I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.
My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…
Among Women By Marie Ponsot
What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.
“We’re right on schedule, holding a line composed of principles I’ve carefully considered: I’ll run my own race and ignore everyone else. This time I’ll look ahead, never behind, concentrate on one mile at a time.” –Debbie Molderow, Iditarod Competitor (from “Fast into the Night”)
“Hike your own hike.” HYOH is a commonly used phrase among the long-distance backpacking community. At first glance, this appears to be a “duh” comment. Of COURSE, I will hike my own hike. I can’t hike for someone else, can I?
Over time, I realize this phrase is more complicated that it seems. Every hiker we meet along the trail has different ideas of what makes the ideal backpacking adventure. Comparing gear, food, and hiking styles is a common topic of conversation in the evenings. And most hikers hold strong opinions about these ideas!
Friends and family talk about how “brave” we are to set off on an outdoor adventure, thinking of the physical challenges. To be successful, we must also be brave enough to figure out what we personally want and need out of our hike. We need to “hike our own hike” in all areas of our trip: target weight to carry, type of food to eat, daily distance goals, hiking style (slow, fast, breaks, few breaks), where to stop at night. (*see our personal ideals below)
(thanks to Yaakob Gridley for this photo of us!)
Backpacking is an individual adventure. (Yes, I hike with my teen daughter. I love the time together, but considering the wants and needs of TWO people is always harder than “going it alone.” In our case, I’m the one that does most of the decision-making and planning.) I love to gather information and collect stories from others on what has worked (or not worked) for them. I enjoy sifting through what I find to figure out what would work best for ME. Asking for advice can be good, but eventually each individual must HYOH.
I’m a member of a number of online groups for long-distance hikers. I love the encouragement, the camaraderie, the commiseration, and the information that is shared. I do, however, have a pet peeve in these groups: it irritates me when someone asks others to tell them which XYZ they should buy or which section of the trail they should hike. What? How can ANYONE else decide what is best for someone else? It’s great to ask for information, but asking what piece of gear others use and why they love it (or hate it) or asking which section of trail others most enjoyed hiking in a specific season would be more useful questions. No one can decide what will work best for others, they can only share what works well for their own wants and needs. Then each individual must step out and make their own personal decisions.
The reality is that if a hiker follows the directions of others and buys the “perfect” gear and sets off to hike the “best” section of trail, they might find that the backpack rubs their shoulders raw, they dread every attempt to put up a tent that takes an engineering degree to successfully set up, their ankles and knees ache from the wrong boots for their foot shape and hiking style, and the trail is a miserable experience of walking along cliff edges and clambering up huge rock faces for a person afraid of heights.
C’mon folks, HYOH means you need to gather information and personalize it for YOUR perfect hike at YOUR favorite time of year on YOUR preferred terrain!
* Here are things that worked well for us on our 6 week backpacking adventure on the AT last fall. Remember, gather information from many sources and decide what you think will work best for YOU as you “Hike Your Own Hike!” (And if you have posted your own lists online, please post a link below in the comment section. I would love to see the choices you made for your backpacking adventure…)
Target Weight to carry: 30 pounds each, including food and water
Our Gear: I will be writing an update on our gear list before we return to the AT later this spring. You can read my blog post HERE about choosing gear for our first backpacking adventure last fall. The gear list for that initial trip can be found on Trail Journals HERE
Type of Food: Breakfast, lunch, and snacks were all easy to grab cold foods. We enjoyed hot chocolate/tea for breakfast and after supper. Our main meal in camp was made by adding hot water to dehydrated food then stirring in a pouch of tuna or chicken. You can read about our resupply routines HERE.
Daily Distance Goals: because we aren’t in good shape, we started our hike in the fall with 5-6 mile days. We were quite proud of the couple of times that we managed to push ourselves and cover 9 miles in one day! When we head out this spring, we will start slowly with 5-6 mile days but are aiming for regularly completing 9-10 miles.
Hiking Style: We tend to be slow hikers, wanting to notice and enjoy our surroundings along the trail. Both of us prefer to take short breaks every hour or so: just long enough to sit on a boulder, take off our packs, find another snack, and get back to walking. Before we started our trek, I envisioned a leisurely lunch break with time to sketch the scenery and write in our journals. The reality for us was that longer breaks led to muscles stiffening up which made it hard to force ourselves to get moving again!
Nightly Stopping Places: We aimed for shelters, preferring the social setting and the dry roof. Often shelters are farther apart than our daily distance goals, so we planned in advance where we wanted to camp that night. We were flexible about when and where to take “zero days” (sleeping two nights in one location, resting on the day between) but location of where to sleep and where to resupply were planned ahead. I wrote a blog post about this topic HERE.
