Think of a moment in your life you remember forever, but at the time failed to recognize its importance. Not a significant life event. Just a feeling from seeing something different for the first time. You did not think you would remember it the next day. Yet it’s still there, in your eyes, 37 years later.
I remember with clarity the first time I saw the distant mountains in Virginia from the Shenandoah Valley, traveling in the back seat of my mother’s Oldsmobile. I was silent. Mostly because I was feigning bitterness at being uprooted from high school as a sophomore. Pulled away from my friends in Louisiana. Driven across multiple states to be inserted into a new school. The quintessential self-absorbed teenager.
But I was secretly mesmerized. Those mountains. I wanted to go to the top. I wanted to see what was up there. And we did a few days later. We drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway. But that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t know what I wanted. All I knew at the time, driving along the winding road, was how it felt incomplete.
It would be two and a half years later when I experienced another seminal moment. The summer of 1985. A friend asked me to join him and his older brother on a camping trip. I’d need to bring a backpack, something to sleep on, food and water, and whatever else I might require to survive two days of hiking and a night under the stars. The hiking was tough. We were on the Appalachian Trail. I remember the entire experience as clearly as the first time I saw those mountains.
I also remember a gentleman we met along the way. He was in the process of hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. A Thru-Hiker. That is the day, back in 1985, when I became a backpacker.
What is it, at the age of 52, which draws me to place a 40 pound backpack on my shoulders? To hike 12 miles on rugged terrain in the rain, and camp in the backcountry with a smile?
It is a similar answer to all of the other hikers out there. With some variances here and there. Like most things human, the reasons and experiences can be individually unique. For me it is overcoming the challenges nature can present. The singular focus of getting from one point to another on a map. Hiking, sweating, grunting, deep in the forest on a thin trail. After three hours of this, without warning, I am presented with panoramic views. Deep valleys with snaking twists of mist, and further on, distant mountains framed by crystal blue skies.
There is freedom in backpacking. Everything you need is on your back, in your pack. Don’t like this campsite? That’s cool. Let’s go a little further.
Many trail hikers are fond of the term, “hike your own hike.” So am I. Live your own life, hike your own hike.
When I’m out on the trail for a few days, it is not to “get away from it all.” I kind of like, “it all.” Other backpackers want to escape, and that is cool. Hike your own hike. Me? I prefer remaining connected. I’m happy on the few occasions I have coverage for my phone, while enjoying the beauty and serenity of all that nature can offer.
Now I take people out who’ve never done this before. This is a new level of enjoyment for me. Watching through their body language the same initial wonderment I so vividly recall. Just back in October we were nearly four miles into a full day of hiking. Nothing tough. But our packs were heavy. And then we arrived at a view. We sat for an hour.
Why should you consider such an activity? There’s no requirement of having experienced a moment standing at the base of a mountain in some prophetic pose of wonderment. Your reasons for wanting to hike on mountain trails could be as simple as having read about someone’s attempted thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Maybe you’ve seen some videos on Youtube, or watched a documentary.
If you have thought about doing this I want to push you to take the next step. The benefits from hiking and backpacking are well documented. The below items are from the Mountain Blazers website.
Hiking in the wilderness is healthy for the mind and spirit. It is a time proven stress relief activity. Being a part of nature provides a temporary release from the daily stressors of life.
Spending time in nature is educational and provides perspective on our environment. You might even learn that many of your fears of wildlife are unfounded.
Hiking is recreational exercise. Not only will you burn fat from hours of hiking over mountainous terrain, over time you will gain muscle strength and stamina.
Hiking and camping will present challenges and take you out of your comfort zone. This leads to a feeling of accomplishment and a greater sense of self-worth.
My newest passion is introducing people to this wonderful activity. It is the impetus which pushed me to create the Mountain Blazers website and blog.
Backpacking and hiking is a budget friendly activity. Though there are upfront costs from acquiring the appropriate backpacking gear, it can be done piecemeal. Most first-time backpackers borrow stuff from friends and family. You want to make sure this is something you truly enjoy before committing real dollars.
Yet once you have your gear, the cost for a weekend outing is merely the price of food for a few days, and gas money to get to the trailhead. The majority of the backpacking gear I own is four years or older. Of course there is the occasional impulse purchase.
Is this your moment? If so, then check out The Mountain Blazers and let’s go hiking!