Wow! 2017 will mark 20 years of backpacking for me. That’s crazy!!! No wonder I make sounds when I get out of a chair. What I’ve learned from all those years out on the trail? Backpacking is hard!
I’ve been on this earth for 50+ years. What I’ve learned about life after 50+ years? Live is hard! But the single most important thing I’ve learned from both. Trusting the trail makes life a lot less fearful and lot more plentiful. “the trail” isn’t always something you are just hiking on. Sometimes, it’s the journey your on.
Not sure of the day it struck me that completely and without a single guess, trusting the trail was a no brainier. It was as comfortable to me as a good pair of hiking boots. Maybe it was all those miles, all those trails, all those locations deep into the wilderness, that always showed me how to get home. Even the times I was a little lost, the trail always pointed me in the right direction, when I was hungry, it provided food, and when I was alone, provided company. Although truth be known, it hadn’t always been that way.
I grew up on the concrete sidewalks of Chicago. City boy for sure. Not what you would call “the Wilderness”. I didn’t even start backpacking until I was in my 30’s. Moreover, my camping experience was pretty limited. Once or twice at the most. 1998 afforded me a job working for an IT company in central Illinois when Internet was just beginning. The years previous to that was working in the Insurance business selling insurance. Words can not describe how much my blood boiled at the thought of sitting in a cubicle for the rest of my working career without doing something big. Putting on a tie everyday for work brought me deeper and deeper into the abyss. I just wasn’t living the kind of life that was calling to me. Who was calling, I had no idea, I just refused to answer. That inner voice that whispers in your ear “what are you doing”?, where are you going? We all have heard it, and we all have ignored it. Even at my earliest age, I remember wanting to do something creative and different from what everyone else was urging me to do. Learning to ignore that inner voice I think is called denial.
Denial of who you are and what you can do is, the single biggest mistake one can make in their life.
The most common phrase I have ever heard in my life is “Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it”. I hate that saying. Makes me want to scream. However, so true. I probably said outloud everyday how much I hated my job. Hated, hate, disgust, every negative adjective in the world to describe how much I couldn’t stand what I did to earn a living. It was cut throat, brutle, ugly, and manipulative. I was in the middle of a Merge and Acquisition and the new owners were demons from the outer banks of hell. Everyday I wanted to quit and go.
On a night of cocktails and more cocktails, a freind had mentioned she had just got done backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
I literally asked her “what the hell is an Appalachian Trail”?
It was 1997 and the answer to that question changed my life forever. The Universe gave me everything I wanted. I wanted out, it put me right on the trail. Camping, hiking, backpacking for the next 4 years was all I did dreaming about Thru-Hiking the AT.
In 2002 our company was sold, and they immediately starting laying off key employees. I was one of them. That voice once again started bantering at me repeatedly, and through a much heated debate with my inner voice, in the Fall of 2002, I sold everything I had, and I began to prep for a Thru-hike on the AT. In March of 2003 I left Illinois for Georgia and arrived at Springer Mountain to finally do something that was bigger than myself, to face my biggest fear, to calm that inner voice, and to hike 2168 miles.
Things I’ve learned after 20 years of backpacking:
- Hard is the best part of it. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it. It’s suppose to be hard.
- Trust the Trail. Drop your fear there is nothing to be afraid of.
- Attitude is the best piece of gear you will ever carry
- Never go cheap on your hiking boots.
All the books is the world that “supposedly” tell you how to “psychologically prepare” are just crap until you decide to get out there. It’s your journey!