day. The girls would jump out of the canoe with their life jackets and swim back to the canoe. Eventually, we tipped the canoe over in a controlled way to teach them that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
We would help righting the boat and getting them back in. There was nothing to it.
As a couple, my wife and I had paddled quite a few rivers and were pretty fair paddlers. And we were ready for our first family trip. The packing was different — making sure the girls had all the gear they would need in a worst-case scenario. That meant lots of red licorice, fruit rollups, warm footwear, Capilene underwear and “real” rain gear.
We invited our good friends Bill and Jan Orsello to accompany us. We chose to paddle the mellow 50-mile river stretch on the Missouri through the Wild and Scenic stretch from Coalbanks to the Judith River. We took two canoes, Bill and Jan had theirs, and Deb, the girls and I shared another.
For our family we carried a large four-person tent, comfortable sleeping pads and warm bags, and even our favorite pillows. After a short three-hour day that included a fun lunch break, we arrived at camp.
Deb and I found a shady spot for the tent and got camp ready while Bill and Jan watched the girls catching frogs. Once camp was set up, we put the girls in the tent, which became one of their favorite places to be, and after a day on the river, they were ready for naps.
After dinner and a short hike, we put the girls back to bed and enjoyed a bottle of wine with our friends around the campfire. After our first time as a family on the river, we were hooked.
Over the next couple of years, we explored a number of safe places in our canoe. One of our favorite trips would start Saturday evening after work. We would have the gear loaded and the groceries packed. We would head to the southwest side of Canyon Ferry Lake, paddling a mile or so with kids and gear to a secluded beach.
Camping was easy and after a swim and dinner, we would sit around the small campfire and wait until we saw the first star. We would sleep in the next morning, eat breakfast, take a short hike, swim and then paddle back to the car, returning home early evening on Sunday.
Soon, Lauren and Cody wanted to paddle their own boats. The short, easy-to-paddle recreational kayaks were the perfect craft. Deb and I would take the canoe with all the gear, and the girls had their own kayaks. They loved their freedom, and they quickly learned to read the water very well.
Maneuvering their boats was a delightful challenge for them.
As the girls got older we ventured to new rivers. We paddled two different seven-day trips on the Green River in southern Utah. We paddled the Smith River many times in the summer and several memorable trips in the fall. Island Lake in the Beartooths included a short portage to the more remote Night Lake. The four-day trips on the Flathead from Buffalo Bridge just west of Ronan to Dixon offered great swimming.
Today, both daughters have grown up. We look back at the great times we had together as a family as well as the many times we shared trips with grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles, good friends and doggies.
There is no place that matches the great Montana outdoors. The experiences gave our girls knowledge of the birds and animals, and a respect for the environment as well a love for being outdoors.
Our oldest daughter, Lauren had our first grandbaby, Cece, in December. We look forward to taking her with us on many rivers in the future.
Scott Brown owns The Base Camp.