There’s a lot going on outside my own 9-to-5 adventures. It’s not just about me! My former colleague and current friend Tyler Kurbat knows possibly every inch of the Arizona wilderness and now he shares his love for the outdoors with his family. Tyler, his wife Dani, daughter Aria (2), and son Levi (10 months) adventure through desert, forest, and canyons—all journaled by Tyler for his own website TylerKurbat.com and driven by his biggest influence yet… fatherhood. I asked Tyler about his family adventures and took an inside look at dad life on the trail.
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What was your childhood like in the outdoors and how did it shape the way you spend time with your own kids outside?
I had an incredible childhood and hope to recreate a similar but unique experience for my two kids. My dad says I used to hike Piestewa Peak at two years old. Apparently, he’d just tell me there were lizards at the top and off I’d go. He was always super intentional about raising me outdoors as it played such a large role in his. Well into my teenage years, we’d frequent our family cabin in Pinetop every summer and the White Mountains cemented my love for wild places. From hiking and fishing, to chasing down little snakes and riding around with my grandparents in their old Ford down old dusty roads, outside of baseball and bikes, I’d say the outdoors really was my childhood.
We were fortunate enough to do Disneyland and SeaWorld and all of that, but the trips from my youth that stick with me are hiking the Grand Canyon in fifth grade, my dad arranging a neighborhood trip down Havasupai twice and countless Jeep trips down virtually every forest road in the state. Most recently, we’ve shared two trips rafting down the whitewater of the Colorado, and we conquered Half Dome with my younger sister.
He never made a point of competition in the outdoors, rather just the importance of getting out there and enjoying these special places with the people we love. If I can share that with my kids, I’ll be a happy dad.
And Dani grew up chasing rivers and playing in Minnesota lakes as a kid before traveling the world and studying in Australia. So our kids stand no chance!
The agency life often demands a lot of time. How do you make time for family trips outside with a busy work schedule?
I’ve met people who take a twisted pride in not using their vacation days. That never made sense to me. You work to live. Enjoy time off and even prioritize it. Nothing recharges you to perform better at your job than a few days unplugged.
But yes, the agency world is a bit of a roller coaster and some weeks demand everything you’ve got. We’ve learned to obviously savor the weekends, but sometimes it takes waking up early or staying up a little later to make things happen. We’re also not quite to a full bore adventure phase, so most of our outings are just day trips.
What’s your favorite time management trick for better work-life balance?
Hide your phone. Seriously. When you’re home, be home. When you’re off, be off. Work has a way of creeping into personal life if you let it, so make the most of office hours and then make the most of life hours. Cheesy as it sounds, I’m vesting more and more belief in the old work hard play hard mantra.
And like I said before, don’t work yourself into burnout. Take time off. Life will go on and you’ll be better for it.
You wrote an article about raising adventurous kids. What do today’s kids lack most when it comes to growing up and playing outside?
Honestly, there’s a lack of unplanned discovery from what I’ve seen. Many parents interpret restlessness as a personal shortcoming rather than a chance to enable exploration. When I was an antsy kid, I’d hop on my bike and travel to new worlds four or five miles away. We’d build dirt jumps in the desert and rappel out of trees in the middle of suburbia. Rather than sitting us down in front of a computer, our parents told us to get outside and come back when it got dark out.
I recognize the draw of technology because I battle it myself, but if I have any say in the matter, my kids will not spend summer break on a tablet or a stupid smartphone. And I believe it starts with modeling the same behavior as their parent.
What’s the most rewarding thing about hiking and camping with your kids?
My daughter especially, gets so quiet when we’re out there. It’s the things unsaid that speak the loudest. She’s usually a chatterbox, and in her early days when she’d get fussy, we’d take her for walks or a quick hike up a neighboring mountain (like a up and back two-mile, nothing crazy). The sniffles would come to a screeching halt, her eyes would grow wide and she’d just smile the whole way. To me, it felt like a small affirmation that it’s not my job to force this relationship onto her. No, it’s just my job to introduce it.
