man with child in backpack on his shoulders
Ashland University professor Christopher Chartier and his son Kai are shown here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was authored by Dr. Christopher R. Chartier, a psychology professor at Ashland University.

ASHLAND — In early 2020, at the start of a 15-month sabbatical from work, and going a bit
stir-crazy during peak pandemic restrictions, I decided to start hiking the
youngest of my three sons — Kai — around town in a Deuter kid-carrying

He was 1 at the time, and morning hikes quickly became a treasured part of our daily routine. When my sabbatical was over, we were still enjoying ourselves, so we kept it up, albeit with less consistency and frequency, until just after his 4th birthday.

We hiked what felt like every road, street, sidewalk, field, and trail in our little town, eventually becoming a somewhat well-recognized and unified entity, known to the high school cross country team, one our favorite groups of fellow travelers, as simply “baby backpack.”

As the days and miles piled up, I started to wonder how much total ground we’d covered.

Luckily, I’m a somewhat obsessive user of  Strava, and have a record of each and every session. Following our last backpack hike together, I finally decided to dig through the data.

Here are the final stats:

 Kai and I went on 313 backpack hikes between May 2020 and May 2023.

 We covered 768 total miles — equivalent in distance to hiking the Colorado trail and then hiking the John Muir trail, or hiking from Ashland to well-past Montreal.

 We ascended and descended 39,523 vertical feet — roughly equivalent to summiting Everest from basecamp three times.

 We spent 240 hours hiking together.

 At the start he weighed ~19 pounds and he now weighs 40 pounds.

The stats are fun and interesting to me, but of course they can’t communicate the depth and diversity of joys that our hikes provided.

We got to feel the seasons change day by day, committed to time outdoors regardless of the weather.

We consumed so much though provoking content: podcasts, audiobooks, music, and chats with folks we met along the way.

I got to feel Kai growing up, so materially and directly, as he gained a tiny bit of weight in between each hike.

Just as Milo, the famous Greek wrestler of the ancient Olympiad, trained by carrying a young calf each day until it was 4 years old, I experienced huge fitness benefits from lugging Kai around town during these years of his rapid growth.

He was even on my back as I completed the final steps of my first 100-mile footrace. This was particularly fitting, as he was an integral part of my preparation for the event.

Kai was the child I didn’t think I’d have. He’s certainly my last. It turns out he was also the child that I needed to guide me towards a place of inner contentment, peace, and comfort.

My joie de vivre grew in lockstep with him.

As he got heavier my life got lighter. I was becoming a better and more present parent, one hike at a time, just as there was becoming less objective parenting to do, with our sons increasingly in the care of their teachers and coaches.

I feel deeply and confidently that our daily, meditative wanders changed me for the better.

We’re done now. Officially, finally, sadly, done.

Many times over the last couple of years I thought a particular hike was the last one we’d share, but we just kept pulling the pack out and enjoying trips around town much longer than I thought we ever would.

They say that in the moment you don’t know the last time you pick up your kids.

Similarly, I had accepted that I might not realize the moment in which my Beast of Burden days were over.

He’d gladly keep riding along, but 4 years on my back is more than enough, and this past weekend’s walk was our final act.

There was a bittersweet appreciation in knowing that I was grunting out the last, “alright, up ya go” as I heaved his 40 pounds over my shoulder.

Now that they’re over, I’ve accepted that he may not remember these hikes for long, but I’ll never forget them.

And just like that, my kids are all semi-independent, at least when it comes to covering a few miles on foot.

This phase is over, just when I was getting good at it, and just as I was really starting to enjoy it. You don’t know what ya got ‘til it’s gone, I suppose.

The backpack is on the wall in the basement now. It’s time to carry your own weight, KaiBaby.

Thanks for sharing all the miles and smiles with your old man.

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