EUGENE — As he nears his first birthday, Rowdy Briggs, a brown-eyed, chubby-cheeked towhead from Cottage Grove, is making good progress on all his milestones.
He’s babbling. He’s waving. And he’s standing with support, gearing up to take his first tentative steps.
By his birthday on July 28, Rowdy and his mom, Alivea Binder, will reach another important milestone — one that’s all their own.
They will have hiked to 50 Northwest waterfalls averaging a hike a week since he was 5 months old, logging more than 150 miles on the trail in wind, rain and even snow.
Binder set the goal of hiking with her son to 50 waterfalls in his first year when she was at a low point in her life.
Rowdy was 3 months old when his dad, Binder’s former partner, Kyle Briggs, left his young family, Binder said.
“I was going to counseling and that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I needed some motive to do something.”
Hiking to waterfalls provided the incentive Binder needed to get up and going.
“Waterfall hikes are so rewarding,” Binder said. “You have a destination, something to see, so all the sweat and hating it is worth it in the end.”
For Binder, hiking is a way to get outdoors, stay fit, lift her mood and strengthen her bond with her son.
It’s also a positive way to cope with all that life throws your way, the single mom said.
“This has been incredible to get out,” she said “It’s like the second you’re hiking and outdoors, it clears your mind.
“I tell my family, hiking is my therapy. It’s the best therapy ever.”
Now within one hike of her 50 waterfalls goal, Binder advises other new moms who might be struggling with relationships or other troubles, to “get out and hike, and get your mind off things. Get out in nature.”
“Just focus on being a good mom and put all your effort into that.”
Todd Huffman, her pediatrician, said he found Binder’s story “inspiring from the get-go.”
“It’s young parents like Alivea who give me hope for the future,” he said. “She is energetic and curious and articulate. She is a very involved, loving mom and is very eager to show her child the world and teach her child to live big and love nature and explore everywhere.”
Setting and sticking to such an ambitious goal is “something kind of new for (Alivea),” said Vann, Binder’s dad.
“We’re really proud of her,” he said. “She packed a lot of miles with a baby in a pack, which isn’t easy, and she did it in the time of year when the weather isn’t all that nice, either.”
Vann said it’s amazing how comfortable and contented Rowdy is on the trail.
He said the hikes his daughter and grandson have taken together have brought mother and son closer together.
“I think any time you share an experience, regardless of the age, you’re going to build a closer bond with each other. I spent thousands of hours with my kids. When you share an experience you create a bond.”
Binder said many people, including those she has just met, have said, “(Rowdy) loves you so much.”
“We’re all each other has,” Binder said. “I’m sure all babies love their moms, but there’s a special bond between us.”
With that, the pair continued down the trail to South Falls. Rowdy’s diaper and jeans-clad bottom was suspended in the seat harness of the baby backpack his mom wore, and his dangling black baby Nikes bounced against her lower back.
Rowdy reached out, gently stroking a handful of his mom’s long blond hair.
Binder said she carried Rowdy in a front pack until he was 7 months old, and liked having him so close. She switched to the backpack when his weight in the front pack put too much strain on her back.
Binder said before they set out, usually leaving Cottage Grove at about 6 a.m., she researches their destination and checks comments from recent hikers on her AllTrails app.
They’re not always accurate, she said, recalling a comment last month from a hiker who had been to Salt Creek Falls in the Willamette National Forest near Oakridge, the day before Binder planned to take Rowdy.
The hiker said there was only a bit of snow, but when Binder pulled her car toward the trailhead, the parking lot sign was nearly buried in snow.
Binder said she counts that among their worst hikes.
“(Rowdy) didn’t want to do it. He was miserable; I was miserable.”
But those experiences have been the exception, Binder said.
One of their most memorable hikes was last month to 113-foot Toketee Falls on the North Umpqua River in Douglas County.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Pictures don’t do it justice. The water was bright blue. It looks like you’re in some ‘Blue Lagoon’ sort of thing.”
Also before they set out, Binder said she researches online to see if it’s possible to hit more than one waterfall in the same trip. Although, she added, she hasn’t counted toward their total any falls with less than a 60-foot drop.
When they saw Tokatee Falls, they drove a few miles down the road and hiked to Watson Falls, too, Binder said.
She said for safety, she always hikes in the daylight, carries pepper spray, tries to stay on well-traveled routes and lets family or friends know where they’re heading and when they plan to return.
Binder said the hikers she comes across have been friendly and supportive.
“It’s amazing how many words of encouragement I get (on the trail),” she said. “You go, mom! That’s a heavy load, mom!”
“We see far too many babies and toddlers who are being entertained by their parents’ cell phones and iPads.
“A recent study showed 40 percent of children by age of 2 are adept at using their parents’ cellphones. I’d much rather a baby explore the trails than explore the internet.”