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Mountain Mama: A Q & A with Single Dad and Full-Time Adventurer Thomas Minton

After I posted a couple interviews with single moms, readers responded. “I love what you’ve written about single moms, but what about single dads?”

So I sat down with Thomas Minton, one of the most inspiring parents I know.

Thomas is a physical therapist who focuses on running-related and sports injuries, a Pose Method Certified Running Technique Specialist, a USA Track and Field Coach, and a Red Level Bike Fit Professional. He’s also a single dad. Basically, Thomas is an all-around bad ass.

I was in the thick of it, working an office job for forty-hours a week and mostly raising a toddler alone, and Thomas Minton’s advice saved me. When my son was an infant, it was easy to tie him to me and go for a hike or run with him in the stroller. Once he started walking there was no containing him.

Thomas showed me how to turn a playground into a gym. Turns out that monkey bars are perfect for pull-ups, squishy mats become a platform for push-ups, and vertical beams are great for leveraging stretches. When Tobin started riding a bike, Thomas demonstrated how I could improve my own skills, playing around with balancing and maneuvering in tight spaces.

I got to see Thomas’ son, Porter, grow and evolve into a teenager who loves to mountain bike, whitewater kayak, and ski and snowboard. Over the years, watching Thomas’ parenting evolve from encourager and motivator to getting outside with a side-kick who carries his own weight has reminded me that one day my son and I will be adventuring together if we continue to play outside.

“I’m just trying to keep up,” Thomas said.

How did Porter start getting outside?

When he was three-years old, we started riding trails like Pine Tree in Bent Creek. I used a bungee cord to connect his bike to mine. Going uphill required a joint effort –

he’d push and I’d pull. When we got to a downhill, I’d unhook him and let him rip down the trail.

He started off riding a pink Barbie bike and pink is still one of his favorite colors.

I knew how being outdoors helped hone my own energy and focus, and wanted him to have the same experiences being in the forest and on rivers.

What have been some of the tough parts of adventuring with your son?

When he was little, like four or five, we got caught in a pretty bad lightening storm. I found an outcropping of rocks and we hunkered down, hugging are way through it and trying to say reassuring things to keep him calm.

I’ve also had to adjust my own expectations to anticipate his needs. Kids get tired. They need to take breaks. They need snacks and encouragement.

Porter’s interests have varied over time, and I’ve tried to encourage him to stay balanced. More recently he’s become focused on whitewater kayaking and I want him to still mountain bike and participate in team sports.

How have you balanced your own fitness agenda with Porter’s needs?

I’ve let go of some of that, expecting that I’m going to get in certain work-outs and instead look for opportunities where I can. Instead of going for run, we might throw a Frisbee or football. We turned the dining room into a home gym and create work-outs around what’s available.

When he was younger, we’d go the neighborhood pump track, and I’d do intervals while he’s at the pump track.  Raising Porter meant cutting down on logging longer miles so I turned my focus on technique and form. Some days I’d go out in front of house and run while he’s inside doing homework and got a work out in during a short amount of time in a confined area.

When did Porter start kayaking?

We dabbled in kayaking early on and Porter first got in a boat when he was three. Porter didn’t really express an interest and I started to think we might not be kayaking together and was okay with that. Then two and half years ago that all changed.

He went to camp with buddies and came back and asked if I could do a loop. All of a sudden he was interested.

It took Porter finding friends who were into kayaking for him to get excited about it. We started paddling class one and then made the typical progression from class two to three.

This past year he’s paddled lots of new rivers including the Cheoah, the Tallulah, and the Narrows section of the Green.

It’s amazing what younger minds can adapt too. Porter and his friends soak up everything. They can look at a rapid and they can say now I know it after one time. It takes me a dozen times to remember a rapid.

Porter has become self-sufficient – he organizes his own gear, he researches beta about rivers, and he looks at rivers. When he first started kayaking, I modeled that for him and now he likes doing the work that goes in before we even get on the river. He’s taken a whitewater rescue courses, and he and his friends encourage one another to think about safety on the river.

What’s been one highlight of kayaking with your son?

Porter has always heard stories of my buddies who paddled together. Now he’s entertained by these weird- uncle-like figures in his life. It’s great to see him interact with adults. He’s a good job at that too, there’s mutual respect.  It’s great to see him spend time around the river. Paddlers are well balanced, they’re athletes and also stewards of the environment, that’s important too.

What advice would you give to other parents?

Get outdoors without expectation and just make it happen and see how it turns out.  Make it short and fun.

I tell myself to relax all the time.

I’m still focusing on it. It’s easy to get fired up about a plan and then when you’re about to head out the door there’s resistance. I do my best to chill out and still make it fun.

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