How has backpacking affected your life?

10:22 a.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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This is something I wanted to share and I apologize in advance if the topic ends up long. But I have a lot on my mind.

The fact is, backpacking/hiking has changed my life over the last two years. I even have a couple of members on this site I'd like to thank for helping me along indirectly, that's Gonzan and Troutspace. A hike I shared with them in February made me look deep into myself. The result? Since February I have lost 41 pounds, going from 220 to 179. I've gone from an xtra large shirt to a medium.  And I feel the best in my life.

But more on that later. What I want to do now is share my backstory and how I've gotten to this point.

When I was kid, I used to run through some woods a lot that were down the street from my house. I played explorer in these woods and they were a big part of me growing up in suburbia. When I was 10, we moved to another house and the first thing I did was find some more woods down the street to play in. I remember when we first talked about moving the biggest excitement I felt was knowing there were some woods even closer and even bigger. I turned 16, had a car and growing up at the foothills of the Smokies, I started going there religiously. The mountains and forests have always been part of my life.

When I turned 18, I went into the army. I kind of became lost. Like most kids in their teens and early 20s, I became more infatuated with partying than getting out in the woods. I was stationed in El Paso, Texas for awhile. I was within spitting distance of Big Bend, great New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona trails but never experienced them. I didn't figure it out until my last six months there and by that time it was too late. I still look back at that with regret.

But I left the army, went to college, partied, studied and spent most of my time on other things. I took a couple of backpacking trips, but not many. At the time, I didn't realize how important being in nature was important to me. At the same time, I began to gain weight. In the army, I was around 175. Within a year after leaving I was 210. I kept gaining.

I graduated college, got married and woke up one day and got on the scale. I was 270. Closer to 300 then 200. I got a bike and started doing some exercise. That was six years ago. I went from 270 to about 230. Lost a few more pounds over the years and got to 225. Then two years ago, I made the big decision that has affected my life today.

I woke up one morning two years ago and realized I needed backpacking. Not wanted. Needed. I realized I had a void in my life and needed it filled. Most of my backpacking equipment had been lost over the years. I started from scratch and that winter I pieced together my backpacking equipment. Last year, I planned a backpacking trip up in the Smokies. I started training for it. I went from 225 to 205. I did the hike. I felt reenergized. I made a few more hikes. But the summer came, it got too hot to hike and I got in a rut. Last winter, I gained again. Did a great hike up in the Smokies in the snow in January and then I went on the hike with Gonzan and Trouthunter in February to Fiery Gizzard.

At the time, I weighed 220. We did the hike, I got through it and I don't think I weighed those two guys too heavily, but I still felt I kind of weighed them down some. I felt like I could do better. I needed to be better. One of the reasons I wanted to lose weight was just not to "lose weight." It was too hike longer and farther. Get to more destinations. Feel like I could go out for three day hikes or longer without killing myself and feeling completely fatigued. But the biggest reason is and was for my two children. I want to be in shape to get them out backpacking with  me. When they get older and in their teens, I don't want to be the guy who can't keep up with them.

So, I got in the gym and started working out. I upped what I was doing month to month. I now love going to the gym. Why? Because it propels me into the outdoor activities I love to do. I can now mountain bike for 20 miles. I'm doing a trail run this weekend through obstacles and have another one planned next month. I'm going backpacking in a month and I can't wait to see how I feel climbing up a mountain to the camp site. I'm taking my oldest daughter who is four backpacking soon and I feel good that I'm not going to be huffing it on the way to our campsite.

I feel better now than I did in my 20s or teens. I'm 36 now and feel like I have a new life. And it's all because of backpacking and being out in nature.

And for once, I finally feel like I have found myself.

10:30 a.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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I post a lot of goofy stuff on this forum.

But, this is actual true ....

My enthusiasm for back-packing, hiking, camping,  and spending a lot of time in wilderness areas ... was a factor in  a marriage failure.

In fairness, I have to say that " Yes -- people grow apart".   And, "Different strokes for different folks".

                                                         ~r2~

11:07 a.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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That is really awesome, Rocklion. I am incredibly impressed with getting in such great shape in such a short time. You've put me to shame, as I am still about the same wieght and fitness level I was in February.

