There are 59 National Parks in the United States. For the Forsyth family, that’s 59 possibilities for the next great adventure.
Melody Forsyth, along with her husband Victor (Production Lead at Goal Zero) and their four kids, have made it their mission to visit all of our National Parks, and then some. To date, they’ve checked 17 off their list and peppered in a myriad of national monuments, national historic sites, national recreation areas, and state parks as well.
While Melody may be the leader of the pack, the inspiration for the family’s great adventure stands about two-feet tall. That is, when she isn't happily taking in the views seated in her perch on Melody's back. She's the youngest member of the Forsyth crew, Ruby.
A few years ago, Melody had only recently re-discovered a passion for hiking and getting outside when she found out her fourth child would be born with Down syndrome; a challenge that could have easily kept the whole family from continuing with their adventures.
Instead, it did the exact opposite.
When Ruby turned 9 months old, Melody bought a green Osprey carrier, strapped her baby to her back, and stepped out of her comfort zone and onto the trail. Carrying an extra 35 - 40 pounds up and down hiking trails is no joke, but for Melody, it was well worth it. She even started an Instagram account @Downwithadventure to document their journey and share with others.
“When Ruby was younger, we didn’t even know if she would be able to walk,” she says.
Melody explains that typically children with Down syndrome have low muscle tone and some don’t walk until they’re almost three or four.
“When we came up with our goal of visiting all the National Parks, I knew that even if she couldn’t physically hike herself, I would do it for her. She and I were in this together,” she says.
Melody makes sure to note that Victor is always eager to take a turn with the pack, however, she explains that the act of carrying her daughter herself is imbued with special meaning and purpose.
“Early on, a fellow hiker commented, ‘That’s quite the burden you are carrying.’ He was referring to having a baby on my back and hauling around the extra weight, but I know that a lot of people think having a child with Down syndrome is a burden. I want to show them that it’s not. She is not a burden to me or our family. She has made our lives complete. I feel blessed to be able to carry her so that she knows she is never a burden,” she says.
Melody lovingly refers to Ruby as their “special hitchhiker,” but the adventurous toddler doesn’t spend all her time hitching a ride. She started walking at almost two, and hiking soon after.
“We were surprised when she first started. She was just so happy walking. We tried to put her back in the pack, and she wouldn’t let us. I think it’s because she has people that motivate her. She wants to keep up with these guys.”
Melody is referring to Ruby’s three older siblings - Angelina, Logan, and Samuel - who cheer her on, both on and off the trail.
Traveling with a family of six offers up its own unique challenges. For starters, it can be hard to simply carve out time to get out and go. The Forsyths try as best they can to work around the kids’ school schedules and make the absolute most of vacations and weekends. But they aren’t afraid to pull the kids from school here and there if need be as well.
“I don't feel bad about pulling them out of school when I think about all the things that they've seen and everything they’re learning by being outside and in these parks. I think it's just as important, this kind of education,” she says.
Since their inception, our National Parks have offered unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation, conservation education, and connection to the land. They provide access to a countless variety of trails and promote the idea that adventure is for anyone and everyone, so long as you have a positive attitude and desire to explore. The Forsyths are the ultimate embodiment of this spirit. In addition to learning about the environment, history, and culture of the areas that they visit, Melody firmly believes that the trips they embark on as a family teach a litany of life lessons as well.
“There are so many things that are out of our control. And so I’m trying to teach them [the kids] that that’s just life. Complaining and whining won’t fix anything. You have to move on and learn to make accomodations. You’ve got to be flexible,” she says. “Not long ago, we were driving back from Kings Canyon National Park and our check engine light came on, so we spent the whole day trying to get the car fixed. It threw off all of our plans. But I’m like, ‘It’s all part of the adventure guys!’”
Melody readily acknowledges that traveling and exploring with kids can at times feel like a daunting task, regardless of whether they have special needs or not. But if there’s one bit of wisdom she and her family hope to impart on those who follow their adventures it’s that if they can do it, anyone can do it. The connections to be made from these kinds of experiences are invaluable, and sometimes all it takes is just to get out and give it a try.
Follow along with Ruby and her family's adventures at @downwithadventure and be sure to get out and explore some of America's most beautiful landscapes.