What Thru-Hikers Do When They’re Not Hiking, or How to Stay Grounded in the Real World
I’m not a seasonal outdoors(wo)man. Being outside is a very necessary thing for me to survive in this world, so I am a year-round adventurer. Thru-hiking for me was never a way to escape into the great outdoors and leave behind the craziness of life. The truth is, I’ve been escaping outside in the smallest of ways, and in every way thinkable, since I was a very small child. Thru-hiking was just a way for me to prolong the feelings of joy, peace, and connectedness I feel every time I find myself outside. It allowed/s me to be in the wilderness–just a little longer than normal. When I’m not in the woods for months at a time hiking, I find myself exploring different and more…uh…practical ways to get my outside fix that don’t involve quitting my job and living in the wilderness.
Snow + Mountains = Cold/Bliss
I purposely placed myself in a location that would allow for me to have fun outside year-round. Wintertime can be hard for those of us for whom the cold induces a dream-like, walking coma. Three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, Salt Lake City is a mecca for outdoors(wo)men , and that includes those enthusiastic for the arrival of the snow in the winter (and fall and spring) to our beautiful Wasatch Mountains. Utahns boast “the greatest snow on earth.” While I’m not sure it’s fair to claim a monopoly on the greatest snow on earth, I do think there are few greater experiences that make me feel one with the woods more than barreling down a bowl of fresh, dry powder that these mountains love to produce on the regular, and really, as they say, shred the gnar. Be it on skis, snowboard, or snowshoes, snow-covered mountains fulfill my wintertime outdoor needs.
Trail Running…Much Faster Than Walking
I have never been a trail running enthusiast, that is, until this year. I’ve been a runner for years; I’ve run a marathon and countless half-marathons, as well as some 10ks, and 5ks, but it was like pulling teeth to get me to run on a trail. This was mostly due to fear. With road running, I would track my speed, and I was constantly looking to get a new PR with every race. Trail running put me outside, yes, but I felt inferior to my road running self because I had to stop all the time and run a much slower pace. That all changed after I finished my last Long-Ass Section Hike of the AT. I hiked the AT in three large sections, my last section being the longest: 83 days. When I finished this section, I did everything I could to keep myself outside, and one of the things I did was trail run. I’m not sure what it is about being outside, walking day after day for that long–but I believe it brings a sort of mindfulness and an ability to take things in stride–things that are necessary to trail run. Suddenly, I no longer cared if my 9-min miles (not fast for most runners, but my fastest) turned into 12, 13, and 14-min miles. I reveled in every opportunity I had to slow down and hike an uphill, allowing myself to stop at the top to enjoy my feat. I even ran my first trail running half-marathon! (And it turns out, running on trails is much more efficient than walking.)
First, Second, Third Sight: Rock Climbing
The first time I climbed outside, I was 17, and it was terrifying. I was visiting my sister at the rock climbing camp she ran at Philmont (a scout ranch in New Mexico), and it was not my thing (read: TOO HARD). In the years that have followed (I am 29 now), rock climbing is something that I have fallen dreadfully in love with. It is something so tactile and tangible–I love being able to touch my hands to rock–it plays to my need to be physically connected with my surroundings and its surroundings. Contrary to popular believe, climbing is not all about the muscle, but it demands technique and problem solving skills (read: GRACE) in order to be good. I do not want to confuse you by giving you the impression that I’m an expert climber–I’m definitely no Alex Honnold, but I would call myself experienced, and the second the rocks warm up after the long winter, I’m on them.
These are just some of the things I do to keep myself busy in the “real” world. They keep me grounded, and they satisfy my need for adventure and connectedness.
What do you do to keep yourself close to the wilderness?
Follow me on and off the trail on Instagram and Twitter: @kaytebrown
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