Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online

In Her Daddy's Digital Footsteps

In Her Daddy's Digital Footsteps
Instagram brings instant smiles to Ryan and Ronin Button, a daddy-daughter duo who are using social media to stay connected, as well as to record new adventures they are taking together.

New Year’s Day marked Ronin’s first overnight campout. The two have been hiking since she could walk and little Ronin has been following her daddy on Instagram via a cell phone since her little fingers could press the keys. At 3 years old, Ronin has a keen enjoyment of the chocolate s’mores and cozy hammock that come with a woodland adventure spent with dad. This past Christmas, after five trips and 9,000 miles of road, Button completed a full year of hiking all the state parks in Arkansas. He and his daughter placed their bright red Christmas presents under a tree on the park grounds and spent the day exploring.

“What I treasure most is sitting back and watching her enjoy the woods,” he said. Button, who is a professor of sociology full time at Tyler Junior College in Texas and also studied social change and social economics at Kansas State University, said the goal of hiking all the state parks in Arkansas began in Texas when Ronin was not yet walking.

“She is my world and I wanted to find unique ways to interact with her after separating as parents on good terms with her mother,” he recalled. “The outdoors is a big part of my life but I felt limited in my options ... until I discovered Instagram.”

Together, Ronin’s parents got their daughter her own phone and downloaded the Instagram app. She knows how to log in and access the map. Instagram allows her dad to take pictures and tag them with the location and date. These pictures show up on a map within the application that allows Ronin to see where he is and what he is seeing.

Button uses Instagram to log all of his state park visits. First, he finished all 96 state parks in Texas within nine months and then he started working on Arkansas. No. 52 was completed on Christmas, with Ronin, which was one year from the day he started.

When Ronin is old enough to go on more of the hikes with him, the pictures will become their own personal game of geocache as they retrace his path to find the locations of where he took the photos and add new photos of their own.

“The rules I have made are this: In order to tag a photo and prove I have been in that park, I must hike the longest trail in the park. Someday, she and I?will take another photo exactly where I was standing,” Button said. “It’s kind of a scavenger hunt for Ronin so she can look on the map and find that part of the park and she knows where I am every weekend that we are not together.”

Button, who has hiked several major trails in the United States, including the Appalachian Trail and Mount Wonderland Trail, finds a way to get outdoors yearround, no matter the weather.

“One of the great things about hiking is that it puts you in the mindset of dealing with things as they come,” he explained. “You have to have the equipment to do it, but a lot of people will spend a lot of money to stay dry in the rain. I have found no matter how much money you spend, you are going to get wet.”

Button has observed people trying to control everything when they go on a hike. “But you can’t do that,” he said. “If it’s wet, you are going to get wet. If it’s hot, you are going to get hot. However, through all those weather patterns the world unfolds in front of you in a beautiful way.” To him, the weather is just another fun challenge.

“To hike 10 miles seems doable, but when you start off on a 96-mile hike for the first time and you are questioning everything,” he laughed. “Any type of scenario that you are trying to work through in your mind or problem that you feel you are going to have to face – you are going to have to accomplish with whatever you have on your back.”

And the more stuff you take with you, the more it will weigh you down. His philosophy is that hiking is really about dropping stuff and freeing yourself up. This is the lifestyle he is hoping the outdoor adventures are introducing to his daughter.

Button began hiking with his dog, Jackson, and would go to parks with 1,000 acres and explore all of it. Over time, other people joined him on portions of his journey. Ronin was given camping and hiking toys to play with and, eventually, she came of age to start traveling, too. He said that is when it became something entirely different.

“I can watch my daughter play in a 50-foot area and with her imagination, she brings that little space to life,” he mused. “It’s not just trees – it’s a fairy forest. You can hand her a blank piece of paper and suddenly it’s a map. It’s amazing to see the world and appreciate it on a whole different scale.”

One of their favorite Arkansas hikes was discovered due to a chance meeting with a friendly park ranger as they were writing in a trial log book. The ranger suggested Lost Valley, which turned out to be one of the highlights of their trip.

“The parks offer so much history and education and you meet so many great people and make so many great connections,” Button said. “When hiking, you don’t always know what is around the corner,” he explained. “You try to prepare for everything but really you kind of have to lay back and go with what comes at you. There is a difference in how you see the world at three miles per hour vs. the way things look from the highway. You connect to the world in a new way.”

Button has chosen to do a “capstone” hike for each state and for Arkansas, Eagle Rock’s 26-mile loop with seven strenuous peaks in a six-mile portion is just the challenge he is looking for. He and Ronin will return in the spring to add it to their Instagram story map.

“The best thing about hiking is that it slows your life down, you live in the moment and you can reflect better about where you have been and where you are going,” he said.

And he and his daughter can do just that for years to come, thanks to Instagram and the unique digital photo story map the two of them are creating together.

Contributing writer Candise Montemayor was intrigued by her friend Ryan’s plans with his daughter. Along with her own children, she has taken an epic vacation journey she may write about soon.

This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online