When we think of a "brand", we typically think of a famous product or company whose name we instantly recognize. Brands earn that recognition by consistently communicating to you who they are and what they stand for in every way that money can buy; tv, radio, digital advertising, social media, etc. Their intent? To make as much money as they can from your buy-in and consumption of their product.
Nowadays, a lot of brands are adding an "adventure" edge to their appeal as a ploy to capitalize on the Millennial desire to have a more than ordinary product experience; which means that even cruise lines are spouting on about the "adventures" you'll have with them. Such misuse of the word "adventure" stinks more than the over a billion gallons of sewage dumped from these ships into the ocean each year. Which is why it's refreshing to find brands in the adventure-sphere that develop not from a desire for wealth or fame, but a commitment to a lifestyle and a desire to share it.
One such brand is that of the Adventure Dad. This growing collection of social media dads not only brave the ubiquitous adventures of fatherhood, but they immerse us in incredible landscapes, vibrant nature experiences, and their family's smiling faces. The best part? These gentlemen don't have mass marketing budgets or ulterior motivations, just intentions that a lot of us fellow fathers (all parents, really) can relate to: the desire to raise their kids in touch with, and in appreciation of, the natural world. That is the type of brand I can buy into.
I recently caught up with two gentlemen who've gained a steady following on social media for their exploits as adventurous dads. I wanted to figure out where this desire to be adventurous comes from, why they choose to raise their families this way, and what inspires them to turn their personal passions into a public brand. The first is Steve Kooiman, a father of five (@Adventurous_dad_of_5) based out of California who recently capped his new year by completing the 52 hike challenge and who enjoys the opportunity to be considered a positive role model. The second is Jimmy Wilfong (@adventure.family), a military dad who currently lives in Las Vegas with his fitness instructor wife and two kids, makes. Here is what they had to say.
Where does your love for the outdoors come from?
Jimmy: As a kid, one of my biggest memories was of a trip my family and I took in Europe. My dad was in the Army and we lived in Germany. My parents, my 2 sisters and I, all went on a week-long European vacation. I was around 7 or 8 years old. I remember clearly seeing the Swiss Alps for the first time. We skied on some bunny hills and ice skated at a frozen lake at the base of one of the mountains. Those images have always stuck with me and it stands out as one of my happiest childhood memories. We saw several other things on that trip, like some amazing salt mines, but the Swiss Alps were it! I didn't know it then, but adventure was in my blood. And about 4 years ago I figured that out. I wanted to slow down time with my kids and create some of those "Alp type" memories; maybe even one day take them to the Swiss Alps.
Steve: I got it from my parents. I spent a lot of time with my Dad; he was an outdoors person back in the day, teaching his kids fishing, camping, hiking and doing road trips to see different things. I continue to seek the outdoors as I get older. I was never a person to sit around while there's something to explore or a chance to enjoy the ultra quietness of the wilderness.
Why do you value getting your kids outside so highly? Is there any conflict with screen time or other passive ways of passing the time?
Steve: I want them to experience and value the outdoors while they're young because nowadays life is so fast-paced and materialistic that you can get caught up in a mess or stress quickly and it's not necessary. A lot of their friends always ask, "why do you always hike, camp etc.?" It's sad the kids of today hardly go outside and play because of the electronics available to them, which also causes interaction problems with them because they're caught up in their own little world of gaming (and aren't developing their social skills). Graffiti and other destruction to the outdoors, including land development, comes from not being taught the value of nature.
Jimmy: Life is too fast. Our kids are growing too fast. Nature has a way of slowing those things down. Not to mention it teaches our kids respect by taking care of something bigger than you. I smile when I see them pick up a piece of trash on the trail or when they get upset because someone carved names into a tree. Those are traits kids lose in this sometimes selfish world. They also gain confidence. We have done some pretty tough hikes together, such as hiking out to Supai, AZ. They were so proud of the 27 miles we put in over 3 days. That confidence carries over to so many other areas in life.. .such as sports or school. Nature also bonds a family. I remember a hike in Zion to Observation Point. A storm came out of nowhere. It started hailing and raining; it was crazy and scary and stressful. We were huddled under a tree trying to dodge almond-sized hail for about 10 minutes. Talk about bonding!
In regards to the screen time question. My kids (like most others) love their screen time. They both have iPad Minis. They would play games on those 24/7 if we'd let them, but I don't want our lives to always be behind a screen. It's important for them to learn how to use devices but it needs to be a part of their lives, not their lives. My wife and I cherish our "unplugged" time. No cell service, no wifi, no devices.... Just solid family time.
Steve, why did you choose an Instagram handle like "Adventurous Dad of 5?" What does it say about who you are?