It is a happy serendipity when two hobbies can be combined. I relax by being outdoors or by making time for creating vibrant art. Gradually, I’m figuring out ways to combine these two hobbies. (Sometimes I work at the dining room table. More often I head to a coffee shop or to my favorite fireside seat at the local library.)
Taking hundreds of photos on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail this past fall felt reasonable at the time. However, every time I looked at those files on my computer, I was overwhelmed with how to best organize and use this many photos. For the first time ever, I used a scrapbooking “recipe” to streamline the process. (This means I used one basic layout, with different papers and colors and occasional variation in the orientation of the design.) Here are the pages I made to summarize our trip:
These first two spreads highlight the beauty found along the Appalachian Trail:
Title: “Walk in Beauty: for the one who has eyes to see…LET her SEE!”
Journaling: We both enjoyed being surrounded by beauty and pointing out new discoveries to each other. Whether it was miles of mountain views, jumbled boulders, a dancing stream or tiny wonders, it all became scope for imagination. When we quit noticing nature’s beauty, it was time to get off the trail!
Title: “all of nature is AFLAME: Be fearless in the pursuit of what Sets Your Soul on Fire!”
Journaling: We loved the peace and tranquility of hiking in the cool, green woods. But the surprising “pop” of bright oranges, reds and yellows made our hearts sing with joy at the brilliant, flaming colors. Quote: “Give me a spark o’ Nature’s fire, That’s a’ the learning I desire.” (Robert Burns)
Whenever possible, daughter and I chose to stay in shelters. That was less work, we met more people, and it kept us dry in bad weather. However, we also enjoyed the times we camped in solitude at official camping places or in the woods between shelters too far apart for us to reach in one day of hiking.
Title: “SHELTER: [shel’ ter] something below, behind, or within which a person is protected from adverse conditions”
Journaling: There are more than 250 Backcountry Shelters along the A.T. for use by hikers. Most have only 3 walls, come in a variety of sizes & styles, have a privy, and are near a water source. Accent: “Haven, Hideaway, Protection, Refuge, Sanctuary: No matter what you call it, it’s a WELCOME SIGHT at the end of the day!”
Title: “Happy Campers on the Appalachian Trail: “inTENTS” adventure in the WOODS”
Journaling: We enjoyed the social aspects of staying in shelters. Chatting around a dancing campfire was a bonus…but there was something special about being alone in our little tent, all cozy and comfy, away from everyone!”
The next pair of spreads celebrates the partnership between my daughter and I on our hiking adventure. As I have commented in other posts, I wasn’t sure how well this would work. However, we learned to use our strengths to balance the other’s weaknesses. I was frustrated that when we took selfies, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off “beauty face” so edges were all blurry. But I like how it became illustrations for a dreamin’ page!
Title: “Hiking Partners: my mini me”
Journaling: We are well matched. We both love to be outdoors. We find beauty—and whimsy—around us. We enjoy meeting other hikers at the shelters. Daughter has more physical strength & agility. I have more mental determination. She sang songs to life me up. I made her smile when she was grumpy. good partners Accent: “Storyseeker (53) and Andowen (13): 1st AT adventure 9-7 to 10-21-16”
Title: “dreaming of the Trail: Nothing stops the Dreamers: fairytale fun”
Journaling: Obstacles or Opportunities 1-meandering trail, 2-beware the “roller coaster,” 3-singing in the rain, 4-fern “fairy crowns,” 5-mountaintop exhilaration Accent: “wandering in the woods: fall 2015”
The final two spreads focus on my experience and my daughter’s experience of this adventure. For me, this trip was a way of expressing that I am moving from a focus on family to making time for me and my dreams. For my daughter, our adventure became her favorite imagination-land come to life! (She is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books and movies.)
Title: “it’s time for ME! the middle passage: …if you can’t leave ‘em behind…BRING ‘em with YOU!…”
Journaling: Time for DREAMS to Come True I’m tired of waiting. I’m ready to reach for dreams—long backpacking trips, making art, writing stories. With just one child still at home, she can join my epic adventures! Accents: “finally finding my own way,” “go into the world, explore, LIVE,” and “free yourself”
Journaling: Anna has always loved being outdoors. 6 weeks of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail took this to a whole new level! As an equal to everyone out there, she gained confidence & had FUN! Accent: “Explore”
What are YOUR favorite hobbies? And how can you combine those interests with adventures you pursue?
(See photos from our travels illustrating a poem HERE. This was a much simpler way to combine art and wandering!)