Photo credit: Boone Rodriguez
Describe your book:
My very first book, 50 Hikes With Kids: Oregon and Washington
, is a handpicked selection of the most kid-friendly hikes in the region. Over the course of a winter I was on the ground, hiking trails, finding hidden gems, and recording data to come up with the best trails to get kids excited about the outdoors. All the essential details are in there to make exploring a breeze — easy to follow maps, distances and elevations (all easy to moderate and under 4 miles), and tons of fun scavenger hunts to keep the kids engaged!
What was your favorite book as a child?
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster. This book introduced me to maps and I fell in love! I would doodle and recreate the beautiful, whimsical map of the Kingdom of Wisdom that marked the beginning of the book. With each chapter, the protagonist Milo heads somewhere new and I sketched him on my map, daydreaming about where he'd go next. I still feel like Milo every time I set out to find a new outdoor adventure.
What was your outdoor experience like when you were a kid?
My dad was the fearless lead adventurer for me and my sister growing up. He would delight us with tales of canyoneering and long-distance hiking from his B.C. days (Before Children), and I love that his drive to explore didn’t stop when he started a family. We just came along! My childhood is fondly marked by these hikes and adventures. My dad accompanied me on many of the trips to write 50 Hikes With Kids
, and until we were working on this project and driving together, I didn't realize how much I still embody that adventurous spirit today.
When did you know that you wanted to write a hiking guide from a kid’s-eye view?
I’ve always been passionate about finding ways to connect kids to the natural world. When I first started teaching science, I was horrified by some of the boxed experiences available to me as an educator — it simply wouldn't do! I sought out opportunities to immerse myself in the field and create lessons from scratch. I worked with scientists from New Orleans to the Alaskan bluffs, documenting and designing activities along the way. I’m passionate about hiking too, and often wondered how hiking guides, maps, and field identification — all that adult stuff — could be made more inspirational and intuitive for kids.
My nephews were definitely an inspiration in creating the book too. When looking for places to hike with them I realized the daunting variety of hikes out there for one person to sift through. I found other guides weren’t super kid-accessible and I wanted to make one that a kid could thumb through and dog-ear — something that would serve the Northwest's families with a rockin' north star to get them outdoors and co-creating adventure together.
When writing a guide, how do you keep track of all the different aspects of one hike? Do you write it all down when you are out on the trail?
I'm constantly straddling the digital and analog worlds in my work and find their marriage is necessary for my writing style. I'm a spreadsheet and map geek, so well before hitting the trail, I have each hike unpacked in cells, with all of the information I can find from local managing agencies and existing guide books. And I talk directly to rangers, botanists, geologists, and other scientists to get all of the inside info. Then, I bring my baby Moleskine out with me, making chicken scratch notes while I race the clock to sundown. I also digitally capture everything between these notes — I use an app called GPS Tracks which allows you to capture pictures with waypoints while recording elevation, time, and distance. My dad, who accompanied me on almost every hike, often took the wheel on the drive home while I transferred from notebook and app to laptop in the passenger seat, capturing my thoughts when they were still fresh as the buds we had just walked past on the trail.
I also have a huge laminated map on my home office wall with an intricate sticker system marking features to ensure a healthy mix of the things kids love most while hiking. When I get home from a new hike, I victoriously mark a bright green circle label over the recent conquest and addition to the guide.
What do you love about hiking in the Pacific Northwest?
I love the variety. I love the resilience of fellow hikers out there, rain or shine or more rain
, greeting you with a happy "hello!" as you walk by. The mushrooms, the history, the contrast between the lush green of the west and the brown hues of the east — that snap
moment on I-84, when you think, "This is such a green state!" and then you're reminded, bam
, when it turns grassy and dry heading east, of the region's ecological diversity. The reminder that, yes, there are still bears and snakes and wildness out there. The towns you drive through to get to the trailheads. The passion of rangers and the stewards of the land. The drama and magnitude of the waterfalls and geological features. The natural "toys" like agates and obsidian, kelp bladders and flotsam and jetsam of the outdoors, begging to be investigated and documented. There are only 50 hikes in this book, but I love the anticipation of knowing there will always
be new places to explore.