I am humbled that you give me any credit for playing a part in your getting there, and though I am not sure how, I am thrilled to know I helped in some way. That was a really great but pretty intense hike, I think I was sore for a week afterword!

I know what you mean about the moutnains and woods being part of yourself. I share that need to get out in nature frequently as well- I recognized a few years ago that it was something I required, not just desired. 

Keep it up man- you are in turn inspiring me to get back in as good or better fitness than I was in my early 20s.

 

12:25 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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This Camping Hiking Back Packing thing may be saving my relationship.

12:54 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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When I was a kid growing up in rural upstate New York on a small selfsufficent farm near Lake Ontario I was always playing in the woods along a creek. I played in and built forts with my childhood friends using skills we either adapted from what we learned about Indians in school or our own vivid imaginations. We trapped and fished the creek for every kind of animal, frogs,fish,crawdads,snakes,rabbits,turtles,birds,etc. I grew up with a fond appreaciation of the natural world. I knew as much as the science classes in shool could teach me and often contributed live specimens for class aquariums and all.

In winter I built igloos and snow caves and like the forts of summer would stay in them overnight sometimes as my parents allowed me to do.

When I left home for the first time on my own away from school and the military and found that there were so many different types of wild places from sea to mountain tops, I soon discovered I liked living outdoors more than being stuck in a job and having all the modern things that most humans take for granted.

I found and worked out the kinks over my needs for being happy over the years and in just about 3-5 years of backpacking and camping discovered that I like doing that more than anything else. I didn't need a car or own a big home and land to be me. My home became my tent about 270 days and nights a year once I realised all I needed could be had for about $2000 a year for food and minor gesr needs.

I found that I could work about 3 months a year to make all the money I needed to live free in the wilds the rest.

Backpacking has affected me by teaching me to be more selfsufficent, sort of like my parents were on our farm in NY but that more like the mountainmen who left the farms they grew up on in the mid 1800s to make a living in the wilderness. I would rather live outdoors than to make a living in a town. There is very little that holds me here except the need for enough money to buy another years worth of food and supplies.

4:52 p.m. on August 17, 2011 (EDT)
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For me life affected my backpacking.

I was always an outdoorsman.  I remember climbing trees and wandering around the arboretum even before I was in kindergarten.  Somewhat older I added team sports, scouting, and cycling to my interests.  As much as I loved active past times, I had a balanced life, until sustaining a severe head injury in my early twenties.  Life never was the same again.  I will not belabor you all with all the issues, but everything from relationships, to how I memorize and recall things, down a severely disrupted sleep/wake cycle are all askew. 

The injury caused me to lose most of what makes life as a human worthwhile, creating a frustration that filled me with rage.  I no longer valued my own life, and dove head over heels into various thrill seeking activities, including extreme mountaineering adventure.  I was living for the moment, in a manner Hemingway never imagined.  The more hair ball the proposition, the more I wanted to be part of it.  While the motive was a thinly disguised death wish, I still took what may pass as a nod to safety considerations; I didn’t care if I got caught by Mr Dead, but I at least was playing hard to get.

As it turns out these gonzo projects had a calming affect on the soul of this troubled beast.  Later we (I participate in a longitudinal study of head trauma survivors) discovered adrenalin sports, among other things, help people similarly afflicted cope with their sanity.  I cannot speak for others similar to me, but one of the few times I feel half normal is when I am pushed up against my absolute limits.  It seems the wiring in my head finds harmony when the inner turmoil matches my surroundings.  In any case had it not been for extreme sports I do not know what fate would have become of me.  The trauma researchers suggest I very well may owe my life to the wilderness.  By the same token I probably would have never ventured to the fringes of mountaineering had I not literally fled there, attempting to out run my own mortality.

Ed

9:43 p.m. on August 18, 2011 (EDT)
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Hey Rocklion!

This is a great thread you have started, it is late for me but I will post tomorrow, just wanted to say hi real quick. HI.

Great to hear from you!

