How Hiking With My Father Shaped My Life
Kate Galambos has been exploring the outdoors with her father from the time she was young.
By Kate Galambos
My first days on the trail were spent safely perched on my dad’s back in a carrier. My first actual memories of us exploring together are filled with the dusty, dry soil of the Rocky Mountains erupting in plumes under each footstep. Our lungs seemed to ignite when we climbed those mountains, reaching the end of each trail at nearly 9,000 feet. We hiked anyway.
My dad never told me how to feel on a trail, never told me to smile even when I wanted to quit, never told me how “worth it” it’d be when we reached the top. My passion for the outdoors was guided by him, but never forced. My father’s guidance shaped my love for the outdoors, gave me confidence and gave me a direction to follow, both personally—with time spent outdoors—and professionally, as I work toward a master’s in environmental studies.
My ability to see the value in the environment for its own sake is owed in part to the two generations before me. My grandfather rejoiced in the wonder of the American wilderness after immigrating from his war-torn homeland of Hungary as a teenager. The first time I backpacked, I wore my grandfather’s pack and slept in his sleeping bag. Every time I have fly-fished, I’ve been standing in his boots and worn his waders. His curiosity led my dad to find his own passion in the outdoors.
While I grew up camping in Washington, I felt especially connected to the Colorado wilderness because of the history it held for my dad. We spent summer days in the Rocky Mountains, where my family roots were strong. Nearly every summer of his childhood was spent at a mountain lodge where his mother worked in the kitchen and his father as the wrangler. I explored the same forests and watched the sun rise and fall over the same mountains as my father and his father. To this day, I can still visit the fort my father constructed in the woods behind camp.
As I got older, I joined my dad on more demanding trips. When I was 14, we went fly-fishing in February. It was my first time fishing. It was so cold that I wore my ski coat, gloves and hat. We woke up before the sun and stood by the river for 4 hours in 30-degree weather, and I caught a single trout. While many teenagers might have quit, I didn’t. I’m still learning to fly-fish today.
Whether it was overnight backpacking or fishing, each trip taught me more than how to tie a fly or properly stuff my pack. Those trips taught me patience and determination and built my confidence. Today, I still bring those memories to my mind when life becomes overwhelming or when I feel self-doubt creep in. I figure if I can master the nymphing technique, I can do just about anything.
My dad has always appreciated the unconquerable; he loves the vast unknown of wilderness. His attitude taught me how to respect what I cannot fully understand or control and even to seek solace in the foreignness of nature. As a hiker, fisher, camper and skier, I only borrow the mountains—they don’t belong to me alone.
Beyond a respect for nature, I developed a strong sense of self from my time outdoors with my dad. On the trail, I could not be weak or incapable. My dad never let me have an excuse or tell him “I don’t know how.” If I didn’t know, he would teach me. Need fresh water? Here’s how. Want to start a fire? Here’s how. Afraid of the dark? Too bad. These small lessons built a huge confidence in me. It is hard to second-guess yourself after you’ve hiked alone even a few times.
Today I am grateful for that confidence and for the support of my father and grandfather, as well as the rest of my family, as I pursue my master’s of environmental studies. With my degree, I hope to learn how to communicate the lessons I unconsciously learned throughout my childhood to better protect the environments that connect people, the way I’ve connected with my father and his father.