Backpacking Origin

My Dad grew up in the town of Cedar Rapids, IA and when he describes his childhood to me, he paints a picture of himself as a semi-feral child. As a Gen Xer, he was naturally left to his own devices, and during this time he found himself drawn to the local wilderness. He grew up exploring the woods, hunting bull frogs in ponds, and fishing Indian Creek. Deep in the woods of Cedar Rapids, my Dad and his merry band of feral friends discovered clay mountains and thus the great clay wars of Cedar Rapids ensued. I’ll let you imagine what a clay war between children looks like. My father was so enthralled with his adventures that he sometimes didn’t make it home in time for dinner. Legend has it that, a time or two, my Grandma Marilyn even called upon the services of her pilot nephew Tim O’Brien to fly a helicopter over the forest and announce via loud speaker, “Paul Frank, it is time to come home. Your mother is looking for you.”

“That’s when I knew I was in big trouble,” recalls Paul.

The sense of adventure, freedom, and grit sparked a lifelong love of the outdoors that persists to this very day. During my childhood, fishing trips to Ely Minnesota became a yearly tradition for our family. We stayed in Cabins, beautiful lodges, and even went on guided fishing excursions. We made so many great memories, but the whole time my Dad was plotting and waiting for his kids to grow old enough to take on a real challenge!

2011 was our last trip to Ely, Minnesota, and that time we spent a week living on a house boat. In retrospect, this was just a teaser for the trips to come. The next year in 2012, we camped, hiked, and drove around to various sights and parks in the state of South Dakota. We camped in the Black Hills and Badlands, and we drove to see Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. I would describe this trip as a pseudo backpacking trip. We were just dipping our toes in at this point. The first true to form backpacking trip came the next year in the summer of 2013. Five days and four nights backpacking the Maroon Bell’s loop in Colorado.

After the Maroon Bell’s loop, my Dad had fully caught the backpacking bug. It has since become an annual tradition to go on one big adventure every year. Early on, I would describe my siblings and I as reluctant participants, but eventually we came to truly appreciate these trips. Backpacking can be challenging in so many different ways. I’ve slept in numerous flooded tents during rainstorms, been completely exhausted (bonked) after long arduous hikes, been devoured by bugs, woken up to porcupines invading our camp, hiked on cliffsides in the middle of the night, camped in freezing temperatures, etc. These trips are not easy and they are not relaxing in the traditional sense, but I find myself talking about them all the time. My sister-in-law Sarah jokes about how often our backpacking trips come up when my family gets together. Apparently, it would make for a very dangerous drinking game. Even though the trips are hard, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes with having survived all the hardships. I still can’t believe some of the things we’ve done. People often dread coming home from vacation. Backpacking instills a sense of gratitude for even the smallest conveniences. When I get home I find joy in sleeping on a mattress, filling a glass of water without having to filter it, eating good food, air conditioning, etc..

In the early years, I always thought to myself, “What crazy trip has Dad cooked up for this year?” I never considered how these trips would eventually become a family legacy. That’s why this page exists. It is here to document all of our adventures and to outline the plan for the next one for anyone who is interested in our weird little family tradition. As of writing this, my Dad, Brother, and I are currently 1 week out from having hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine. We have eyes on Grand Teton National Park of Wyoming for our 2025 trip, but it’s way way to early for any plans to be considered concrete.

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