11:05 a.m. on August 19, 2011 (EDT)
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My feet and back hurt more.  :-)

7:58 p.m. on August 19, 2011 (EDT)
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I don't have an answer, since, like whome-Ed, I have been backpacking, hiking, climbing, skiing all my life. Born in the middle of the Sonora Desert to parents who were out there all the time, met my spouse in the university mountaineering club (she has a similar background), getting Young Son into the woods and hills within days of his birth - I don't really know any other way of life. Or as a similarly inclined friend says, the woods and hills are Real Life. Yeah, I have to spend some time in cities and I did work at a desk and computer (I've done computers since the early 1950s, when they had mechanical switches and plugboards - punch paper tape and index cards were a leap forward). My education as an astrophysicist was a career choice born of spending most nights of my childhood under the stars.

A few nights ago, I went to a book-signing by a long-time friend and his wife (almost 50 years). He has led numerous expeditions to exotic places (some of which I have visited). One woman in the audience asked him how he could deal with sleeping on the ground (or in snow and ice), with such cold temperatures, storm conditions, and thin air. His response was that this is the way you see interesting places and really live. He is about 80 now, I think, and still out there hiking (I see him from time to time hiking in our local hills).

Our ancestors didn't have all the cushy accoutrements of "civilization". The woods and hills (and deserts and plains and savannahs and snow and streams, lakes, and oceans) were their food sources, their bedrooms, and that's just he way things were.

Keep going out there, Rocklion. That's were it is really at, where you are really alive.

6:22 a.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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Trout> Thanks! Yeah went MIA for a little bit. It got so hot here for a bit the last thing I thought about was hiking. Then a person at work left and I had to pull his work besides mine. Doubled up on work for a month and a half and it almost killed me. Just not enough time for leisure.

Back to the thread, I'm about to start a second journey. What I keep telling myself is that this one is easier and shorter than my previous one of losing weight. Now I'm quitting tobacco (dipping). I wished I had a few days I could just go out in the woods and be away from everyone and everything, but can't do that right now, so tomorrow morning I'm going to head to the woods, no tobacco anywhere around me and just spend a day up in the mountains reflecting. I just lost 40 pounds, so I can do this.

I have one thing kind of affecting me right now that has me a bit scared. In a few weeks, I'm going to be heading to Sarasota, Florida for a job interview. If I get the job, it would be a more prestigious position and would double my salary. Would be something I couldn't pass up. But it would move me away from the mountains. I'm just looking at it as a new opportunity to do different things - maybe get into kayaking and poke around the Florida marshlands. Do some other type hiking. Have enough money that I might be able to save up some money and go to my dream hikes someday like Alaska, Glacier National Park or New Zealand. But it's still kind of hard of thinking of leaving Tennessee.

8:46 a.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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...  It HAS affected my back-account.

[ * insert face-palm emoticon * ]

                                                    ~r2~

6:27 p.m. on August 20, 2011 (EDT)
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It has had a HUGE affect on my bank account and credit card balance!

But seriously, WAY TO GO Rocklion! I posted a similar story on a thank you to Trailspace thread

http://www.trailspace.com/forums/off-topic/topics/94959.html 

Getting in shape so I could backpack again was my goal. All the other benefits that came along with it are the real plus. High blood presure, over wieght and outta shape, and suffering from sleep apnea are all no longer an issue!

Good luck with the Tabacoo. Thats my next step too. I/we have shown what some determination and stick to-it-tivness can do. I believe its gonna be a real mutha but can be done if hardheaded enuff.

3:13 a.m. on August 21, 2011 (EDT)
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To make a long and much more complicated story short, I got to a point where I had to choose between drinking and more time/money/energy for the outdoors. These two activities were incompatible for me, so I chose the latter. I don't even like to think about where I'd be right now if I'd gone the other way. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..."

3:30 p.m. on August 21, 2011 (EDT)
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Rocklion,

Camping, backpacking, and hiking have given me something to be passionate about, has enriched my life, opened my eyes to the real world we live in (vs. concrete) and provided me with opportunuties for solitude and reflection.

Although the wilderness does not belong to us personally, it is really cool to be able to explore such vast amounts of wilderness almost as if we did own it ourselves. In the Southeast we can hike through beautiful river gorges and then climb up ridges or mountains to some fantastic overlooks or summits. To me this offers a wealth that anyone who can get out there can enjoy.

