Mar 25, 2015

    Hiking with 4 young kids isn't mission impossible

    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.

    It all began when my dear hubby Adrian Yeong took up hiking. He had been hiking for close to six months to improve his health and fitness when I saw the changes in him. He shed 13kg and was much fitter and healthier than before. 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 Aug 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 took our four younger children along with us, in their dictionary, we were insane. Why bother doing such tiring activities?

    Many would not consider hiking with kids, supposedly because they will complain, cry and not want to walk.

    Being city kids, our children 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...

    By training our children, who were then one plus, three, seven and 10 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 I would get to know a Facebook friend, Michael Mui, and that our feet would soon hit real mountains. Mr Mui got to know of our family hiking activities and invited us to join him to hike Gunung Angsi and Gunung Datuk (both in Negeri Sembilan).

    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 and led by Richard Yeoh. My husband, being an adventurous guy, took up the idea immediately and the rest is history.

    On Aug 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.

    My capable hubby carried Lil Joseph (three years old and weighing 12kg then) 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, he twisted his ankle during the hike, while wearing the new hiking boots I got him as a surprise. Despite having applied some ointment that night, he still had not recovered from the injury, and so I volunteered to carry Lil Joseph up Gunung Datuk the next day.

    I remembered assuring my 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 the tree roots.

    Our new friends from Freewill Hikers were very helpful and took care of Audrey and Dylan. While Audrey was slow and steady, Dylan flew up with them and managed to reach the peak in 1hr 40min. 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" - in the name of encouragement.

    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 Gunung Lambak, Gunung Belumut and Gunung Panti (all three in southern Johor, near Kluang).

    Our toughest hike with Lil Jo was at Gunung Belumut. Our little boy, now weighing 15kg, had not been trained as he was small. He often pretended to be a vehicle stuck in the mud while hiking with his siblings, an idea he got from the multiple off-road trips we had gone on.

    I came up with a plan. Conserve our energyies, get the boy who normally walked for only 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."

    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 Joshua and a new friend, a boy about six and named Rain, who was the grandson of Captain Yeoh.

    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.

    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 than our little boy, as he kept swaying to and fro in the baby carrier as Adrian 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, Adrian's neck and shoulders were stiff.

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

    Our conclusion on hiking with kids: It is not easy and did not happen overnight. But it is 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 have built up their fitness and confidence. With time, they have become capable hikers.

    Hiking together as a family has been rewarding, as we have built strong bonds and made beautiful memories. We have adopted 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. Take them hiking. All you need is a good pair of hiking shoes, determination and motivation.

    Go for it folks, do not be a coach potato!


    For more reports on the go, check out the "MyPaper" iOS and Android apps.