Well, technically, it’s really a girl, her tent, and another 30 lbs of gear strapped to her back (while she hikes up a mountain) but who’s counting, really?
(Uh. I am, you guys. I am counting Every. Single. Ounce. in that pack, because those are big fucking mountains sometimes.)
Up until a couple of years ago, my most amazing life experiences– the things that really taught me to dig deep and take a hard look at who I am when shit gets tough— those experiences all happened on the farm. Or when I lived in a garage for 18 months and built a house in my spare time. Or, you know, during any one of the numerous “what the fuck were you thinking?” projects I’ve taken on over the last two decades.
I’ve documented most of those things on this website, so trust me when I say that I find it as strange as anyone that in the last year or so those amazing life experiences–the ones that have taught me to dig deep, and take a hard look at myself when shit gets tough– well, they’ve mostly happened when I leave the farm entirely. When I hike out into the wilderness where there are no projects, or power tools, or big responsibilities.
When I’m just a girl with her tent.
And I guess maybe it isn’t that surprising that after 15 years of finding bigger and crazier ways to challenge myself through house projects, that eventually I’d be so comfortable in this space that I’d start challenging myself elsewhere.
But I never would have guessed it would be camping.
I mean, previously in my life, when people suggested I might like “camping”, they were met with, at best, polite incredulity. After all, I have all of the benefits of camping in my backyard (wide open spaces, bonfires, a beautiful view) along with a king-sized mattress and indoor plumbing just a few steps away. Sooo… camping? Hard pass. Thanks though.
You guys, I also once said, definitively, that I would never own a house because it was too much work. So, I mean, when I’m wrong, I am wrong.
But, to be fair, all of my previous experiences with tents had been in “car camping” settings, and there’s a big difference between car camping and backpacking.
For the uninitiated:
Car camping typically means sleeping in a tent at a drive-up campground that, more often than not, has tiny, cramped campsites, and at least one annoying group of kids that stays up way too late drinking beer and talking VERY LOUDLY (because I am a cranky old lady who has wicked insomnia at home, but also has a very strict bedtime when I’m in a tent. Obviously.) To be fair, I’ve actually done quite a bit of car camping in the last two years when I go outdoor climbing–enough that I have a designated car camping tent– and I’ll tolerate it (with earplugs), but I don’t love it the way I love backpacking.
Backpacking, on the other hand, means hiking out to places you cannot reach by car– which also means you have to carry, on your back, everything you need to survive— and either “dispersed camping” (i.e. pitching a tent in places where there are no designated campsites) or staying at rustic campsites that tend to be private and have basically no amenities (other than maybe a bear locker to store your food in so an actual bear doesn’t mistake your tent for a human-sized snicker bar one night.) And this, it turns out, is one of my very favorite activities.
For me, there’s typically months of prepping that lead up to a hike. Prepping for the travel (finding a good trail, figuring out the best time to hike it, planning for flights or drive-time there, and figuring out how to best get to the trailhead and back.)
Then there’s the physical prep. Studying elevation maps of the trail, and making sure I’m both strong enough and have the endurance to hike 12-20 miles a day, sometimes straight up, or, worse, down hill, always carrying a ~35lb pack, occasionally with not as much oxygen as I’m used to at sea level.
I spend a lot of lunch breaks on a stairmaster with a weight vest on…
It also means prepping my gear, which entails a lot of studying the terrain, understanding the weather, putting together meals with the minimum amount of weight and maximum amount of calories, making adjustments to my gear list based on lessons learned in previous hikes, and always, always trying drop the weight in my pack. (Trust me, on your 20th mile of the day, every ounce counts.)
And then, the adventure.
So, so many late night or early morning flights. I don’t think I’ve ever started a hike well-rested.
You can’t fly with fuel canisters, so there’s always a “where the hell can I get a fuel canister” panic when I get to my destination. (Legit walked 7 miles to 3 different stores in Reykjavik the night before a hike to find fuel once.)
Then, getting to the trailhead.
I’ve rented cars at the airport, dropped them off at the closest rental to the trailhead, and walked the last few miles (a pre-hike, hike.) I’ve rented a van with strangers, who after 4 hours in the car became friends, and spent the weekend hiking with them. I’ve taken busses, and, once, a ferry (sea-sick is a fun way to start a hike, let me tell you.)
There’s always some confusion as to where the hell the trail actual starts, and then, after all that…
This is the moment, every single time, where all the chaos of travel and over-thinking falls away. This is the point where you pick up your pack– everything you need for 3-5 days right there on your back– and start walking.
I love every part of this. I love the minute the uncertainty fades away, when the map and compass and trail all line up, and I know I’m headed in the right direction. I love feeling the physical training kicking in after just a few miles on the trail, when my body responds to the hard work of carrying a pack uphill and falls into a rhythm of “hell yeah, we’ve got this.” I love when civilization and day-hikers fade away, and I’m the only person as far as the eye can see. I love that moment, when it really sets in that I’m out there, on my own, and everything I do counts. Every decision I make is vitally important to survival.
There are no takebacks on the trail. No “oops I forgot” and running to the store. But (as I learned on my first solo hike) you can’t be the nervous nelly who packs 50 pounds of gear “just in case” and expect to get anywhere either.
I’m not a person who has ever been able to relax on a beach for more than a few hours, or “shut off” from work for more than a day or two, so being out on the trail is the only time in my life when I’ve been truly able to unplug. Not because I don’t have service (I mean, that too) but because my immediate needs become paramount. Do I have enough water? Where’s the next good place to refill? Am I still on the trail? Have I consumed enough calories? Am I feeling steady on this sketchy path with a 2000 ft drop off both sides? Do I need a rest? How many miles before dark?
Have I said I love every minute of it? Because, guys, I love every minute of it. Even the minutes when I want to quit. When I realize I didn’t bring the right blister-pads for my feet and that shit is going to hurt for the next 30 miles. When my water runs low because I didn’t fill up at the last stream. When I literally fall asleep on my feet, while walking, in the middle of the day. When I’m counting every step of the last mile down a treacherous hill, swearing under my breath every time I lose my footing.
When it goes from a humid 65 degrees at sea level, to freezing rain at 4000 ft, all inside of a couple of hours.
And also when I find myself in the most beautiful places.
Because I’ll tell you this, I’ve structured my life on the farm in a way that tests me. That very often asks me to do hard things and be the best version of myself. But it doesn’t quite compare to this. Adventuring this way, out in the wilderness on my own, it isn’t just that I’m asking myself to be smart, and strong, and capable in general. It’s the immediacy of it. There is no choice but to be smart and strong and capable in this moment.
And that is an incredible feeling.
When I reflected on my life on the farm in 2018, it made me stronger, but in a way that felt disconnected from the things I love about the farm. This part of 2018 though? This made me stronger in a way that grounded me, right to the core.