Saturday, September 1, 2018

The American Field Trip: Madison Bowman

In order to bring their dreams to life, Madison and her husband David took off on an adventure in a converted shuttle bus with their two small children. They're hitting up the big 59 in the National Park System and educating themselves as advocates for public land. While life on the road with little ones is not the norm, the Bowmans are on a course that has lead them to experience America, and in the process, inspire others to get outside and connect with nature.

Meet Madison Bowman

Go-to outdoor activity:
Hiking, or just digging in the dirt.

Rainy day back-up plan:
As long as there’s no lightning, we keep our plans the same!

Favorite snack:
I should say nuts or something healthy, but realistically it’s Goldfish crackers :)

Favorite piece of gear:
Ergobaby carrier.

Worst adventure advice you’ve heard:
It’s not advice, necessarily, but we’re really wary of full-time adventurers who act like all it takes to make your dreams happen is courage and hustle—it’s such a privilege to get to travel and adventure this way, and many people simply don’t have the ability to do it, through absolutely no fault of their own! I think it’s easy to forget, when you really have worked very hard to make something happen, that there’s also probably a lot of luck and privilege and good fortune involved.

Something you won’t do or are afraid of:
I’ve been skydiving and LOVED it, but don’t know if I’d go again since I have kids now!

What you never travel without:
A book.

Always on your road trip playlist:

The Interview

Many people enjoy a combination of outdoor activities. What are you into?
We LOVE hiking as a family. We’re also huge fans of paddling our little inflatable kayak. But often, we end up just following the kids’ lead—making mud pies, watching caterpillars, throwing rocks into lakes, etc.

What inspires you?
Our kids. The way they see things is so fresh and creative and fascinating—seeing things through their eyes is an absolute treat.

What do you do when inspired?
David takes pictures and I write; he always has his camera and I journal every day and write longer pieces a few times a week.

Tell us about the beginning of your adventurous lifestyle.
When we set out on our tour of the national parks, we wanted to give each park a really solid go and often that involved big hikes. We were not in good hiking shape, and we were carrying our kids (ages 3 and 1 at the time), which made it tougher. Over time, we’ve all gotten so much stronger and hiking has become our favorite thing to do. My whole life I wanted to love hiking, but I actually didn’t like it—it can be super painful when you’re not in shape for it and it seems to be a different kind of “shape” from other types of exercise. In May we visited the National Park of American Samoa and hiked to the very top of Ofu Island; I was carrying our (very heavy!) 2-year-old, there was a lot of elevation gain and it was hot, but we made it up easily. Standing at the top of the island with a view over the Pacific, the jungle island and the coral reef, I realized just how much this trip—and our consistent efforts to hike longer and farther—have changed us.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome (and how it relates to your outdoor adventures)? How did you get through it?
I’ve had clinical depression for years, and it got very bad during pregnancy and postpartum. I’ve learned a whole lot about myself and about mental health in general, and I’ve come to a place where my depression is managed and I’m more okay to sit with hard feelings than I used to be. Spending so much time outside every day has been enormously beneficial: the sunshine, the exercise, the air—I’ve never noticed more of a positive difference in my symptoms than when consistently hiking and spending active time outdoors. I’ve made a practice of writing down things I’m grateful for and it’s become a habit of thinking, so that now when we’re outside, most of my thoughts turn to what I’m thankful for. It’s been life-changing for me.

What’s next for you? Are you looking forward to something or working on a project?
In about a month, we will (hopefully!) have visited every U.S. national park—after that, we’re headed home to NYC to take a bit of a break from the road. We’re looking forward to exploring upstate NY on weekends!

What encouragement do you have for the person who is ready to step out and try something new?
Know yourself—before we embarked on this trip, we knew that our relationships improve when we spend a lot of time together, that we don’t mind living in small spaces, that we wanted to spend more time outside together, and that we’re okay with driving fast and hard toward tangible goals. All those things played into our decision to do what we’re doing—move into a little bus with our family of four and visit all the U.S. National Parks. It’s been great for us, but might not be for everyone—it’s stretched us, but it’s still played to our strengths in a lot of ways. Remember that even when you’re doing something very different when your life, the same struggles that you face in your everyday will probably follow you—it’s worth setting yourself up for success by planning adventures that work with what comes naturally to you!

How can people get in touch with you or follow your adventures?
We blog about our trip at and post to Instagram @theamericanfieldtrip

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