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  • Jack H

"The trees try to talk to me to say to respect and protect them."

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Inclusion can go a long way

A couple of weeks ago, my dad, my brother Dash, and I went on a 3-day, 30-mile backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Overall the trip was some old-fashioned fun. Outside of the bear breaking into the coffee, the swarms of mosquitoes, and being sleep deprived, we all had a good time. Calder, however, was not able to come partially due to his autism, but also due to his age. It's a little tricky to get a 12-year-old kid to carry a 20-pound backpack for 30 miles. Still, Calder was understandably upset. Like everyone else, Calder doesn't like being left out.

But rather than ignoring Calder's emotions and chalking it up to "he can't do anything," we instead adapt activities so Calder can do them. Calder may not be able to go backpacking 30 miles on the Appalachian Trail, but we can still have a camping trip that involves hiking. And that is precisely what we do, even though it requires a lot of pre-planning and hypervigilance. Not only do we have to pack our gear, but we also have to consider Calder's specific needs. He hates shoes, so we pack extra socks. To help him relax before bed, he needs a charged iPad. He can't have gluten or dairy, so our snacks and meals involve a lot of nuts, dark chocolate, and not-so-tasty food packs. We have to be careful about not letting Calder out of sight because Calder can take off, and when he does, he is FAST. One of us is always by his side or holding his hand. Sometimes, he gets tuckered out and I have to give him a piggyback ride. We can't be too ambitious with our miles. We also have to be aware of our surroundings because Calder likes to chew on leaves. He thinks they taste great. But we need to be sure the one he chooses isn't poisonous. It would be easy to get stressed about all the preparation we have to undertake, and all the things that could go wrong, but then the camping trip would be fun for no one. So, while we are always on high alert, if we forget something, we try to adapt and most importantly, we all work on being relaxed so we can all have fun. Isn't that the point of an adventure?

Sometimes our adventures can turn into mini-disasters. On a recent hike to a waterfall, it started to rain. We had to hike through a torrent of water. A branch hit Calder in the face--which he later described as "a tree tried to assassinate me." And though we kept telling my mom it was the sound of traffic, we definitely heard thunder. Still, we made it to the waterfall, and it was cascading and slippery but beautiful. We swam in the pool beneath it. But my middle brother decided he was going to climb the waterfall. And he took Calder with him. Lots of people around the waterfall watched with their mouths agape while the two of them climbed the treacherous incline. Our dog Total barked for them to come back. Eventually, my mom signaled they'd gone far enough. And if we thought climbing up was challenging, watching my brothers navigate the slide down was heart-stopping.

They made it in one piece. Which was great. Until the rain started again and this time, we had to walk back drenched and cold, and Calder had decided to not wear shoes. So we walked really, really slowly. He also refused a piggyback ride because he wanted to be treated like a big boy. We were shivering by the time we got in the car. And muddy. And honestly, irritated with each other. But, later, when we all had a warm shower and my mom gave us hot chocolate, and we could joke about our hike, I thought this was nice, much nicer than being drenched.

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