I have also been fortunate enough to pass some of this to my two kids as they were growing up. Those memories and pictures of us out camping together are absolutely priceless to me.

On the work side of things-

I can sympathize with you on the whole work thing. I have had an exhausting work schedule lately myself and have just been doing short hikes very early in the morning.

I  moved away from the mountains (TN to coastal SC) for a higher paying job 11 years ago. I have been driving back to the mountains (SC, NC, TN ) to go backpacking / fishing ever since because I love being in the mountains so much. On the flip side, I have also learned to enjoy what the coastal mixed forests, Cypress & Tupelo swamps, and drainage basins have to offer. It is very diverse and interesting, but approach to my destination is often best done by boat or canoe / kayak since I can't always drive or walk to where I want to go.

6:17 p.m. on August 21, 2011 (EDT)
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My girlfriend always says I come back from a trip or a hike being much calmer, happier and easy going. She calls it my therapy, and I agree. No need for expensive head shrinking doctors, I just get out in the woods for a while and I'm great. 

13 years ago, I rescues a dog (Eskimo/rotti mix we think), her and I became instant hiking/camping partners. At the time, I was hiking and camping, just not as much. But with my dog Bela, it was an all the time thing (and yes, thats when I started getting into debt as well). I couldn't go near my pack (or any gear) without her getting exited to go. It kinda made organizing, repairing, cleaning and packing at home a little difficult lol. I really think we taught each other a lot about hiking, wilderness, each other and ourselves. But now, 13 years later, she can't go anymore. Last year she was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery to remove her bleeding spleen and a grapefruit size tumor. Also, she has very bad arthritis that keeps getting worse. So her days on the trail are done, unfortunately. It sometimes makes it hard for me to be out in the woods without her and I almost feel guilty sneaking my pack out of the house to go. But in a way I think she understands and wants me to go, at least thats what I tell myself. My idea of getting her out now is lifting her into my pick up, roll down the windows (any weather, she insists), she sticks her nose on the windows edge and we just drive. Sometimes stopping at a lake and letting her swim a bit if she up for it. Either way, she's still with me and has really helped me get back into something I love to do, appreciate it and make the most of nature. I have always loved dogs, but I have such a different appreciation and understanding for them now. She chose me when I found her. Thats her in my avatar picture carrying a giant log out of the water (she used to dive for them), one of her favorite things to do.

I also have two other dogs, one of which I take hiking on occasion. I love them all but none are Bela on the trail.

Besides all that, backpacking has kept me out of a lot of trouble. I was a bit of a trouble maker in my teens and early 20's, and at that time I wasn't in the woods enough. Getting back in a lot has changed my focus, made me realize whats important in life in general.

I was out for a overnighter last week up in NY. When I go, I am pretty much care free, find a few known off path places, bring a six pack and smokes and unwind. I see bears in the distance sometimes, but nothing ever to worry about. But on this trip, while setting up my tent I heard a noise. I turned around to see a huge Black Bear no more than 20 feet from me. I almost soiled myself. I got up, made a bunch of noise and talked to it and he slowly walked away, went to the nearest tree (I was on a bald) and sat down. He then got up a few minutes later, slowly walked down into the tree line and disappeared. That was a wake up call. I tend to be a bit to care free and these kinda quick, six pack overnighters and I think that bear was telling me to stop being so cocky. I listened and appreciate it.

I have a good knowledge of gear as well, and know that not all gear is for everyone and found what works for me for the most part. But I still like to learn as much as I can. And I don't argue with the UL crowd anymore LOL.

I also feel that I would do well in a survival situation. A lot more than years ago.

Backpacking has also cost me a relationship, but I look at that as a good thing. It's not a great combo to be with a cosmo girl who hates bugs and wants to spend the weekends in the mall and clubs. It was always a battle for me to get out. But I just did, and she's gone. Now my current GF is very understanding and supportive of my passions. A true gift.

I know I have a lot more to learn and that backpacking and the wilderness will help teach. I'm sure there is more....

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