The Joy of Riding, Outdoors, Mud and a Little Boy

Ride on little Axel! #Axelove
Riding a bike, how much is there to riding a bike? One might think that riding a bike is just that, but it is not, it is so much more.  It's something that I stopped doing for a few years but recently started riding again and it reminded me of the freedom, terror, joy, anger, energizing feelings I once had of riding a bike.

I've met a lot of people through social media and one amazing outdoor blogger I have met is Jennifer Charrette of Velo Mom.  A little over a year ago, her family went through a horrible tragedy and lost their youngest son Axel while on a trip in Mexico.  There are no words, but no family should go through anything like that.  Even though Axel was only on this Earth for a little over two years, he lived life to the fullest on his balance bike.

Over the last year, I have seen how the outdoors, and in particular riding, has helped the Charrette family grieve the loss of a family member and through all the pain this wonderful family has started a great non-profit organization, The Axel Project, in memory of their little boy who LOVED his balance bike. The Axel Project mission is "To introduce and nurture a lifelong passion for cycling to children and their families."  One of their main ways of completing their mission is to providing balance bikes and instruction to children in need.

The most recent effort of The Axel Project is Zoom! a picture book about "A little boy rides his balance bike to discover the desert, mountains, mud puddles and more."  This story follows the adventures of a little boy, his balance bike, and his dog, which was written by Axel's mother, Jennifer Charrette, and Marcia Kenne and illustrated by Kellie Day.  The Zoom! project is being funded through Kickstarter and I have also kicked in to support Zoom!

Let's keep spreading Axel's joy of riding to all families! Will you please join me in supporting Zoom!? Click here to Zoom! Kickstarter page.

The #OutdoorFamilies bloggers have come together to support Zoom! and the Charrette Family in their new endeavor.

  1. It’s a Delightful, Dazzling, Dream-Filled, Dirty World by Rocks and Sun
  2. Zoom! The Healing Power of Two Wheels by Expect Adventure
  3. Making Lemonade Out of Life's Lemons by Mommy Loves Trees
  4. Zoom! The Story of a Boy and his Balance Bike by Tales of a Mountain Mama 
  5. Today is Zoom! Day: The Story of a Boy and His Balance Bike by On The Beaten Path
  6. An Amazing Kickstarter campaign for Zoom & The Axel Project by Active Kids Active Family
  7. Let's Give a Kick Start to ZOOM! The Story of a Boy and His Balance Bike by Mommy Hiker
  8. Zoom! Remembering Axel’s Love of Biking by Colorado Mountain Mom
  9. Zoom Day - Let's Get The First Balance Bike Book Published! by Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
  10. Bloggies, Bikes and Books by Velo Mom

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Book Review: Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle by Jennifer Chambers

My soul hurt when I walked along the magnificent Amazon River in Peru and saw the shores littered with bottles, bags and other trash.  I turned to my husband and said "How can this be? This is THE Amazon River..."  My cousin, an elementary teacher in the Amazons, responded with "People just don't care..."

Why don't people care? That's something I wondered for a long time.  As a child, I vividly remember watching a video segment on saving ocean wildlife.  I remember seeing ducks covered in oil, fish caught in plastic bags and a beautiful turtle stuck in a 6-pack plastic ring, which they said would have never happened if the ring would have been cut into small pieces and recycled. Those images have stayed with me and 25 years later I'm still cutting up the 6-pack plastic rings into tiny pieces before recycling them.

"Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle" by Jennifer Chambers is a wonderful children's book which follows the life of a water bottle named "Scout" that was dropped into the street, goes down the drains and into the ocean.  Scout encounters many animals and insects along the creeks and rivers of Washington DC.  All the animals share their stories with Scout about how their lives are affected by the trash that pollutes their homes.  Not only are Scout's adventures into Chesapeake Bay entertaining but it is also very educational and eye opening to children.  The Watershed Heros, Alima and her mother, are great examples that I could show my children of how we could help the environment.

