And so, it begins…
This part makes me nervous! My coming out day. It’s always a bit frightening to put myself out there. People will doubt you, your ability, your sanity. But I’m a dreamer. A big believer that whatever is supposed to happen will happen. I have planted the first seeds in a truly pivotal life-changing experience. I told everyone on social media that I am hiking the Appalachian Trail. And if it’s on social media… it must be true!
To make this task even more mindboggling, I have relinquished any thread of rational thinking and have decided to take my 11-year-old granddaughter and 14-year-old grandson with me during the first few sections of the AT. Sure, I have taken them on a lot of outdoor adventures but never anything of this caliber.
I will say this, just camping with kids is a lot more work than going it alone or with other adults. So, I imagine I will find backpacking also a bit more complicated because I’m involving two tweens. This may sound overly romantic, but I know it will be a transforming experience for them too, so the extra ‘hassle’ will be worth it.
But I Am A Backpacker
Of course, there were also got a few discouraging comments like, “It seems like you are new to backpacking so maybe you should start out just doing some weekend backpacking trips.”
Duh! I am not going to drag my children off into the wilderness without preparation! And I beg your pardon sir because I have backpacked. I am a backpacker… aren’t I?
Do I have to have logged hundreds of miles of trails before advancing to the AT? Was I getting in over my head? I have hiked Kalalau Trail (hungover), Half dome underprepared and over-prepared, Clouds rest, and a good portion of The John Muir Trail just to name a few. Then there was Kawaii’s Blue Hole of death, I would say that this is the most adventurous hike I have done. But none of these were even close to hundred-mile hikes by any stretch of the imagination. And to be totally forthcoming, those hikes weren’t even that hard!
Nope, I’m not going to do that… start doubting myself because some idiot wants to put his negative two cents worth into the comment section of a FB post. I’ve got this. I mean the AT is difficult I am sure, but we are starting on one of the easiest, most assessable sections of the trail. If we find that we are in over our heads we can just duck out and shuttle our way back to the B&B. Which we won’t… because if nothing else I am not a quitter.
Then there is the “You better hit the gym, get into shape, maybe get a trainer,” Captain obvious advice.
I’ve done the trainer thing and it just isn’t for me. I mean the AT’s not a technical hike. It’s walking, one step at a time. Okay, I am a bit out of shape, but walking is aerobic exercise! Walking is easy and good for me and if that’s the case it will be just as good for me in Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia! And I hate gyms, but as luck would have it, I don’t need a gym to ‘get into shape’ I will just walk and backpack! So, no, there are no excuses.
To me backpacking isn’t dangerous, it’s so many good things wrapped around a bunch of subsequent steps. I don’t need a ton of experience to walk, I’ve been walking for 50 years. Everyone starts somewhere, and at their own pace. I love hiking, even the uphill part! And the best part is that it’s not a race, last place still wins!
And to “practice” all I need is proper footwear, a backpack, and water. In a month or so my legs will be strong AF.
No matter how tricky (or easy) the trail, every hike has its perks. Even a moderate one-hour hike burns around 400 calories while strengthening my core and lower body. And as the elevation goes up, so do the benefits. Adding a 10-pound bag up’s my calorie burn to anywhere between 400 to 800 an hour. The more challenging the hike, the more calories, and stress, I’ll melt away.
As the snow starts to melt off the peaks in the Adirondacks, we plan to do our weekend training by knocking out the 40 high peaks of the Adirondacks. As we hike at high altitudes we will get used to exercising in a lower-oxygen environment, so our bodies will adapt to using less oxygen, which I am told, will lead to improved performance for our Appalachian Trail hikes.
All the while I am also taking advantage of the cheap but effective Happy Pill that mother nature gives those that walk in her company. You know that “mmm…ah!” feeling you get when you see a beautiful waterfall or gaze out from atop a mountain summit? Just looking at photos of nature reduces stress, that’s why there are so many nature screen savers on computers to mimic the positive vibes of nature. What do you think the benefits of experiencing it firsthand are?
Anyone who doubts what I am saying just grab your backpack for a day hike and go see for yourself. Spend an hour climbing a hill or walking around a lake, not only will you burn some 400 calories per hour, but you will also feel less fatigue, less pain, and less stress. And any fitness level can do this.
There have been a lot of times in my life when I didn’t feel fit, healthy, or beautiful, like now, but each step down a trail always made me feel better about myself. I know that I have two options. To fall into a cycle of self-pity and keep packing on the pounds or find a way to recover my identity, the one that had once been so closely attached to my more physically fit body.
It’s not easy to motivate yourself at first. I am woefully out of shape. But soon my legs will get used to climbing up and down trails and my lungs will stop burning at altitude. Slowly, step by step I will reclaim my body and my confidence. My point is this. There is no such thing as being too out of shape to hike.
The Other Benefits Of Hiking
The other thing that non-hikers don’t fully appreciate is the positive mood effects of hiking!
I know I create my own state of mind, and that’s what I plan to focus on during this journey. Inner peace. I can say that every single time that I am in nature and away from civilization I feel at peace. I don’t think I have ever felt complete peace in everyday life like I do when I am in nature, unplugged and away from it all.
Nature gives me solace and comfort when nothing else can. Why do you think nature is so calming?
I think we are hardwired to be at peace in nature. Before we are born, we are a part of nature, when we die, we return to nature. Nature is a part of us, it connects with our soul.
Nature encourages introspection because we are removed from the man-made structures and man-made pressures we face in our daily lives. We spend so much time dwelling in these man-made structures from our homes to office buildings, they serve as a constant reminder of the worries, stresses, and anxieties we deal with all the time. Structures have come to symbolize our imprisonment.
While concrete cities, buildings, cars, and other structures of the unnatural world confine us physically, they also confine us psychologically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually if you really think about it. We are forced to wear different labels of nurse, accountant, husband, wife, mother, father, caretaker, sister, brother, son, and daughter. Each structure we walk in and out of forces us to wear various social costumes and along with them, a set of associated obligations and stressors.
Being in nature is when we break free of the confinement of cities and structure, we break free of societal roles and labels. We step out into the natural world unhindered and with a greater sense of freedom unmatched by anything else. This feeling permeates within us a sense of happiness as we are permitted to be more authentic and natural in our own skin. Nature has no role for us, no pre-set expectations.
Nature allows us total personal autonomy. In her presence, we feel like we can be our best selves. And when we feel like we can be our natural selves…free from worry, fear, anxiety, societal pressures, doubt, and insecurity, how can we not feel happier.
Now get out and do some hiking … if I can do it anyone can do it!
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