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Thru-hiking: Family Edition! Meet Emma Schultz

By The Cairn Project

Ambassador and mom Emma Schultz is tackling a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail! Find out what’s driven Emma to add this adventure to her family’s summer. And learn more about Emma’s adventure fundraiser here!

You’re setting out this week on a 485 mile thru-hike of the Colorado Trail. This is a truly epic first-ever long distance thru-hike! Tell us about the inspiration for your adventure. How did you decide on the Colorado Trail for your first long distance thru-hike? 

My husband inspired my interest in the Colorado Trail. He used to live in Durango, and the way he’s described the scenery in the stories he’s told me captivated my interest and attention. They captivated me so much that I was hoping we’d move there, but a hike across the state will be a great runner-up! The AT and the PCT get most of the attention, but he sowed a seed of interest for me in the CDT that continued to grow and grow. At this time, I’m not able to check out from my family life for long enough to complete the CDT, so the Colorado Trail feels like the perfect compromise.

Your plan is to hike solo and meet up with your family along the way. This plan will allow you to hike short sections of the trail with your two year old daughter. Tell us more about the decision to share this experience with your daughter? What are you looking forward to and what are some of the unique challenges that you anticipate?

On one hand, my going on this hike is an incredibly selfish thing. It takes my husband away from his job. It takes my child away from the stability of routine which I have worked hard to create for her. There is a chance we will go broke.

On the other hand, it will give my girl more opportunity to spend time with her dad, who she clearly misses during the week while he is at work. She really blossomed this past January when he cared for her during a period away from his job. I know that they are going to make great memories together during this trip, and I will join in on as many of those moments as I possibly can.

My bringing her with me on sections of my hike has multiple reasons: it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be beautiful, and I want her to experience that. I also want to give my husband a break from 24/7 toddler herding!

My girl has a way of saying “Wowwww” in this quiet whisper of wonder, and I feel like if she says that once while she is hiking with me, then this endeavor will be successful. If not, that’s ok! —but it really would make my heart skip a beat. The only challenge I see (and it’s not unique), is that she is heavy, the pack to carry her in is heavy, and obviously stuff weighs up. I’ll try to choose sections to hike with her with limited elevation gain above treeline and with ample water sources. I can power through in bad weather and with limited water, but she shouldn’t have to at this young an age. She also hates bugs, but hey, who doesn’t.

Adventure was a big part of your life before parenthood, and now as a mother you’ve begun introducing your daughter to multi-day adventures. How has having a child changed your relationship with adventure? Can you tell us about some of your first experiences adventuring with your daughter? 

I was my child’s primary caregiver for her first year of life. At age 1, we began dabbling in daycare, with one day a week at school and one to two days a week with family. This is a bit chaotic and may come across as humorous given that I just described her stability of routine, but it’s been working for us, allowing us to save up what is hopefully enough so that we can take this trip. In a way, I feel that this time I have spent giving my life to my daughter has earned me the right to take this extended period of time for myself. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, right or wrong, but I feel like I need it. If I could go off by myself for a month, perhaps I would, but that seems wrong for sure, so I’ve structured this hike to fit the needs of everyone in my family.

Having a child who I need to put to bed each night has given me endless excuses to stay at home and put my feet up after she’s gone to sleep. I’ve never been one to exercise for the sake of exercise, it just doesn’t get me like a bowl of ice cream gets me. So while I may not do too much on a day-to-day basis, I find myself pushing for little adventures pretty frequently. Now that Juniper can spend more time outside with me, it’s even more fun, and she clearly enjoys herself too.

One of our primary adventures this year has been digging in our yard. Our house was built in 1885, and there are so many years of junk (treasure!) buried on our property. We’ve both had a great time endlessly digging.

By age 2 she’s already been to something like 23 US states, because we’ve taken her on three major road trips. That’s more like a badge of honor, though, that we’ve all survived that much time in the car. She loves going for bike rides, and we recently took her on her first overnight bike camping adventure, on a rail trail in southern Minnesota. I look forward to the days when she’ll be able to participate more fully, because right now, most of the adventures we take her on still feel selfish to me, at least to some degree. If she’s happy, I’m happy – –  and if she’s not, we stop and do something else until she feels better, and is willing to bike, or hike, or whatever again. Having a playground nearby doesn’t hurt, but I’m working to teach her that the world is her playground.

As an Ambassador to The Cairn Project, you’re joining a team of women who are catalyzing their outdoor passion into a force that passes this opportunity on to the next generation. How and when did your connection to the outdoors blossom, and who were the people in your life who helped to make that happen?

Every fall when I was younger, my parents would pull me out of school for a week or two and we would spend that time camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I think it is so great that they did that. I ran wild in those woods, leading my own secret life communing with the plants and trees and streams. That was a great introduction to nature.

I worked my way through Girl Scouts, and that was another good way to spend time outside, camping, cooking over a fire, etc.

But for all that time I spent outside, I didn’t do much physical activity. I think part of why was my incredibly painful shyness, and fear of trying new things. Being so shy had a way of transforming new experiences into a really big negative, and so I backed away from things that scared me.

It wasn’t until grad school when I started to push myself more. A part of this was meeting really great people who I resonated with, and who I wanted to spend time in the outdoors with. I began hiking. Thanks to my husband (then boyfriend), I tried mountain biking. He rebuilt his first mountain bike into my first mountain bike (swoon!). 

It took me several years to feel anything other than inept. There were a lot of injuries and a lot of tears, and I was constantly wishing I had learned how to mountain bike when I was a kid, because it would have helped me so much with my shyness, my lack of self esteem, my courage, my strength, my everything. Eventually in time, I was able to let all this useless baggage go. I feel like a completely different person from the me ten years ago; I am much stronger and much happier than I ever envisioned myself becoming. I only wish it had happened earlier in life, but I try not to dwell on that, merely recognize it.