What did my toddlers love about this book?
  • Illustrations ~ My toddlers loved the illustrations by Jesse Auth.  Very life-like and creatively simple, all the animals were a big hit in this household especially the turtle!
  • The Ocean ~ It is very close to their hearts! My children absolutely love rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds and especially the ocean.  Reading about an adventure on any waterway is always fun for my children!
  • Conflict-Resolution ~ I've noticed that around the age of two my toddlers are able to understand the concept of conflict-resolution and don't like it when their favorite characters, in this case the Scout and the animals, are in trouble.  My daughter said "It's scary" when the turtle was choking on the bag but I was able to continue reading about how Scout helped the turtle, which was a great teaching opportunity.

What did I love about this book?
  • Educational ~ This book is not just a story but educational to children AND adults!  There were a few terms that I was not familiar within the story, but thankfully there is a Glossary of Terms in the back of the book.  I also knew that plastic could be recycled but for some reason I never really understood that plastic never goes away.  Now I know!
  • Resourceful ~ There is a list of organizations and websites such as the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and many more environmental non-profit organizations that can provide more information on how to help.  Chambers also has a list of "10 Tips to Reduce the Use of Disposable Plastics".
  • Worthy Cause ~ 100% of the profits of "Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle" goes to support the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Surfrider Foundation Rise Above Plastics program.  How great is that!
  • Readable for all ages ~ The reading comprehension might be a little above toddler level but I was able to quickly summarize the story appropriate for my toddlers.  It will be a book that will grow with my children.

What can YOU do to help?
  • Clean Up!  Any time you leave your house and see trash/plastics/cans on the street, pick it up.  It would be great if we could all volunteer for a coastal clean up once or twice a year but taking little steps every day like picking up a bottle on the street will stop stories like "Scout" from ever happening.  I highly recommend finding an regional organization to do a coastal/riverside cleanup in your area. Also, being a hiking family we always have our eyes open for trash on the trail that could be picked up! In this case, a Mylar balloon was on a hillside that could have easily been washed away in the creeks.  That's my little boy hiking up the hill to get the balloon, clean up time isn't just for toys at home! 
  • Use Reusable Bags ~ I'm very proud that my county has enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags.  It might take getting used to taking your own bags to the grocery store but it really does make a difference! My city looks cleaner already and knowing that there are less and less bags in the environment makes me happy!
  • Share About "Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle" ~ Share this post on social media, You Tube video, tell someone about the Scout's story, purchase a few books and give them as gifts to children and parents.  The more people know about what happens in our waterways the better our environment will be. (Paperback: $7.99 & E-Book: $6.99 - 44 pages)

Chasqui Mom Last Thoughts...

Going back to my original question, I believe people do not care because they do not see the consequences of their actions.  One water bottle might not seem like a lot but thousands of them end up on the shores, create "plastic islands" in the ocean and end up hurting wildlife in and out of the ocean.  One of the many responsibilities of being parents is teaching our future generations to take care of our "Sachamama" or Mother Earth which includes our waterways.  Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle is a great book to ignite the love of taking care of our Earth in our children.  Everything is interconnected from San Francisco Bay to the Chesapeake Bay to the Amazon River in South America, let's work together to make our watersheds cleaner!

What will you do to help your near by watershed?

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Related Posts and Links
  1.  Jennifer Chambers blog and website: Hiking Along and "Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle"
  2. Chesapeake Bay Trust
  3. Surfrider Foundation

Jennifer Chambers generously provided this book for the purposes of a review. As always these are my true and honest opinions.

Jennifer Chambers is a middle school Science teacher, environmental educator, author of two books, outdoor blogger and owner of Hiking Along LLC.  Her nature playscape is Washington DC where she loves to hike with her two kids.

Book Review + GIVEAWAY: Grow Exploring ABC & 123 Outdoor Children's Books
You know how children can tell the difference between a real cell phone and a toy cell phone? Well my toddlers are very keen on telling what is real and what is not and always want the real deal!  My kids know the difference between hiking boots, climbing shoes, hydration packs and water bottles so I was very excited to review Grow Exploring ABC & 123 Children's Books authored by Sterling and Sarah Acree.

