A lot of people ask me how I got into backpacking and why in the world I love it so much. I even had one guy tell me that if people in third world countries knew that I choose to live “like them” on the weekends, they’d think I was crazy. For the record, I never spoke to Mr. Ignorant again. So this is part one of a two part post about my love for backpacking (Now) and dis-love for backpacking (Then).
It all started when my very dear friend, Kim, asked me to join her for a 2 day/1 night beginner’s backpacking workshop in April, 2014 in Stillwater Prairie in mid-Ohio. The company running the trip was Outdoor Adventure Connection, based in Dayton, Ohio (http://www.outdooradventureconnection.com/). The Chief Adventure Officer, Andy aka Captain Blue (or Uncle Andy later on) would be leading us, along with his esteemed assistant. I signed up for the trip and off I puttered to REI to purchase a new Osprey Ariel 65 liter backpack with the assistance of a sales person. Then I stopped by my stepdad’s house to grab my old sleeping bag that I had used at summer camp when I was 12 years old. The sleeping bag took up the entire pack, but I was unfazed since I had no idea that modern sleeping bags pack down to smaller than a shoe box. Kim and I arrived to Stillwater and I was the only person without trekking poles, because I thought those were for “older folks” (but now I can’t backpack without them!). Andy lent me his spare poles and we trotted into the woods. Every couple of hours we had a “workshop” where Andy and his assistant taught us about everything from Leave No Trace to bathroom issues. Who knew that living in the woods for a few days could be so complicated?! I love school and felt like I was in an outdoor classroom, gobbling up every tidbit of knowledge I could. That night, Andy cooked about 10 freeze-dried meals and desserts for all of us to share and boy were they tasty after a long hike! Kim and I slept side by side in her dad’s tent, although we woke up every hour on the hour. The next day my pack was cutting into my shoulders and no amount of adjustments could alleviate the pain. I was in so much pain that I seriously almost called my mom to come pick me up on the side of the trail. But the good folks we were with insisted on swapping packs with me to change up the pressure points and I was able to finish with a smile. After that weekend, I was totally hooked on backpacking!
It’s taken me a long time to realize why I love backpacking, but I’ve finally uncovered some of the subconscious reasons. First, nature is healing. My heart bears a heavy burden and sometimes the burden is too much for me to handle alone. When that happens, I literally look at a tree or at my feet on the grass and ask the earth to please take some of the pain out of my heart. I know that my heart can only take so much and at some point I need help. I envision the pain flowing from my heart and out of my body into the earth. The earth is much bigger and wiser than me and can handle the pain that my immortal soul cannot. She loves us all and can heal us spiritually and emotionally, I believe. I used to turn to a bottle of wine, but that only made things worse. Now I turn to nature and it really works.
The second reason is that it helps me escape my own head. Whenever I have a nagging issue, whether it’s about dating or my family or whatever, and I’m in the woods, I find it terribly hard to focus on the issue because I realize that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it 10 miles from civilization without cell service. A lot of times, I realize that even if I were back home, there’s nothing I can do about it. I let go and stop trying to figure it out or control it and I simply focus on each step and each breath that I have the privilege of taking that day. The next moment is not promised to me and so I must relish this exact moment spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. Nature is the best catalyst for that.
The third reason came to me when I read an article that my dear friend, Stevie, posted by Mark Manson entitled, “You probably know to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ Here’s a way better question.” My interpretation and understanding of the article is that most people think they need to figure out and then do “what makes them happy”. But instead, people need to think about what uncomfortable, difficult and challenging moments they’re willing to endure for whatever makes them happy. Manson used to fantasize about becoming a famous guitar player and how happy that would make him feel. He envisioned being on stage with his fans screaming for him. What he didn’t envision were all the obstacles and hurdles that he would have to face in order to become a famous guitar player. So the real question according to Manson is, “What pain are you willing to sustain?” For me, it’s spending an entire day packing freeze-dried meals and a 65 liter pack with enough gear to last a week in woods. Or hiking 24 miles in the pouring down rain for 2 days, and waking up with water splashing on my face because my tent wetted out, and I still have 4 days left on the trail. It’s getting home late on a Sunday night after a long drive back and spending the next 3 nights hand washing all of my mud-caked gear in the bathtub with special soap and waterproofer, so that it stays in great condition. Do I love these steps in the process? No. Would I ever let someone else do these things for me? Heck no. Because it’s all part of what I love, which is being out on the trail with the sun on my face, wind in my air and nature all around me. Yes, this is self-imposed and no, I’m not complaining. I’m simply agreeing with Manson. So now you know what’s really behind my photos of sun-kissed smiles atop Sassafras Mountain or lush forests on the Roan Highlands. And this is what I LOVE!