Keeping Up with the Joneses

by William O. Nelson

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    This “fathers and sons’ outing” is becoming an annual tradition of togetherness.

    Brent Jones started it, but it was his little brother Scott who got the rest of us involved. Brent and his friends were graduating from Viewmont High School in Centerville, Utah, and soon they’d all be leaving on missions. They wanted to do one last thing together as a group. So Brent asked his dad Clarence, an avid backpacker, to take them to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. That was two years ago.

    Brent’s younger brother Scott tagged along on that outing and made his father promise that he and his friends could have a similar trip the next year.

    Then Scott’s friends added something new. They invited all of their dads, too. I’m one of those fathers. And by the time all the invitations were extended, there were 20 of us going to the mountains—five dads, eight sons, one son-in-law, and six friends.

    Backpacking is nothing new to the Joneses. In that family the boys start hiking when they turn eight. But taking a group of 20 into the Wind Rivers would mean a lot of preparation. Such a trip isn’t just a holiday; it’s also a matter of survival.

    “Great,” Scott Jones’s friends joked. “It’ll make our dads tougher.”

    They soon found out it would make the boys tougher, too, not just in terms of physical endurance, but in terms of long-range planning and organization.

    “I made up a menu,” Clarence said. “But I wanted the boys to have the experience of putting the trip together, so I told them they had to collect the money and buy the supplies.”

    Each person’s pack would weigh 40 pounds, including tent, sleeping bag, fishing gear, and other essentials—like food!

    Based on a budget of $20 per person (which included gas money for transportation as well), the Jones boys and their friends organized menus, assigned cooking groups, and packed the food in plastic bags marked with the day each meal would be eaten.

    Before they left, the backpackers studied their route. Brother Jones, familiar with the trails in the Wind Rivers, only promised this: “It’ll be a character builder!”

    The first day’s hike was tough, rising 2,000 feet in 10 miles. The trail was good, but mostly uphill. Blisters, sore feet, and aching muscles were common.

    But the payoff was getting to the 10,500-foot plateau where the wilderness landscape is magnificent. Stately pine trees, distant rugged peaks, grassy meadows, rivers, streams, cliffs, and huge boulders formed the panorama.

    “The beauty there is something you don’t find on the freeways,” said Dean Layton. “We had to earn it. We were just climbing a trail until we got the first ten miles behind us. Then we saw the real beauty.”

    “It’s so untouched,” Dave Hill said, “so close to what I imagine creation looked like after the sixth day. You almost feel you shouldn’t talk, so you won’t destroy the sacredness of the environment.”

    “You know it didn’t happen accidentally,” Joseph Nelson said.

    Brother Jones kept us moving from one adventure to another—another stream to fish in; another lake to camp by; another panoramic vista; and at different times, storms rolling across mountain ridges, their lightning silhouetting black trees against a black sky.

    But it wasn’t just the beauty of the place that made our trip delightful. It was the shared experience between fathers and sons. When you have the opportunity to be together and depend on each other for days at a time, there’s no bluffing, no phoniness. You see each other as you really are.

    For example, this was the first time Ryan and Merrill Layton had been together, one-on-one, on an extended trip.

    “I’m not sure how well I knew Ryan until we went on this trip,” Merrill, the father, said. “My son really is as ‘laid back’ as everyone says he is. He doesn’t take little things too seriously or let things bother him too much. It’s a great attribute, and I’m glad I got to see him in that light.”

    “We learned that we can count on each other,” Rich Layton said of his trip with his father. “We’re close, but this was just one more experience to bond our relationship together.”

    My own sons, Joseph, Jonathan, and Joshua, told me they learned more about me just by sharing a tent and talking. They told me about experiences they’ve had growing up; I told them about mine. We weren’t only tentmates and trail partners, we became closer as father and sons.

    I think the Joneses knew these kinds of things would happen when they invited us. Like I said, they’ve been backpacking for years. In fact, the Jones boys have written letters about it.

    Brent, now serving a mission in California, recalled his first trip—to Yellowstone—when he was eight years old:

    “We missed our camping spot so we had to hike on. We ended up hiking 18 miles, and when we finally set up camp, we needed water. You told me I was the only one left with enough strength to go half a mile to get the water. You don’t know how important you made me feel.”

    And Scott gave his father a letter at Christmas last year, thanking him for the “expeditions” over the years.

    “I can’t think of anything better to do than to spend a week with you in the wilderness,” he wrote. “Every time I go I learn something new about you and myself.”

    And Paul Jones told his father that “these trips are part of the cement that bonds us so closely together. They put us in an environment where a father and son feel close to each other and to Heavenly Father, too.”

    The Jones boys feel that backpacking with their father, though not an official activity, is one of the best “Church” activities in which they can be involved. There’s no award given at the end of the trail. But the rewards are memories, the kind of memories that help build relationships; and closeness, the kind of closeness you experience when someone cares enough to spend time with you.

    That being true, a lot of us think keeping up with the Joneses is an ideal thing to do.

    Photography courtesy of participants