Sterling and Sarah were tired of reading farm animal counting books to their children, so they wrote these books to teach their children the ABC & 123's using familiar outdoor gear.  These have traditional "ABC & 123" book format but using real gear pictures, Grow Exploring has FOUR great children's books:

C is for Camping
From A to Z there are 18 pages of camping gear items representing the whole Alphabet! This was a Chasqui Mom family favorite of the set!

123 Let's Go Climbing
From crash pads, quickdraws to carabiners this book teaches counting to 1 to 10 and basic climbing gear.  This was my daughters favorite because she recognized her brother's climbing shoes (10 pages).

From ski poles to goggles this book dresses a skier from head to toe with counting 1 to 10 with gear and clothing needed for skiing!  This one was my son's favorite book even though he has never skied! (10 pages).

Even I learned a lot from this 12 page book of counting kayaking and rafting gear! From a throw bag to cam straps this book teaches counting 1 to 10 and basic gear for these sports.  Plus I got to check out some kayaks I might want in the future!

The Pluses!

Real Gear Pictures ~ All four books use 100% real pictures from outdoor brands such as  Kelty, Light My Fire, Mad Rock, Jackson Kayak, Mammut and many more.  No cartoon version of an "A-Frame Tent" to represent the first letter of the alphabet, Letter "A"!  From rock climbing shoes, camp utensils, ponchos, kayaks and yurts they are real pictures for every letter and numbers 1-10.  My favorite picture was an Insect Net for the Letter "I"!

Recognizable Gear ~ Half of our outdoor gear shows up in these books, especially in "C is for Camping".  My children love when they can recognize their own items in books, at a friends house or on television.  Reading through "123 Let's Go Climbing", my son recognized and squealed with glee when he saw the same Mad Rock Mad Monkey 2.0 Climbing Shoe.  The gear is very recognizable for children who have even just a little bit of outdoor experience.

Parents Enjoy The Books Too ~ My husband and I enjoyed reading these books to our toddlers.  Not only are our children learning their ABC's and 123's but we had a chuckle reading non-traditional alphabet representatives, such a "K is for Kid Carrier" and "D is for Dome Tent"!  Being an outdoor family we love continue exposing our children to the outdoors while reading to them indoors!

Colorful Board Book ~ My children are older toddlers and still have issues with ripping pages, so the board pages really help the books last longer in my household! Not a main focal point of these books but since they use different brands from different sports, there are colors galore and I could ask my children to list off the different colored rafts.

The Minuses

Now my kids want more gear! Not really a bad thing but after we read these books my son wanted to go buy goggles, a big knife and climbing helmet.  Be warned your children might want to go shopping at an outdoor retailer after reading these books!

Where Can You Get These Books?
  • Win a set of Grow Exploring Books! GIVEAWAY on (Details down below)
  • This is a great gift for your children, children's friends, baby shower gift, classrooms and stocking stuffers.  If you don't happen to win the giveaway and want to purchase them right away at, prices range $4.95 to $7.95 (plus shipping).

Grow Exploring Giveaway!

Here's your chance to win the whole set of Grow Exploring ABC & 123 books! This giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents.  Contest starts January 13, 2014 12:00 a.m. EST until January 18, 2014 12:00 a.m. EST.  Winner will be announced a couple days after the giveaway has finished.  Please use the Rafflecopter below to submit your entries and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Grow Exploring generously provided these books for the purposes of a review. As always these are my true and honest opinions.

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's FacebookInstagram and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed - A Transformative Journey from Broken to Better by Jennifer Fontaine

by Cheryl Strayed
315 p, Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95
"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and in Oprahs Book Club of 2012.  I have not had a chance to read this great book and since it's being produced into a movie, I will definitely read "Wild" before it hits the screens. As much as I love being outdoors, I love reading about it as well.  Jennifer Fontaine, author of shares the same love of the outdoors and provides a great book review of "Wild".

Cheryl Strayed's calamitous memoir of her 1,180 mile journey along the spectacular and harrowing Pacific Crest Trail can only be described as life-changing. Shifting between her tumultuous past and agonizing present, I found myself shifting as well from astonished to uplifted and back again, riveted by her monumental naiveté and an unforgettable drive to go somewhere. Somewhere different. Anywhere. Just not where she had already been, Hell.

