Monday, June 23, 2014

Yoga, Hiking Solo, and Hats.

I have been going to yoga on a daily basis to get limbered up for a month of lugging my pack up and down mountains. Maybe it was the sunny weather this morning, or the general feeling of joy in the air, but while doing my third (third!) set of full wheel today, I had an overwhelming feeling of bending, bending, bending backwards until I hit a breaking point where happiness and light flooded through me like a glowstick being activated for the first time. After so much planning, it finally hit me that I am leaving for an amazing adventure in a week. I felt so thankful for the fact that my body is capable of back bends and hiking, even after having surgery on my lower back 8 years ago. I am also incredibly lucky to have the time and resources to go on this trip, and to have a friend who is able to both come with me and put up with me for a month straight, in intense situations, with no distractions.

Hiking solo would be an amazing experience, and hopefully I will go on a long solo hike one day. However, memories and experiences fade, and what you are left with is a journal, photos, and intangible changes that are deeply felt and hard to explain. When you share an experience, though, it is kept alive through conversations, stories, jokes, and shared memories. There is a lot more laughter on trips with others, unless you are laughing to yourself alone in the wilderness, which is probably less satisfying and more creepy. Of course, you meet others on the trail. I’m not what you would call a “Social Butterfly,” though, and I like to have small talk out of the way already. Luckily, when Amanda and I hiked the Long Trail, we met Leah (Fox, I’ll get to a post on trail names eventually), who spent a couple of weeks hiking with us after starting out solo. Her dad met us all at a trailhead with a cooler full of Ben and Jerry’s, and a ride to their house for hot showers and delicious hamburgers! See how happy we are about ice cream?

If nothing else, having two minds directed towards decisions while on the trail, and before starting the trail, adds a level of security that I find reassuring. At least if we make a mistake, we’re lost together, and something about doing stupid things WITH someone, makes it entertaining, rather than frustrating. Since a month of hiking comes with many frustrations, I prefer the, “well…I guess we f*d up again,” reaction to, “I’m lost in the woods alone and a bear is going to eat me.” Not all forks in the trail are as obvious as this one, and sometimes you end up on top of the wrong mountain or at the bottom of the wrong ravine.

Anyways, I will leave you with this photo. I have been buying all of the random last-minute stuff that I will need for the trail, and have had a visor on my list for months. I was picturing a cheap visor a la elementary school in the 90’s. However, they all cost like $20 at sporting good stores, which is ridiculous, so I decided to cut up a hat that I never wear. I think it will make a huge difference-I don’t like the thought of my hair being matted to my head under a hat, getting gross and tangled for a month, and not having showers or a brush to fix it. At least this way, it will be baked in the sun all day long, which should keep it relatively clean. Kind of. At least I’ll get highlights…right?

For the record, it was a hard decision not to invest in one of these beauties.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Short-Distance Long-Distance Backpacking.

There are a couple different kinds of Backpacking. One is a stereotypically Canadian/Australian/American activity, in which 15-30yr olds travel around Europe or Southeast Asia, sleeping in hostels with their passports stashed away in secret pockets under their outer layers, and all of their clothing stuffed unceremoniously in a large backpack.

This blog is about a different kind of backpacking, which very simply involves walking all day long, every day, in the wilderness, while carrying everything you need to survive on your back. To be considered Backpacking, rather than plain-old hiking, I would say it has to be at least a 3-day long trip. Long-distance Backpacking generally includes treks like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, which take about 6 months to complete. Somewhere in the middle, though, are the 200-500 mile long trails which take anywhere from three weeks to a couple months. THIS is short-distance long-distance backpacking, and THAT is the kind of backpacking I will be writing about! Here are some examples of trails in the US. So far I have hiked the Long Trail, and will be hiking the John Muir Trail this summer.

Hikes in the US!

Spending a month walking around in the wilderness is a fascinating activity, which may sound pointless, but I assure you is not. Over the course of this blog, I’ll recap a past 300 mile long hike, document the preparation and planning involved in an upcoming 250 mile long hike, and go over any random hiking-related topics I can think of. There will be a lot of photos, funny stories, comics, and useful info for anyone interested in planning a trip. For now, I will leave you with this: backpacking is an Awful lot of Fun. You never know what exciting plants you will find, or which friendly pig you will meet in the Swiss Alps.

It can leave you with a sense of fulfillment, joy, and excitement, over the ability of your body to conquer mountains and take in breathtaking views.

However, on cold rainy days when all of your socks are soaked, or on hot humid days when horseflies whir around your head like the spiralling blades of a helicopter, it can also make you feel like this:

Backpacking is not all sunshine and mountains. Sometimes it's planks and boggy bullshit:

By keeping a sense of wonder, though, it becomes possible to see past the boggy bullshit and appreciate the little dudes that live there. This is Tiny, and he's my newt (hah, hah...):

It takes a certain mental and physical strength to undertake a month of leaving modern convenience behind, and simply walking in the woods. Extreme highs come with extreme lows, and when your world is reduced to the trail ahead of you and the trail behind you, every moment becomes an acute experience that is truly felt. I imagine it is this same intense sense of living that draws people to travel to new places or take on challenge like running marathons. Each minor accomplishment is amplified by the novelty of every action, while every failure is just as prominent. No activity is approached with the nonchalance of everyday life, where routine dominates. I am lucky enough to have found a passion for wandering around in the wilderness, and am excited to write about the whole wonderful ordeal of planning and doing a short-distance long-distance hike.