By Conor Mihell
Parenthood enticed Canadian mountain guide Dan Clark and his wife Alice Young Clark, both self-proclaimed landlubbers, to take to the water. The family’s first canoe trip was a 10-day spring break float down Utah’s Green River, with son Koby, then almost 3 years old, and their 9-month-old daughter, Ava Fei. The trip was an epiphany. “A lot of parents think they can’t do that kind of stuff once they have kids,” says Clark, a teacher in British Columbia. “For us canoeing was a totally new activity that got us into the wilderness. It helped us find what was important to us.”
The next summer, the family spent three weeks on the Yukon River, and then embarked on an ambitious six-week canoe journey in Prince William Sound in 2011. All this prepared the family for a 100-day trip in the summer of 2012, from the Rocky Mountain town of Jasper, Alberta, to the Arctic Ocean at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, Canada’s longest waterway.
It’s fitting that Dan and Alice have become inspirations themselves. An avid photographer, Clark decided to explore videography in producing an eight-minute film about his family’s Alaska expedition, followed by an award-winning short about the Mackenzie River epic. “We both feel pretty deeply about the simplicity of being out and away,” says Clark. “There’s a constant reward—just being together is fantastic. At home we’re both working and looking after the kids … life’s busy and distracted. Out in the wilderness, it’s very simple.”
Here are Clark’s top five tips for starting your li’l trippers young:
Scale it back. The first rule of planning a family trip: Be realistic. “Don’t assume you can cover the same sort of mileage or level of difficulty you could do before you had children,” says Clark.
Waste management. Dealing with diapers often scares parents away from taking baby to the wilds. “We have an easy solution,” says Clark. “We keep fresh diapers in one drybag and dirty ones in another. We clean up with wet wipes and hand sanitizer. After three weeks paddling in Alaska the dirty diaper bag was pretty ripe, but a little baking soda in the drybag helps.”
Toys to taste. “Some kids don’t need anything to stay entertained while others need a boatload of toys,” notes Clark. “We’ve found that rocks, sticks and string offer hours of entertainment.” Get creative with what’s on hand. “Alice creates lots of fun games,” adds Clark. “Houses scratched in the sand with different rooms, sock-gathering contests in the tent, finger knitting, finger puppets, and so on. The only limitation is your imagination.”
More space in the tent. The Young-Clark family packed a four-person tent, which offered plenty of room for “indoor” games when the weather or bugs were bad.
About those bugs. Instead of relying entirely on insect repellents, Clark advises bringing a combination tarp and bug shelter for cooking, dining and relaxing in camp. Koby and Ava Fei often wore mesh bug shirts when the family was on the move. “They weren’t popular at first,” Clark admits, “but once the kids got used to them it was no longer an issue.”