Haunted by the death of her mother, full of guilt for the destruction of her marriage and then her subsequent spiral into drugs, Cheryl realized that she had to get out of the daily traps keeping her from moving forward in to a life of purpose and meaning. At 26, she stepped on to the Pacific Crest Trail in a dusty Mojave Desert town in Southern California, in search of answers. Then, the realization hit her, like an avalanche; she had absolutely no idea what she had gotten herself into. Not an avid hiker by any sense of the word, she quickly learned the PCT was serious business and being ill-prepared would not just cost her a few toenails, but could potentially be the death of her. Luckily, it wasn't a death as much as it was her rebirth.

Through her vibrant and spirited words, I could hear the crunch of the leaves under her ill-fitting boots. I could smell the musky pine trees, see the creek as it meandered through the forest, feel her agony and fully grasp the depth of her grief. Her ability to describe stillness, quiet and seemingly inane moments, allowed me to sit with her in meditation, to ponder along with her my own deepest innermost thoughts. "I gazed out over the darkening land. There were so many amazing things in this world. They opened up inside me like a river. I laughed with the joy of it, and the next minute I was crying my first tears on the PCT. I cried and I cried and I cried. I wasn't crying because I was happy. I wasn't crying because I was sad. I wasn't crying because of my mother or my father or Paul. I was crying because I was full."

The unnecessarily heavy load she carried with her on her journey was a brilliant metaphor for the needless, deafening load of criticism, self doubt and misery she had been carrying for years. As if the physical load wasn't enough, the behemoth backpack began wearing through her clothes, cutting into her skin, causing gaping open wounds that poetically lead straight to her soul. Bound by bloody bandages, she continued, begrudgingly forced to care for her self-inflicted wounds, finally conceding that they must heal and in turn, so must she. 

It was under the weight of her Monster pack that she began to get stronger, not only physically, but mentally. Each step reveled more of her truth, no matter how difficult to admit, and with each ridge and summit she conquered, she began to accept who she was and started setting a vision for who she wanted to be. "I gazed at my battered feet, with their smattering of remaining toenails... I looked North... I looked South, where I'd been, to the wild land that had schooled me and scorched me, and considered my options. There was only one. I knew. There was always only one. To keep walking."

I connected to Cheryl's story largely due to her straightforwardness. She has a unique ability to convey her mistakes, her delusion and even at times, her total (admitted) lack of judgement with such honesty that I forgave her most of the time. She took responsibility for her mistakes and eventually she took the extraordinary step to seek a new path guided by an understanding of what it meant to be motherless, divorced, a writer and that her desire for true love was not only acceptable, but well-deserved. By the end I, too had clarity and a deep desire to hike the PCT!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jennifer Fontaine! In addition to my newest title, Blogger, I am also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cat lady, a chef, an actor, a film producer and a screenwriter!

I started The Mommy Hiker Blog in the hopes of inspiring other parents to get outdoors with their kids to explore and discover the wonder and beauty of Mother Nature and in doing so, I have inspired myself

Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment here! You can also join in on the conversations on Chasqui Mom's Facebook and Twitter that is updated daily with outdoor activities and other wonderful posts and links from #OutdoorFamilies!

Guest Post - Book Review "The Last Days of the Incas"

A very good friend of mine and fellow blogger, Nate Rische accompanied us to our trip to Peru in 2009.  During the trip he read, The Last Days of the Incas, by Kim MacQuarrie  and described the "story" of the Incas as we walked through the streets of Cuzco and hiked in the Andes mountains.  I had all the intentions of reading this book but four years later I still haven't, but I still plan too.

In 2009, I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime; two of my closest friends were taking a trip
to Peru, their second, and they invited me to accompany them. How do you say no to that? Five days,
hiking the “Camino Inca” through the majestic Andes Mountains, stopping only to drink maté de coca
and explore the ruins of the Incan Empire. And Machu Picchu, one of the greatest wonders of the world.

But what did I know? Well, I knew that there was an Incan Empire, and it must’ve been in Peru because
that’s where I was going to see the ruins.

