Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hiking with children is good for the whole family


Hiking as a family has built strong bonds, made beautiful memories and improved health. And everyone has learnt to be more creative in tackling obstacles as they are no longer couch potatoes!

THE day I traded my high heels for hiking shoes, the malls for hills and the stale city air for fresh jungle air, my life was never the same again.

It all began when my dear hubby Adrian Yeong took up hiking. He had been hiking close to six months to improve his health and fitness when I saw the changes in him: he had shed 13 kilos and was much fitter and healthier than before. Finally one day, I agreed to join him.

Wasting no time, he got me my first pair of hiking shoes. I had my first taste of hiking at the Challenger trail in Gasing Hill, Petaling Jaya, on August 1, 2010. Since then, Gasing Hill has become our regular training ground.

Friends who heard of our hiking activities thought we were crazy to hike three times a week and when they learnt that we also brought our younger four children along with us, in their dictionary, we were well...insane. Why bother doing such tiring activities?

Many would not consider hiking with kids, supposedly because: “They will complain!”, “They will cry!”, “They will not want to walk!”

Our children being city kids were no angels either. They were always trying to find excuses to escape from hiking so that they could spend time at home instead, watching television and playing computer games. But as parents, we had the last say and so our hiking journey began...

The writer carrying her youngest son, Joseph, on her back, while climbing Gunung Datuk.

By training our children, who were then one-plus, three, seven and ten years old to hike, all of us eventually got fitter and stronger. Our speed and endurance improved. In a short span of five months, Adrian and I did 50 hikes while our kids went on 30 hikes with us.

We had explored almost all the hills and a few waterfalls in the Klang Valley. After a while, it felt a bit boring hiking the same hills. I dreamt of exploring further but often doubted if we were up to the challenge of hiking more than an hour plus with our young kids.

Little did I know that one day I would get to know a Facebook friend, Michael Mui, and that our feet would soon hit real mountains. Mui got to know of our family hiking activities and invited us to join him to hike Gunung Angsi and Gunung Datuk (both in Negri Sembilan).

In his own words, he described these mountains as “a stroll in the park!” That was our first event with the Freewill Hikers Club, a dynamic hiking group based in Johor led by Captain Richard Yeoh. My husband, being an adventurous guy, took up the idea immediately and the rest is history.

On August 11, 2012, Adrian and I, together with our young hikers, hiked our first two mountains Gunung Angsi and Gunung Datuk, on consecutive days. My two kids Audrey (then aged 12) and Dylan (nine) hiked on their own accompanied by our new friends while I carried Joshua (five) on and off as he happened to be a bit moody in the beginning.

The writer with her husband, Adrian Yeong, and their kids on the peak of Broga Hill, Selangor.

My capable hubby backpacked Lil Joseph (three years old and 12kg in weight) up to the peak of Gunung Angsi and back. Hiking more than an hour with heavier loads than other hikers made it tough.

To make matters worse, wearing the new hiking boots I got him as a surprise, he twisted his ankle during the hike. Despite having applied some ointment over the night, he still had not recovered from the injury and so I volunteered to backpack Lil Joseph up Gunung Datuk the next day.

I remembered assuring my dear hubby that I would hand the little boy over to him should the going get too tough. My hubby agreed to my suggestion. That was my first hike carrying my son up a mountain.

It was my first experience and I found Gunung Datuk to be a steep mountain, with endless roots along the way. Carrying my little boy up weighed me down though I found it quite easy to go on all fours, pulling myself up by tree roots.

Our new friends from Freewill Hikers were very helpful and took care of our two older kids, Audrey and Dylan. While Audrey was slow and steady, Dylan flew up with them and managed to reach the peak in 1 hour 40 minutes; whereas, with my load, we took about 30 minutes more.

It was tiring and our friends kept bluffing us — “You are almost there”, “15 minutes more to the peak”, “Just another 15 minutes more” — in the name of encouragement.

To reach the actual peak of Gunung Datuk, the writer’s family had to clamber up these ladders.

Nevertheless, we made it. At the false peak, I told my husband: “Darling, you take over. I am too tired!”

I handed my little boy over to my hubby to tackle the metal ladder that leads to the actual peak of Gunung Datuk as I was just too exhausted. We had all made it up to Gunung Datuk!

Those were our first two mountains — tough but rewarding. The next few months that followed saw us at Gunung Lambak, Gunung Belumut and Gunung Panti (all three in southern Johor, near Kluang).

Our toughest hike with Lil Jo was Gunung Belumut. Our little boy now weighed 15 kilos and he had not been trained as he was small. He also often pretended to be a 4WD stuck in the mud whilst hiking with his siblings, an idea he got from the multiple off-road trips we had gone for.

I uttered a prayer in the morning, “Dear God, I don’t know how we are going to make it hiking up Belumut but I ask for your help and enablement, in Jesus’ name.”

I came up with a plan. Conserve our energies, get the boy who normally walked only for half an hour to hike as far and as fast as he could. Motivating him, I said, “Jo, you need to look for 10 ant trails and you will get an ice-cream.”

The writer (centre) with her children, husband (right) and Lee Keam Keong of Freewill Hikers at the peak of Gunung Belumut (1,010m) in Kluang, Johor.

So I promised him and we went hunting all the way. He played with twigs, pretending they were rifles and he was soon blasting and shooting away, chasing his brother Joshua and another a new friend, a boy about six, named Rain, who was the grandson of Captain Richard Yeoh of the Freewill Hikers Club.

He played all the way and when he was tired, I gave him some drinks to boost his energy. I also talked, joked and laughed with him in order to distract him from the distance we had to cover. Lo and behold, my four-year-old boy successfully hiked up to the peak in four hours without being carried. It was a miracle indeed. My prayers were answered.

On the way down, Lil Joseph was now tired and had to be carried by his strong daddy. Adrian later shared that it was easier to carry a 15kg bagpack rather than our little boy as he kept swaying to and fro in the baby carrier as he tackled the tough steep terrain, squeezing through tight spots and at times jumping over gullies and large tree roots. After descending for over two hours, his neck and shoulders were stiff.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and we’ve had to build up our strength as well as our endurance in hiking. Being positive has made us conquerors. With sufficient training and preparations, we’ve tackled various mountains.

Our conclusion on hiking with kids: it’s not easy and did not happen overnight. But it’s not mission impossible either as kids have new engines and are fast learners.

By clocking the hours and allowing them to master hiking skills, we’ve built up their fitness and confidence. After time, they have become capable hikers.

Hiking together as a family has been rewarding as we’ve built strong bonds and made beautiful memories. We’ve inculcated healthier lifestyles and our children have learnt to tackle obstacles, to never give up and be optimistic.

It has taught them outdoor skills and built their appreciation of nature. It has made them strong, courageous and creative. This is a win-win situation and I strongly encourage families to take up hiking as a regular family activity. Just make a change in your life and that of your family. Bring them out hiking. All you need is a good pair of hiking shoes, determination and motivation.

Go for it folks, don’t be a coach potato!

Backpacks, trekking poles, head lamps, a dry bag, a sleeping bag and a poncho are among the prizes being offered for those who write in about their Star2 Adventure Challenge.

By JESSY PHUAH The Star/Asian News Network

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