Steve: I picked "Adventurous" because we are always out and about seeking new things in the outdoor world: camping, fishing, hunting, hiking etc. We like to see different things or odd things that catch our interest and at the time (of choosing an Instagram handle) a lot of people had a name like "hiking this and that;" hardly anyone had adventurous, which captures what we do. I think people look up to me as a good role model; whether they're looking for a positive outlet to learn from or outdoor stuff to do with their kids or are inspired for when they someday have a family. When I'm on the trails, hikers will sometimes stop us and let me know that I inspired them to try it with their kids... what a great feeling.
Jimmy, how does your military background play into your desire to maintain an active lifestyle?
Jimmy: I am in the military and my wife is a fitness instructor, so health is and has to be a part of our lives. What's better exercise than a nice 3-mile hike? The military has taught me so much, from leadership to survival skills. I am one of only a couple hundred Air Force members to ever attend and graduate Army Ranger School. That course taught me so much about myself. It gave me a respect for carrying everything I own in a backpack (rucksack). It showed me that I am capable of so much physically and mentally. I am by no means trying to put my children through Ranger School, but there are some important life lessons to be learned from the outdoors and nature provides the perfect avenue for that.
What benefits have you guys seen from getting outside in nature as a family? How do you make sure it's a priority?
Jimmy: Our family is tight! I mean Eli and Madi get along so well and they always stick up for each other. They help each other on hikes and such. They have confidence. I have them help me plan trips. They step up and lead on a trail. They don't complain. They know what hard work is. And they are so healthy
Because of all the benefits alone, finding time is always a priority. My wife and I are both busy. I have always said that Las Vegas is a perfect jump off spot for day trips or weekend trips. It's easy to keep it a priority when both parents are in sync with it...and we are. And it's easy to keep a priority when the kids actually get excited when we tell them about another trip. Example: We told them yesterday that we are going to be spending our New Years camping in Death Valley. My daughter asked if we were going to have time to see the moving rocks (Racetrack Playa). She was so happy when I told here it was on our list. The excitement makes it easy to keep it a priority but that excitement has to be learned.
Steve: The benefit of getting outside is to learn to slow down and relax from the stress of daily obligations. We build confidence by overcoming fears of heights by trekking narrow trails on steep slopes, and we have lots of memories/ stories from our adventures and togetherness as a family. We also see wildlife in the wild like bears, hawks, lizards, snakes etc.; not just being locked up in cages and zoos.
I make it priority by making time for it and teaching the kids what value the outdoors has so that they could make it priority. Also, we are always learning new things every time we go out (science, history, reading, math). My oldest son has left the nest and is already experiencing and teaching his wife and son about the nature. Bringing in more people to the outdoors experience outside of our family; that's what it's all about.
What is your ultimate family vacation? Anything special on tap for 2016?
Steve: Our ultimate vacation would be a big road trip across the USA. We all agree that a Utah trip would be nice, adventuring in Zion and Bryce canyon.
Jimmy: Our ultimate vacation would be hiking some or all of the PCT as a family. When the kids are much older, of course. That would just be the coolest to do together. One day...
2016 may (unfortunately) be a military move year for us. I have no idea where we may PCS (permanent change of station) to. Maybe Germany! Then we can visit the Swiss Alps.
We are planning a late Spring 3-4 day camping trip in Yosemite. That's a place we've yet to visit. Other than that we will keep looking for quick day trips to State Parks or National Parks. We play a lot by ear, to be honest. We have woken up on a morning with no plans and within an hour we were on our way to Zion.
What's the coolest place you've been to as a family?
Jimmy: Supai Village in Arizona. The waterfalls in this place are out of this world. This trip took more planning than any other trip we've been on; I'm sure you all are familiar with it. It can only be reached on foot, by horse or via helicopter. We hiked all of our stuff in and out and stayed at the lodge to lighten our load. My kids are so proud of that trip. They literally received an applause by a bunch of people at the trailhead when we finished. Kids just don't typically do that hike.... 27 miles over 3 days. The lady at the lodge didn't believe that my daughter just hiked the 10 miles in. It's those moments that make it all worth it. You can just watch the kids grow right in front of you. Nature is amazing.
Steve: Coolest is hiking to Heart Rock in Crestline, CA and seeing a natural cut-out in the rock in the shape of a heart. Also, hiking to heights of 8,890 feet at Cucamonga Peak to look over the entire Inland Empire to the ocean. Every place is cool, mostly because there is always something to new to learn and see.
Thanks to Steve and Jimmy for chatting with me about their commitment to living adventurous lives and not just being role models for their kids, but making their kids an integral part of the adventure. Be sure to follow them on Instagram! Also, if you or anyone you know are an adventurous parent, get in touch with me @embarkorg on Instagram or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm always looking to feature inspiring photos on Instagram of families that get out in nature and inspire others to do so too!