Epic history class fail. I even like history, and paid attention in high school!

How is it that I knew nothing of an empire that spanned over two million square kilometers (almost
775,000 square miles) and ruled a population of over twenty million people? An empire that had
eradicated poverty, and ensured that every single citizen had food to eat. An empire with vast
warehouses full of food, supplies, weapons, all stored away in the event of an emergency or disaster. All
of this done, even more spectacularly, without a written language!

I wanted to know what I was getting in to, hiking through Peru, so I headed over to the local bookstore
to find a book on the Inca. There was only one I could find, sitting on the shelf, The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie. I was upset; I didn’t want to only learn about the last days of the empire, I wanted
to learn about the whole history! But it was the only option, so I picked it up anyway.
I’m glad I did.

I love to read, but I’m a fiction guy. Non-fiction just isn’t my thing; it usually reminds me of a textbook. I
like to learn, but I don’t like to read textbooks. I love to read, but if a book doesn’t capture my attention
quickly, chances are high I’ll put it back down and never finish it.

I decided I wanted to be reading it while I was in Peru, when it was still fresh in my mind, but I wanted
to be a little bit ahead of the curve. I started reading it a few days before we left. I read it on the plane.
I read it in the airport, and on the next plane. I read it in my hotel room, battling jet lag. I read it in the
bus on sightseeing tours. I would have read it even more often, had there been time. I finished it before
we left Cuzco. It was excellent.

Kim MacQuarrie, the author, lived many years in Peru and became fascinated with the Incans. The book
was born out of his passion and fascination, and reads exactly like an adventure story. Much to my great
joy, MacQuarrie begins with the rise of the Incan Empire and details its relatively short history before he
dives into the real heart of the story, the Spanish Conquest. How was it that an army of only 168 men
was able to conquer this vast empire in such a decisive and quick fashion? And what became of the Inca
after this conquest?

MacQuarrie takes the time to address all of these questions, and more. The narrative never stops, and
you never feel like the story is dragging or boring. The story? Oh yeah, don’t forget, we’re learning
actual history!

While we were in Cuzco, we would walk down the streets and I would put my hand up against a wall
that I read about in the book that morning. I could stand on the hills at Saqsaywaman (yes, that is
pronounced nearly exactly the same as “sexy woman”) and look out over the battlefield and siege that
helped determine the fate of Cuzco. The sights became more real to me, and as I read along I could
place myself into the story and really get a feeling for what it was like.

MacQuarrie is very transparent with the biases of the source material, and despite the very one-sided
written view (most accounts of the events come from the Spanish, as the Incas had no written language
of their own), he works very hard to present as complete and accurate of a view as possible.

The book follows the Inca from the birth of their empire to the Spanish Conquest and through the
following years of rebellion, integration, and oppression by Spanish rule. But it would hardly be
appropriate to end the story there, and The Last Days of the Incas concludes with a detailing of Hiram
Bingham’s excavations and discovery of Machu Picchu.

The Incan people have a majestic and tragic history, and Kim MacQuarrie captures it with great detail,
passion, and vitality in his book The Last Days of the Incas. Even if you’re not a fan of non-fiction, or of
history, you will be a fan of this book. Highly recommended, especially to anyone who has visited or is
planning to go visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu.

Oooh Look at that Book!

On a boring evening probably about a year after I got married, my husband and I were roaming around Barnes & Nobles in Fremont (which doesn't exist any more) looking at our favorite section - Travel.  We were probably preparing for our Peru 2007 trip but a certain book caught our eye, "60 Hikes within 60 Miles, San Francisco," by Jane Huber.  I think they produce these types of books for every metropolitan area, like Los Angeles, Seattle, etc.

The book describes 60 detailed hikes in the North Bay, East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay.  It also describes hiking recommendations for hikes good for kids, runners, hikes featuring waterfalls, etc.  So far we have only hiked six of the 60 featured hikes in this book.  Only 54 hikes to go!

I hope this weekend we can do hike no. 5 listed in the book, Jack London State Historic Park.  We are going to a friends wedding in Sebastopol, so why not hike before?