A quiet trail winds among towering trees behind Chesapeake Arboretum. Parents chatter as they gather their children together in strollers and carriers for an outdoor adventure organized by the local branch of Hike it Baby, a national organization started two years ago by a group of moms in Portland, Oregon.
Since then Hike it Baby has become a national platform for family hiking with branches in 135 cities. The organization’s goal is to encourage parents to go outside and hike with their children as a way of staying active. “We believe that our world would be a better place if all parents stepped outside at least once a week for a walk in nature with their new baby,” their mission statement says. “Hike it Baby’s goal is to support you and your family in doing that.”
Support is exactly what they do. For parents like myself, the hiking group offers a break from the isolation of parenthood by bringing people together who share a love for the outdoors. The Hampton Roads’ branch organizes hikes every week in a variety of locations, each promising unique experiences. Everyone is welcome to join from parents to other family members and friends.
“Our chapter has been around for about four months,” said branch lead Whitney Dills, one of four enthusiastic women who started the local branch. “The three other branch leads and myself started lead training at the beginning of May this year and had the group out hiking by the beginning of June. It took off pretty quickly!”
The branch’s Facebook group already has over 900 members, and hike attendance has also grown since the group first started. Every hike has at least a few new faces.
“The feedback has been amazing because we offer a variety of different hikes,” explained Whitney. “[For] people who want to get back into shape...people who just want to stroll and chit chat...hikes for kids who need to run out their energy...! We have so many regulars who come back to the same hikes week after week, and each time they leave with smiles on their faces. I think that speaks volumes.”
Some parents may be reluctant to get out and get exercise because of the cost or scheduling, but Hike it Baby charges nothing to participate.
“Gyms, mama and baby work out groups, those can be very costly and not affordable for many parents,” Whitney said. “We are 100 percent free. Our number one goal is to get families out of the house and into nature. As parents, it’s easy and isolating to fall into a routine at home, only leaving the house to grocery shop or the occasional play date.”
This isolating habit can worsen postpartum depression and leave parents feeling down. That’s why Hike it Baby was founded: to give parents an alternative to the baby blues by getting them out and hiking rather than sitting and sulking.
“I definitely think it keeps us active! We have hikes almost every day of the week, sometimes multiple hikes a day. We have hikers who are out with us four or five days a week,” said Whitney. “Being outside with a community of like-minded, friendly people is addicting. For me, on the days we don’t hike, I find myself wishing we were hiking!”
For most members, Hike it Baby quickly becomes a healthy addiction. They go on their first hike, and whether they try to be the quiet one at the back of the pack or a leader at the front, they all become part of the family by the time the trail comes full circle.
“It’s super hard to step out of your comfort zone and try something you might not normally try. All I can tell them is to just try one hike,” said Whitney. “Pick an easy, kid-led, slow hike and just do it. It’s ok if you’re shy or you don’t know anyone there. We’ve all been there. We’ve all worried about being the newbie, but that feeling goes away quick. You stop being the newbie about the time we get done with welcome circle, and then you’re one of us.”
As parents mingle in the parking lot of the Chesapeake Arboretum before the hike, Graycn Brink, 6, picks flowers and stuffs them into her mother’s sunglass case. This is her first Hike it Baby excursion, and she is excited to take a little memento back home with her. Her mother, Cat Brink-Flahaunt, already knows this won’t be their last hike with the group. Cat loves being outside and active with both her daughter and ten-week-old son, Levi Flahaunt.
“I want to participate as much as possible,” said Cat. “It’s hard some days to leave the house with a newborn so if we can’t some days, then I won’t beat myself up. That’s one thing I like about the group: no expectations. But on the days we have ourselves together, I know we have a great activity with nice people waiting for us.”
New moms can find it easier to stay home rather than to get out and about. You have to dress the baby, check the diaper bag, then maybe re-dress him from a spit-up incident or diaper explosion. Leaving the house isn’t always simple. Exercising, especially when you need to line up child care, can be even harder, which makes these hikes the perfect solution.
“It’s a positive for me to get out and get exercise,” said Cat. “I hate the gym, but hiking is a great way to get sneaky exercise because it’s fun. My daughter is not a sports kid, which is totally fine, but I would still like her to get outdoors.”
Many parents worry about the way children today focus on technology rather than playing outside. Kids don’t have as much face-to-face interaction nor do they get enough physical activity and fresh air, all of which are important to their development. But social groups like Hike it Baby encourage kids to make new friends, and when they do, they often become more motivated to step outside.
“I look forward most to the social aspect as I love for my kids to have friends,” explained Cat. “Watching my daughter make a new friend today after literally just stepping out of the car made my heart so happy—totally what I was hoping for! And I hope as my son grows, he gains a great set of little friends, too.”
Toward the back of the trail, Hike it Baby regular Kayla Klein wrangles her three boys as they start down the path. You can see the excitement on their faces as the hike heads away from the road entrance and further into the woods.
“They all enjoy the hikes, my older two in particular wake me up asking what hike we’re going on today. It’s become a part of our daily routine,” said Kayla.
“I seriously can’t believe how much has changed since I’ve started Hike it Baby,” continued Kayla. “After I left the Navy I was in a ‘funk’ and pretty much sat around feeling sorry for myself. I saw someone post about the group on a local yard sale site. I watched for a few weeks and decided to take the plunge. The atmosphere is amazing, friendly, and non-judgmental. Not only are we all more healthy, but it’s nice to tell my husband at the end of the day that we actually did something. It’s such a community.”
Hike it Baby’s community stance is one of its most popular ideals as no one gets left behind. Parents deal with a variety of challenges—from teething tantrums to clumsy accidents—that can strike when least expected. Most of the hikers have been there before or will be soon enough, but all are willing to help.
“I love that it’s the top priority for all the leads,” explained Kayla. “On the toddler-led hike, a three-year-old having a fit has happened to me. Not only does everyone stop, but the moms help. It just solidifies the group and the community that Hike it Baby creates.”
This comfortable environment is what makes Hike it Baby successful in getting parents active. Everyone is welcome and accepted while challenges are met head on together. When problems are solved and everyone’s back on track, you are left to focus on enjoying the experience with the bonus benefit of an outdoor activity for the mind and body.
So take a breath, check out the branch calendar, sign the waiver, and hike it, baby!
For more information about Hike it Baby, please visit www.hikeitbaby.com or find the Hampton Roads branch on Facebook.