Unplugging During Remote School

One of Susan's sons hiking with his pack along the trail of a lake.

Novato staffer, Susan Takahashi, is sharing her amazing camping adventure with her family that helped her unplug and get away from a screen (something we could all do a little more!).

Right now, kids everywhere are online a LOT. Actually, adults are too - we kind of have to be, there is a lot going on in the world! For kids, mobile devices and video game consoles are compelling enough, but throw remote school into the mix, and things have gotten VERY digital. This is not the norm in my house - my boys normally spend their summers outside swimming, camping, biking, playing and doing what 8 and 11-year-old boys do best… getting dirty. But with most of our normal outlets put on hold this summer, my husband and I found ourselves struggling to get our kids outside. So, as summer break quickly came to an end, and a new (remote for us) school year was upon us, we decided that the time was right to completely unplug for a few days. 

Outdoor landscape scene of a lake and mountains.

Our boys have car camped since before they were crawling, but have never gone backpacking. It struck me that when we look back on the summer of 2020, I didn’t want to remember all of the cancelled plans or all of the screen time, but I wanted to remember this as the summer we took our first family backpacking trip. So, we quickly got to planning. We gathered intel from friends, taking into account distance, elevation, water sources, permits, bugs, and activities to do at camp. We ended up deciding on a three-day, two-night journey to a few lakes in one of Northern California’s beautiful National Forests. 

Susan with her husband and two kids taking a selfi.

First off, a huge thank you to the Sports Basement rental fleet, which provided us with two Osprey Ace youth backpacks two youth sleeping bags and two MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person backpacking tents, which were all perfect.  James A., at our Santa Rosa store, provided us with his vast knowledge of California hiking and backpacking trails AND all things dehydrated food. You did not steer us wrong with the Backpackers Pantry’s Astronaut ice cream bars and the Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef. BOTH winners and repeat purchases, for sure. Thank you for your expertise and enthusiasm!

Susan's husband sitting in a camp chair with backpacking food packs

At 3.4 miles one-way, the hike we chose was not an especially long one, but with a 1000’ elevation gain, it wasn’t easy either. The trailhead starts at 5200 feet, and quickly climbs steep rocky terrain and stairs for about the first mile before mildly leveling off. A few minutes into it and my boys weren’t sure they wanted to be there with us, but they kept hiking. They were still adjusting to their packs, which to me looked to be about half the size of them. They had never carried more than a daypack before, so now having 12 and 15 lbs. strapped to their back felt heavy and very awkward. We talked about foot placement, and the importance of not falling. My husband and I have backpacked many times before and knew that a sprained ankle or other such injury would be the end of our trip. At one point fairly early on, there were tears. We stopped, wiped away the tears and re-grouped. We drank fresh creek water filtered by our Katadyn Microfilter (thanks again, James, great recommendation!) and I told them about the hidden stash of Nutella in my pack. We kept hiking. 

Susan's two sons wearing their backpacks and hiking.

Susan's two sons eating nutella.

Just over three hours of hiking later, we arrived at our destination, at which point we all gladly dropped our packs and took a first look at our home for the next few days. Blue skies dotted with puffy clouds, an impressive tree line, massive granite slabs, and a mountain lake all to ourselves. Back at the trailhead, a backpacker coming down off the mountain told us there had been afternoon showers each day around 3pm, so the first thing we needed to do was set up the tents. There were a few different potential sites, so we asked the boys to choose a space and prepare it by removing the larger sticks and rocks. The MSR Hubba Hubba NX two-person tent is super lightweight, coming in at only 3lbs 8oz each(!), and as an added bonus, is extremely easy to set up. My husband and I each pulled a tent from our packs and partnered up with one of the boys. In less than 10 minutes, we had both tents up, fastened with rain flies and secured with guy lines for good measure. The wind picked up on our second day there, so the guy lines were key. Home sweet home.

Susan's campground overlooking a lake.

Next up - all food and toiletry items needed to be pulled from our packs and placed in a bear-proof area. We chose to use stuff sacks to hang from a tree. We brought some static ropes with us and my husband’s knot knowledge, which proved to be quite helpful. Bowlines, carabiners, and taught-line hitches were variously used to hang our bear bag and water filter, a clothesline, and improvising for guy line support. It was fun to show our older burgeoning Boy Scout the practical utility of specific knots. 

