Spending time in the great outdoors, enjoying our bond with nature, and experiencing adventures big and small – you don’t need to travel far to do that. Oftentimes, all it takes is a few steps outside your front door. Jana and Patrick Heck have devoted an entire book to spending time outdoors with children, and because that ties in so harmoniously with the Wildling feeling, we’ve enclosed a foxy bookmark in every copy of Ausgebüxt! (Breaking Out!). We also asked the husband-and-wife writing team some probing questions about themselves, their book, and their adventures:
Would you like to introduce yourselves and your book project?
Definitely! We are Jana and Patrick Heck, we have two children, and nearly three years ago we made a profession out of getting families out into nature. We started with a blog and a local group of families. But we had been wanting to put out a book for quite some time because we felt that one was lacking in that space. To be sure, there are some truly great books out there with outdoor adventure ideas, some with practical outfitting tips, and others that focus on how valuable nature is for children’s development. But we needed a book that encompassed all of those aspects. And so we ended up writing it ourselves!
We wanted a book that really provides answers to all the questions about being outdoors with kids, together with plenty of inspiration, and also one that explores how all this can be integrated concretely into a family’s hectic everyday routine – and explains how these activities actually contribute to a more relaxed lifestyle. Parents need to have everything they need in place so that they can charge right off into the woods with their kids at a moment’s notice and have fun together, all while growing as a family.
It was a huge challenge to bring it all together, but now Ausgebüxt! has actually been released and we are really happy with the result.
Image: Jana and Patrick Heck
You two were doing a lot of traveling there for a while. What eventually made you decide to seek adventure right outside your own front door?
We traveled to China by land in 2015 and spent six months in Asia – a trip we thoroughly enjoyed. Having arrived back in Germany, we spent our last night before returning home out in our favorite spot in the forest, sleeping under the open sky. In that moment, as we lay there like that watching the first stars of the night twinkle above us, we were both suddenly deeply moved: The countryside around Trier felt just as spectacular to us at that moment as any landscape in Siberia, China, or Indonesia ever did.
Ever since then, we’ve been filled with an immense passion for discovering the beauty of nature that’s waiting right in our own backyard. Because the great thing about that is that you don’t need to take a sabbatical or even ask for vacation time. Instead of breaking out of our everyday routine for just a few weeks a year, we can just start making adventures “on our doorstep” a regular part of our lives. We can enrich our usual routine every day instead of running away from it twice a year.
What does being wild and free mean for you? What do you need to create that perfect microadventure?
The path to the perfect microadventure makes a huge detour around perfectionism. In fact, it seeks the opposite. The most important prerequisite, particularly with kids, is to let go of our expectations and go with the flow of the situation as it arises. Of course, as parents, it is still our responsibility to provide a safe and appropriate setting for the adventure. But within those guidelines, we can go ahead and let our children take the lead. They have an inherent thirst for adventure and a love of the outdoors, and it always pays off just to follow their unbiased gaze.
When we head out with our two kids, we tend to have only a very rough idea about what we want to do. We almost always run into unexpected twists and turns along the way: a newly discovered cave, an ant trail we want to follow, or even just the urge to relax and rock in the hammock for a while. That’s exactly what makes a microadventure exciting and unpredictable.
Image: Jana and Patrick Heck
Kids really do seem to have no trouble spotting adventure in every puddle. Have you managed to hang on to your childhood love of fun and games? Or do you have other ideas about how we can nurture that sense of adventure?
We really have been able to preserve that love of adventure from the time we were little. But we’re certain that it’s just as much a part of every grown-up. It’s just that most of us have our heads so full of all the day-to-day troubles and concerns that it’s hard to allow ourselves to embrace and engage in the here and now, with its plethora of puddles brimming with adventure.
Fortunately, kids are the best teachers you could wish for. “Children are the best adventurers,” writes Christo Foerster so aptly in the foreword to Ausgebüxt! It’s quite simple. We allow ourselves to be guided by our children. Once we really get caught up in it, we inevitably find that their infectious spirit of discovery takes hold with us as well.
What’s been your most exciting microadventure so far? Where did you guys end up having the most fun?
We had our best microadventure over the summer at a nearby river. We were actually on a bicycle tour when, on the spur of the moment during a potty pitstop, we decided to follow a whim and check out a narrow path that left the main route and supposedly led to a chapel. We never even got that far though, because on the way there we serendipitously happened upon a secluded, postcard-perfect swimming spot. The cool water, the majestic treetops above us, the birds’ cheerfully animated chirping – it all made us feel as if we were thousands of miles from home, when all the while we were barely 20 kilometers away.
The most exhilarating experience we’ve had so far was a getaway-style vacation: a six-day trekking tour in our own neck of the woods, the Eifel mountains, where we slept out in the open for five nights and were entirely self-sufficient. From hauling 35 kg of gear plus a baby to exploring wild, rugged trails to searching for a place to sleep, this microadventure vacation was nothing short of exhilarating – and yet unbelievably restorative.
Image: Jana and Patrick Heck
Your book seems to have somehow come at just the right moment. Microadventures seem fitting in these times that have people abstaining from grand ventures and excursions. But why are they just as great for the time after all this?
Microadventures are more than just a stopgap solution when more extensive trips and undertakings aren’t an option. We, too, are very much looking forward to the time when we can travel through Germany and Europe again without a care in the world. But the difference is this: Through these little adventures, we’re able to enrich our perfectly ordinary lives and find moments for relaxing and shoring up our energy again and again. Then we take our annual vacation simply because we enjoy it and not because we so desperately need to get away from it all.
What’s your tip for a rainy Sunday?
Put on your mud-worthy attire, pack up your camp stove, some soup, and your sleeping pad, and out you go! The huge choice of puddles and mudholes alone is a veritable paradise of play and adventure for kids (even the bigger ones). Using ramekins and shovels, you can create sculptures and even entire landscapes. And if it does get a bit unpleasant in the rain, a little soup from the camp stove is sure to warm the soul. Maybe you can even find a cozy hideaway out there! A rocky outcropping, a shack, or a cave?
Either way, when you’re lounging on the couch afterwards enjoying some hot cocoa under the blankets, every fiber of your body will bear witness to just how great this rainy Sunday was!
Thank you so much, dear Jana and Patrick, for the wonderful interview and the inspiration that shines through in your answers. Team Wildling is already diligently pursuing your book and can hardly wait to set out on their first microadventure!
Cover image: Jana and Patrick Heck