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How Do I Still Love Backpacking?

Being a seasoned hiker, camper, and backpacker, I’ve begun to wonder why I love these outdoor activities so much. Just like anything, starting an activity as a beginner, you’re almost certain to run into a couple of hiccups. To be completely transparent, I’ve had my fair share of adventures gone wrong. So the question begs: How do I still love backpacking?

For example, on one adventure, we didn’t pack enough food and had to ration along the Pacific Coast Trail in Washington State. We were never in imminent danger of starving, but, to say the least, everyone was hangry. During another backpacking expedition, we got stuck in the rain, shivering through the entire night because we couldn’t get a fire started. 

And I’ll never forget the adventure that went so wrong we have named it “Spider Canyon.” There were two major mistakes made on this outing. 

1) We decided to take a “shortcut.” Every time my backpacking group finds themselves tired and wanting to cut the trip in half by taking a shortcut, it seems to never work out in our favor. On the infamous “Spider Canyon” trip, we got lost and ended up far away from where we were supposed to be. 

2) We bushwhacked through a canyon. By going off the trail, we encountered fallen tree after fallen tree that we had to climb over. After hours of going through the debris, our arms and legs were cut up. And we found ourselves consistently walking face-first into spider webs: hence Spider Canyon. We quickly began wielding sticks in front of us to break up the invisible webs.

With all of these adventures that went wrong at some point, I continue to find myself with the heavy pack on my back, hiking down the trail on yet another adventure. But I’ve found the answer to my question.

1. The Disconnect & Reconnect
From the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we are lying in bed trying to fall asleep, worries, thoughts, and feelings are constantly troubleshooting in our brains. Whether it’s work-related, social ponders, or just stuff we can’t seem to let go of, our life is filled with thoughts. 

The times I’m on the trail, I disconnect from these common worries. I don’t have my phone in my pocket receiving constant stimuli, nor does my mind wander when I’m lying awake at night because the rock I’m lying on is a much bigger problem than the surface-level concerns. 

I find myself disconnecting from the day-to-day world, and instead, I am reconnecting with nature and my fellow backpackers (who are always family members). The discussions around the warm fire dive into abstract thoughts and ideas rather than minuscule details and problems. 

2. Somehow, It’s Always Michelin Quality
A tradition when we backpack is to bring a packet of powdered mashed potatoes because they are lightweight. I always thought these mashed potatoes were better than any I’ve had at Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

After a backpacking trip, I headed to King Soopers, grabbed a couple of packs of those powdered Michelin-quality potatoes, and cooked them for dinner. I soon realized that these potatoes are actually terrible. There is no way they are better than Grandma’s homemade ones at Thanksgiving. 

I’ve realized what makes these potatoes so delicious. It’s a mixture of a long day of hiking, sitting on the dirt around a warm fire, scooping them out of a plastic bowl with a plastic spoon, and being surrounded by family. 

3. Strengthening My Mind Through the Tears
I’d already stated I’ll be completely transparent, so it’s important to mention that there are still tears on some adventures. The last fourteener I went on, there were false summits one after another, and if it weren’t for my family, I would’ve turned around. Thinking you’ve made it to the top and realizing you’re nowhere close to the summit is a heart-shattering experience. 

On backpacking trips, I run into the same frustrating and polluting thought – I can’t do this. When I’m tired, hungry, and questioning why I continue to sign up for the Family Backpacking trip, there are usually some angry tears that fall.

But after every adventure, no matter how many surprising and unplanned events take place, I’ve realized that these experiences build resilience. Each trip, even when I get upset and ready to quit, strengthens my mind. When I start feeling defeated during an excursion, I always think of the saying: Your Body is Stronger than Your Mind

4. The Backfiring Tradition
As I write this tradition, it makes me laugh that two of the reasons I love backpacking is because of the food. The tradition – that has backfired in the past – happens right when we get off the mountain. We always go to the closest Mexican restaurant for chips and salsa and smothered burritos. This is where we turn the hard times into funny stories that we can’t stop laughing about. This is when we take notes for things we should do differently. This is when we get to pat ourselves on the back and say: We did it

No matter how many times my family gets caught in the rain, or we run out of food, or we make the decision to bushwack, and it comes back to bite us, I will continue to love these adventures. No matter how many angry tears I get because I signed up for yet another expedition that was difficult physically and mentally, I’ll continue to put my pack on my back, strap on my boots, and do it. Because no matter how many hiccups we might run into, it will never outweigh the positive experiences and strengths that come out of the journey. 

Family Food

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