Picture of Adventure Meals Biscuits and Gravy with a cup in the foreground.

After all of that was done - we had shelter and our food was safe - it was finally time to put up our feet and relax. I have never brought a portable camp chair backpacking before, but I will do it again in a heartbeat. I strapped my old trusty foldable camp chair to the back of my backpack, and was so glad I did. Sitting in the dirt, leaning up against a tree works too, but this is one comfort item I won’t skip on.

Susan's family sitting on a tree eating their noodles

The amazing thing about stepping away from life’s daily responsibilities is that you can have moments (yes, even with kids), where there is no agenda and you get to find fun in the beautiful world around you. The most difficult decision you have to make when you wake up is: should we hike around the lake, climb those big rocks over there or make some hot cocoa? Our boys quickly became very comfortable with their new surroundings, and we spent the next two days hiking, climbing rocks, jumping into the lake, bouldering, gathering fresh water (just add TANG!), and critiquing all of the fun dehydrated food options we chose to bring.

Susan's son jumping off a boulder

Susan's two sons playing amongst some boulders next to the lake.

On our second afternoon there, the wind picked up and we needed a break from the sun. The boys and I smushed inside one of the tents, sat criss-cross apple sauce, and started playing game after game of Old Maid. Maybe it was all the sun they had gotten, or the sound of the howling wind blowing over the tent, or maybe it was because they hadn’t played a game of cards in a while, but the silliness factor went through the roof. An epic Old Maid battle! This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted them to have fun like this away from home…away from a screen.

Susan's sons playing cards in a tent.

Do you remember the first time you saw a shooting star? I can’t remember where I was, but for my older son, this was his time. The Perseids Meteor shower was peaking during our stay, and it did not disappoint. “Does it go by fast?” “Will I even notice it?” he asked. On our first night there, as we laid high up on the rocks and watched the dark sky above, he saw a little star shoot across the sky, and that was IT, his first shooting star.

This trip was just what I needed to fill my cup and to remind me why its so worth it to plan trips like these. The hike back out was much easier than the climb in, and the boys were chatty (maybe it was all the powdered TANG they drank). Id like to believe they were enjoying a newfound confidence that they discovered on this trip; confidence that can only be only be found after you conquer something really challenging. The conversation was easy, and we talked about things that really only come up when you are out on a long hike. I am so thankful for these moments with them, when there are no other distractions and we can enjoy the beautiful world around us, together. 

Susan's sons hiking with their backpacks over a log

Back home, we unpacked and got the gear ready to return to Sports Basement. My husband held up the two blue Osprey backpacks (the same ones they so reluctantly put on a few days prior) and said “time to return these!” I couldn’t believe what happened next. Both kids walked over, opened their arms and gave the backpacks a big long bear hug. I’ve often thought about the feeling of falling in love with a solid, trustworthy piece of gear, how it becomes almost a companion and a partner in the pursuit of happiness.  I saw their hug not as a goodbye, but more like a see you again soon. 

School starts back up this week remotely for us, which means more time at home and more time online. There is a lot going on right now in the world around us, but as we navigate through these next days, months and beyond, I hope that my family can find some peace in the memories of these moments we shared in the mountains. Getting outside has always felt good to me, but this trip was something special. 


  • Denise Wilkes says...

    Well written, thank you for sharing a special time with your family. May this be just the 1st of many adventures.

    On September 17, 2020
  • L mok says...

    I love reading about your family adventure and good times. But, I am really interested in where was it that you camped with those fabulous pictures.

    On September 11, 2020
  • L mok says...

    I love reading about your family adventure and good times. But, I am really interested in where was it that you camped with those fabulous pictures.

    On September 08, 2020
  • Jeff C. says...

    Great story – made me want to finally coordinate a legit backpack trip with my children. Go to know SB can rent some of the equipment we lack

    On September 08, 2020
  • Mary M says...

    Please share this spot with us. It looks like a perfect way to learn a little about backpacking.

    On September 07, 2020

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