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Keith Robinson’s Road Trip into Adventure

Keith Robinson nears the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
Nearing the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

Editor’s Note: Keith Robinson is Go Backpacking’s new contributor.

My quest for travel and adventure began when I was just three years old.

My parents owned a home in the eastern suburbs of San Diego, just south of Miramar Marine Airbase.

Most of the time, my mother, who was eight months pregnant with child number three and still doting over my one-year-old brother (child number two), allowed me to play in the backyard by myself.

She was busy and tired.

There was a hole in the back fence, which intrigued me for months. It led to a field of rolling hills and a distant housing development construction site.

Once I got over the fear of the CH46E Sea Knight Helicopters, which flew loudly over our yard every day, I chose an afternoon to venture out to see the world beyond the fence.

Hours later, I rode home to my fear-struck mother in the back of a police car.

Let’s just say, since that day, I was hooked, and I haven’t looked back with any regret about my life of adventure.

My father, who had his NFL career cut short by a grotesque knee injury, left San Diego for Los Angeles, then Orange County, and then Utah as he was transferred from one executive director’s job to another for the Boy’s Clubs of America.

Lucky for me, I was taken along on every one of the clubs hiking, exploring, mountain climbing, backpacking, spelunking, hunting, rock climbing, and survivalist trip available.

By the time I was old enough to join Boys Scouts – it seemed like a demotion – and I gave it up.

My Road Trip

Writing Becomes a Career

I was in the fourth grade when I started a writing career.

It was a short story about my classmates and me climbing Mount Everest. I sold a couple of dozen copies for a dollar each.

I learned early that including them in my tales made good copy as each kid wanted to see if they lived or died on the big scary mountain.

From that day forward have been a professional writer (on and off) ever since.

Discovering and Exploring Caves

Around that time, I took to the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains with my friends Mike and Doug to search the karst landscape for caves.

Over the years, we found three of them and explored them in secret with our homemade candles. One of the caves was more than 175 feet deep into the mountainside.

I returned to these caves years later with my son Evan, only to find one of them sealed up with concrete and the others too small for me to fit through the opening. I was disappointed.

Taking a break high over the valley below
Taking a break high over the valley below

Climbing in Yosemite National Park

My father did not shy away from adventure sports either. It was his influence and insistent “go for it” mentality that pushed me into all sorts of adventures.

I still cannot believe that the two of us climbed some of Yosemite’s big, multi-pitch walls when I was just 12 years old and barely 100 pounds.

I was not afraid of heights or falling, but I was terrified that I was expected to save him as I belayed him from below at the other end of the rope.

Kayaking near Yellowstone National Park

By the time I was 14, my father had given me an experience, which served as a marker in my life and totally changed our relationship.

He trusted me on my own, at least at some level, for the first time on that warm summer’s day at the end of a family road trip vacation to Yellowstone National Park.

Earlier that winter, I had finally beaten him in one of our regular footraces and moved his undefeated record against me to about 189 wins and finally, one loss.

That race was a turning point, but this day was different.

Related: Best Kayaking Spots in the USA

Campsite on the Pacific Crest Trail
Our campsite along the Pacific Crest Trail

It was on this day that he placed me in one of our homemade pine frame and canvas-covered kayaks and sent me all alone down the icy cold, rough and tumble rapids of the Snake River in Southeastern Idaho.

I had done some occasional kayaking before that day, but I was never more than a few yards from my father on decidedly more docile and safer bodies of water.

My brothers and I watched him and learned as he would shoot a rapid or pull out of an eddy right before it was our turn to try it next.

If one of us ever got in trouble, he was right there – coming to our rescue.

As I climbed into the kayak, my mother later claimed that she said goodbye to me under her breath, sure that it would be the last time she would see her firstborn alive. Her long sighs could not hide her discomfort.

My younger brother’s stilted laughter and broad smiles proved to me they were envious.

My father was matter of fact. “It looks like there is a beach about 13 miles down the highway,” he said.

“We’ll be out waving at you when you get there. Pull out, and we will put the kayak on the car together.”

The car was a 1970’s Ford Station Wagon painted Sky blue, and just for looks, it came with a full-length section down the side made of wood paneling.

Over the years, the roof rack secured nearly everything under the sun, including a full-sized foosball table, which unfortunately ended up flying off onto the interstate at 65 miles per hour. But that is another story.

Setting off into the dark green water of the Snake River, I had a hard time not showing how delighted I was.

I made a concerted effort also not to show how terrified I was. None of us had ever run a kayak on the Snake River. For all I knew, there could be a waterfall just around the next bend.

All alone, with hundreds of feet of water between each shore and me – I was the master of my own little universe, and I loved it.

The journey was fun and exhilarating but also uneventful as I made it safely to the rest of my family, who, as promised, were all waiting on the beach.

Looking back, I thought that I was indeed a man now. But more significantly, I was now a die-hard kayak enthusiast.

It was not long after my solo Kayak experience that life took a new direction.

A Lack of Adventure

For more than three decades, my extra focus was now football and track & field throughout high school, college, and a bit beyond.

After that, it was two marriages, four children, and several jobs where that something extra was some serious extra weight gain and a case of extra boring dad.

I no longer did sports and fitness and adventure but watched my children do it instead.

By the time I hit the age suitable for a mid-life crisis, I was more than 125 pounds overweight and couldn’t even climb a ladder.

I Lost the Weight

Fast-forward to today – I have lost the weight, I got fit, and began a fanatical resurgence into mountain climbing, hiking, kayaking, traveling on long road trips, and seeking out places where the child in me always wanted to go.

During the last seven years, my partner and I have climbed more than 400 different peaks and explored a great deal of the country on foot with a pack on our backs.

Hiking with her, I am constantly challenged, as she is almost impossible to keep up with unless carrying a pack with at least 30 pounds in it.

We have slept in all sorts of places, but the nights in a tent are the ones we remember most.

Road trips to National Parks are among our favorite journeys, and in every park and stop, we are looking for a trail to hike, a forest to explore, or an alpine lake to swim in.

My travels have taken me to 46 states and 25 National Parks. I have backpacked thousands of miles. Still, there is so much more to see and do, and I hope to do it.

Enjoying life in a lake
Enjoying life

I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you here at gobackpacking.com – experiences from my past and my experiences yet to come.

My stories, gentle advice, lessons learned, and campfire tales will hopefully teach, entertain, and encourage you to make some of the same journeys.

But most of all, make the trip an adventure, wherever you go.

***

Editor’s Note: Keith Robinson will be writing a new weekly series for Go Backpacking highlighting road trips, hiking, US National Parks, and much more.

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