As for my son, his middle name is Cove, so I trust it’s only a matter of time that he realizes he’s connected to all of these special places and exploring the unknown.
What’s the biggest challenge with hiking and camping with your kids?
I’m great at packing all the stuff for adults. I can do that in my sleep. But when diapers and ziploc bags full of munchies and whatnot enter the mix, I tend to short circuit. What ever happened to minimalism?!
There’s a definite learning curve to understanding all the extra gear necessary to keeping your little ones safe and comfortable. Thankfully, my wife is a pro.
I also have this romanticized version of us hiking our Rhodesian Ridgeback, Samwise (like Sam from LOTR), but it usually translates into me frantically chasing him down and making sure that he doesn’t knock over other hikers as I balance one of my kids.
Any favorite family memories outdoors?
- Standing on top of Half Dome overlooking Yosemite Valley with my dad and sister. I wrote about it here.
- Backpacking Paria Canyon with my pregnant wife.
- Doing the “Up and Over” hike to Deer Creek Falls in the Grand Canyon with my dad, uncle and cousin.
- Skydive proposal to my wife.
- Laying in hammocks in Inner Basin with my wife and daughter.
- Camping in the Giant Redwoods and along the Oregon Coast during our road trip honeymoon.
- Making my daughter in Zion National Park… Sorry, Dani 😉
What’s next or on the bucket list for a family adventure?
Honestly, I’m still in such an aspirational stage. It’s still day trips and short hiking trips but I love it. I can’t wait for our fall “pilgrimage” to West Fork in about a month to find fall leaves and I’m saving up to build a little bouldering wall in our house. And we’re way overdue for a family road trip. Anywhere will do, but Colorado’s been calling my name.
Long term, I hope to do some big bikepacking trips with the kids across state lines, I can’t wait to go skydiving when they’re 18, and I’m counting the seconds until Aria starts going on Jeep rides with my dad to all of our favorite places. I can already see her wind flying in the air and that big grin behind it.
When you hike and camp with the kids? What’s your biggest role on the trail vs. your wife’s biggest role?
I’d like to say that I’m the brazen father who brings his kids outside and lets them run free. In actuality, in this moment, I’m more of the enforcer. The don’t-touch-that, stop-eating-those, step-away-from-there-guy. I think it’s my attempts at laying the groundwork and teaching the healthy respect for the outdoors. Eventually, I’ll be the send-it dad.
My wife has been a wonderful catalyst. She gets cabin fever just as much as I do and she’s often the one telling me to plan something this weekend or the next. She also packs all the odds and ends and once we’re out there, she’s the one reminding me to let things go their course with the kids and that everything will be all right.
All I can say is find a partner like Dani who also needs fresh air.
Your family plays a major role in what and how you write for your website. What would you tell the hesitant parent-to-be who loves the outdoors but isn’t sure life with children is for them?
There’s something to becoming a kid again. I don’t know that camping or backpacking would ever get old to me, but the novelty certainly wears off with time and the luster that once held you so tight gets harder and harder to spot. My kids, and their absolute joy and curiosity for the outdoors renewed everything in me. I get to rediscover the magic, if you will. Sure, things are different and some days it’s a marathon just leaving the front door, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The little things become the big things all over and it’s helped me realize how fortunate we are to partake in these awesome activities in wonderful places.
Kids or not, I want to encourage everyone to explore the outdoors with a new generation and make shared, adventurous experiences a priority. However you define it, if I even got you to plan just one adventure this year, it’s all worth it.
And if you’re on the fence about kids, well, in my humble opinion, they’re the greatest adventure of all.
Thanks Tyler! We’ll have more Q&A’s from 9-to-5’ers around the country and get a better look about how they balance work and their lives outdoors.
Read the other Work-Life Balance articles in this series:
- Work-Bike Balance: Meghan Bikes Ohiopyle State Park
- Work-Float Balance: Stephen Floats Steamboat Springs, Colorado