What advice would you give to parents and educators about introducing kids to the outdoors?
Kids are so strong, resilient, and naturally curious. Don't let news or web research frighten you — terrible things can happen, but it is also terrible when our kids stay indoors too often and are robbed of their natural ability to wonder and explore. Get out there, let them lead, let them co-plan adventure with you. It will strengthen that adventure muscle while creating lifelong nature-lovers and stewards of our beautiful home.
What is the best writing or outdoor adventure advice you have ever received?
I received this advice in an adventure context but think it's applicable to both. During an educational research program I spent grueling 14-hour days in the Arctic tundra of Finland skiing alongside a dogsled team. I was the most exhausted I had never been, surrounded by the vast expanse of tundra and snow, while my friends and family (and a shower!) were 10 days behind me. We still had 10K to go to before our next overnight hut. I thought I might give up, but Mille Porsild, our Danish lead explorer, wouldn’t let me. Mille was a strong female adventurer and I wondered to myself, could I ever be as strong as her? When finally I cried and called out that I didn’t think I could continue, Mille stopped the whole sled team and sat down beside me. After we ate trail mix and hydrated together, she said to me in no uncertain terms, yes, you can keep going
. So I did, and I remember every glint of sun on the snow that day. I tell myself to keep going
every day now. Thanks, Mille.
What is your favorite thing about Powell’s?
I live across the street from Powell's and I love every inch of the store, but my favorite section is the Rose Room. Here, I can pass through and pick up books from so many talented outdoor authors. Reading from the greats helped inform the research and design of my book.
Which Powell's Room is the least like you that you wish was the most like you?
I so badly wish with every fiber of my being that I was a good dancer or singer — I am neither. I love going through the Orange Room and picking up one of the how-to books to dance through the doorways of Powell's or grace its aisles with my angelic voice, if only in my imagination. That's the power of Powell's and bookstores I suppose — that all of that could actually be possible if you just pick up a book and read.
5 Outdoor Books From Wendy’s Shelf:
When you travel a lot like I do, the books that Make the Shelf are bound to be epic ones. Here's a few that inspire adventure and playfulness for all the young ones in my life, at heart and for reals:
One Night Wilderness
by Douglas Lorain
I've found Lorain’s rating system for beauty is spot on. #lifegoals include hitting all of the 8, 9, and 10 camps on his scenic scale, like Jefferson Park.
Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest
by Mark Turner and Ellen Kuhlmann
The only thing you need if you're trying to identify trees! This guide makes it super-easy, even for kids, to find tree names.
Oregon Geographic Names
by Lewis A. McArthur (preferably a worn edition for added effect)
There's nothing like cracking open a true tome like McArthur's book — especially when every name you find inside comes with such interesting stories.
Play: The Forest School Way
by Peter Houghton and Jane Worroll
So simple, but I dare you to not find something you and your child will delight in just by stepping into a forest.
Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passions, Peers, and Play
by Mitchel Resnick
Embrace play for adults and kids alike in order to spark inner creativity and prepare for adventure on the trail from MIT's Mitch Resnick.
÷ ÷ ÷
has her hands full managing the Google for Education Certified Innovator program
. This year,
she'll work with cohorts of 36 teachers at Google offices in Amsterdam, Venice, Madrid, Mexico City, and Copenhagen as they tackle some of education's biggest challenges. She'll also be supporting new cohorts and instructional coaches with the Dynamic Learning Project
, a pilot program in 50 schools across the United States. In between, she'll be jutting around California testing out the best trails and scavenger hunts for 50 Hikes With Kids: California
, due out next year from Timber Press. You can find Wendy on twitter @50hikeswithkids where you can tell her all about your favorite places to get outside and explore! 50 Hikes With Kids: Oregon and Washington
is her first book.