Forest Bathing, Friluftsliv, and A Rebirth

The silence I woke up to that Wednesday morning was deafening. How can silence be so loud? The frenetic pace of life will do that sometimes. Suddenly come to an abrupt crash. A death, a diagnosis, a loss. It happens to all of us. For me it was something impactful but the point of what it was is not important. Rather the outcome of what happened next is relevant.

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The Forest Bath to Cleanse My Soul

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalms 23:2-3 NIV). “It is Allah Who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape and made your shapes beautiful and has provided for you sustenance.” (Quran, 40:64).

All the great religions, and even the irreligion recognize the healing power of the natural world. In Hindu Vanaprastha, the third of four life phases, is retirement to the forest and a time to devote more time to spiritual practice, living among other seekers of solace, knowledge, peace, and freedom. Sound familiar AT hikers?

The ancient Japanese practice Shinrin-yoku also known as forest bathing has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and similar inl dispositions. Forest bathing can be as simple as a quite stroll in a park. Similarly, there is the Scandinavian practice of friluftsliv which is a part of life in Norway.

After multiple daze/days of adjusting to my new reality, I decided I needed to take action. I have always found solace in nature, so I decided to go for a long walk in the woods. It had been  decades  since I spent several nights in the woods but I had all that “state of the art” backpacking gear in storage containers somewhere in the house?

With my old backpacking gear secured on my back, I hit the woods. We are blessed to have countless acres of forest to escape within a short drive. My plan was to hit the foothills trail (FHT), which is about 80 miles over the river and through the woods with about 14,000 feet in elevation gain and 15,000 feet of elevation loss. My plan was to start at Table Rock State Park and end at Oconee State Park. Along the way you travel through the Jocassee Gorges, hike up Whitewater Falls (the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi), and along the famous Chattooga River (where the movie Deliverance took place).

Yes, Mother Nature will teach you some difficult lessons as a good Mother should. But she also loves you and will cuddle you in her arms to help you heal. In my prior posts I explained how mother nature had tried to kill me more than once. This time She was cradling me in her arms. I entered the forest discombobulated and 5 days later I exited regenerated.

I Can Smell You a Mile Away

A hike in the woods will enlighten all five senses and may even wake up your sixth sense if you recognize it. Your heightened senses are a big part of forest bathing.

As hiker trash we know we smell. We may be immune to it, but we do stink, and we know it. You hike for days in heat with a backpack on and you sweat. You do your best to have enough hygiene to not get sick, but we have limited grams to spare in our backpack for too much hygiene. Showers are luxury saved for town days every 5 or so days. However, we also smell you non hikers and day hikers. After a day or more in the woods we can smell every perfume, cologne, soap, and clean clothes of those on the trail ahead of us well before we see you.


The sense of taste is also amplified on a long-distance hike. We are so used to grabbing our food quickly and often in front of a screen in normal life, that we grow immune to tastes over time. Depravation of food quantity/calories or our limited variety of foods is a way of life on long distance hikes. So fresh food tastes SO damn good when you get back to civilization. Hiker hunger (depravation of caloric intake aka lack of enough food for the energy your body needs) makes everything taste good. Ok maybe not that Ramen meal you’ve eaten for 5 weeks straight.

Pick your foot up and touch it back to earth 5 MILLION times and your sense of touch has no choice but to be enlightened. That’s how many steps a hiker takes to hike the Appalachian Trail. Depravation of the normal luxuries of life such as hot water (shower), a soft bed at night, or a roof to get out of the rain, also help to enhance our sense of touch when we are on long distance hikes.

The sense of sight is keen in the forest. You notice things you would normally not notice such as a piece of trash, or those little white flowers. The views we get to see are phenomenal. Our primitive operating system is heightened in the forest as our caveman brains constantly scan for predators.

After dark when you lay your head down to sleep you can hear that the woods are alive. Its spooky if you allow it to be. You can hear the footsteps of a mouse in the leaves. Or the sounds of something large trapsing through the woods. It’s an amazing experience that continues to supplement our portfolio of outdoor enjoyment.

Without all the familiar surroundings of your home, your sixth sense can also be awakened. This is that “feeling” you get. Something is watching me; some type of danger exists. It’s there but with our engineered everyday environments we no longer need to rely on this sixth sense to survive so it gets muted. In the woods it wakes back up from deep within.

All our senses are on full volume and that experience makes us even more alive than our routine life.

Time  in Nature will Reset your Human OS

If your phone or computer starts acting weird you sometimes have to shut it down to clear out some corrupt computer code stored in your temporary RAM storage. Once you restart the device, many times is cured of its ailments. It’s the operating system (OS) of your device that is tainted.

We humans have an OS that has been developed over many millennia. This OS we possess within us is from those human ancestors that survived and were not eaten by the Saber Tooth Tiger. This is why for example we are attracted to negative news. Who cares about the fluffy bunny that resides in the path in front of us as we know it pops out and run away every time we go by that part of the path. But the tiger?

Over time the human OS has developed deep within us, and we are unaware of the programming that resides deep within us. Similar to your iPhone, your human OS benefits greatly from an OS reboot now and then. A walk in nature provides that necessary OS reboot.

Sleeping outdoors resets our natural circadian rhythm that can be disrupted in our modern life. With no unnatural light (hiker midnight is a reality in the woods), when it gets dark you are ready to sleep.


My You Carrying a LARGE Pack?

For my reset 3 years ago, with my decades old “state of the art” backpacking gear, I hiked the FHT. Every time I came upon a fellow hiker, they would comment about how large my backpack was. I thought nothing of these comments until day 4 when I kicked out 27 miles in one day. The following day when Knockerz picked me up at Oconee State Park as I took off my backpack, I told her “That pack is never going back on my back again”.

I found out that my MSR backpack was a 100-liter pack (most packs for long distance hiking now are 50 liters or less). The pack alone weighed 8 pounds. The total weight on my back was north of 70 pounds. I got out my REI membership that sat idle for 3 decades and bought a new 55-liter backpack weighing in at less than 3 pounds.

A few weeks later we drove to Fontanna Dam and hiked up to Shuckstack Fire Tower to do an overnight loop hike. At Shuckstack I ran into one large group of hikers and struck up a conversation on what they were doing where I found out they were a bunch of AT through hikers heading to Katahdin. I later found out that this was the bubble (April) heading North on the AT and I later found out was my first experience with a Tramily.

All of the AT hikers were so energized. I had a million questions, and they provided a million answers. One even gave me my first Sawyer Squeeze to replace my 2-pound pump filter from the 1980’s. I was wearing my Goretex hiking boots from the 1980’s, they were all in trail runners. Thus began my rabbit hole searches for new gear.

A Spark Turns into a Fire.

This run-in with the AT through hikers also sparked a fire inside me to consider a through hike attempt in the future. The simplicity of hiking-pick your foot up step it back down. The lack of distractions of a “to do list” other than setting up camp and breaking it down. Resetting my OS is the “WHY” I am planning to attempt an AT through hike this year. I owe one or two more posts before I actually start posting from the trail in June. Come back for “the planning” and the “plan”.

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Comments 2

  • Dee : Apr 19th

    Never before have I read a post that captured in words what hiking means to me. I was profoundly touched by the reminder that God calls us to him and often uses nature to do it. Good luck on your hike.

  • Tim B. "Porkie" : Apr 23rd

    Nice post Jon, I can relate!


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