Tag Archives: exploring

The Johnsons

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

On Top of the World

February 19, 2015 by
Photography by Beverly Kracher, Ph.D.

Bhima, our guide, waited for us on the trail. We caught up to her after stopping to adjust our daypacks and enjoying some wild berries. Under her umbrella, which protected her from the burning sun, we could see Bhima’s smiling face and playful eyes. She quickly evaluated our moods and stamina. She said to us, for probably the 30th time, “Not far to go before we get to the next tea house. A little bit up, a little bit down.”

Bhima was coaching us. Though it was probably another hour before we reached our stopping point, she was saying the thing we needed to hear to make it.

“A little bit up, a little bit down.” Those words have had a forceful affect on my life since returning from this year’s trek. I was in the Annapurna Range of the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal. Hikers have tried to describe the magnificence of this massive range—the raw beauty, the incredible scenery, the water buffalo, and the orange/yellow sunsets over the snowcapped mountains.

Try as we might, it is impossible. You have to go there on your own to know what Nirvana is like.

This was my second trek. The first was so powerful that I knew I had to come back with my sister. Barb and I had poured over books about the yogis and sadhus in India and Nepal when we were kids. We were inspired by their quest for spiritual enlightenment in the Himalayas. So this time I was with Barb. Her husband, Joel, came with us because he loves to explore life, too.

We hired 3Sisters Adventure Trekking Company for our trek. Three Nepalese sisters own the company and provide jobs to Nepalese women by hiring and training them as guides and porters. Walking through the majestic mountains with four Nepalese women (one guide and three porters) brought the heavens to earth. As we walked, we learned about their quest for opportunity, education, family, and freedom. I found, as I always do when I travel, that while people dress differently and have different customs, we basically desire the same things. In this, we are one race.

While trekking, Bhima showed us the way yogis and sadhus walk. The technique is two-fold. First, they take it easy. They are the tortoises not the hare. Second, they use a lower-body relaxation technique. As they hike up a mountain they rest their back leg as they push off with their front leg. Continuous movement creates stress, so relaxing the back leg, even for a second, reduces tension and increases power. In these two ways, Bhima taught us to pace ourselves and to use our legs in a way that would allow us to walk twelve hours a day.

A little bit up, a little bit down.

Since my return I have learned to pace my life just as I paced my steps up the steepest and longest trails I have ever encountered. The temptation was great to fall back into my hectic work life.

When I think about this it’s like listening to a sad song.

The beauty of the Himalayas are still with me. I can very easily feel the peace anytime I try. I know that is good for my heart. And there is one more thing. I carry a joyful, even enlightened, attitude where I see the ebb and flow of life as “a little bit up, a little bit down.”

I can be my best and do my best. And that attitude makes me feel like I’m standing on top of the world.

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