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Life is So Much Simpler in the Woods

True Confession Time: daughter and I are experiencing culture shock. We didn’t expect it to be such a challenge to readjust to life at home. Everything here moves so fast. And there are so many choices. Although many folks have commented that they can’t imagine living in the woods and doing without so many amenities, while hiking on the Appalachian Trail for six weeks we discovered that life is so much simpler in the woods.

This is because travel by its very nature demands simplicity. If you don’t believe this, just go home and try stuffing everything you own into a backpack. This will never work, because no matter how meagerly you live at home, you can’t match the scaled-down minimalism that travel requires.” – Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

There is no set daily schedule in the woods. We paid attention to what our bodies were saying: eating when we were hungry and taking breaks when we were tired. Each day we simply covered the miles needed to reach the next shelter or campsite without needing to organize where to go in what order to accomplish a long to-do list of errands and appointments. By choosing a long-distance hike, we were also choosing to avoid the tyranny of an external calendar or schedule. rest break

Even the days of the weeks began to blur together while hiking. Weekends were no different than weekdays (other than a sudden influx of a zillion dayhikers on Saturdays and Sundays!) Although church defines the weekend for our family when living in town, while on the trail we sang worship songs and enjoyed God’s creation every day. It became a joke between us—when someone asked “what day is it?” we could always tell the section hiker from the long-distance hiker. The former wanted to know the date while the latter was curious about the day of the week. (Daughter’s watch included both which kept us from getting confused.) The biggest difference between one day and the next was the weather.

There are fewer choices in the woods. We wore either our hiking clothes or our camp clothes (with extra layers for warmth as needed.) Each morning we put that day’s snacks in an outer pocket of our packs, merely choosing throughout the day which snack we wanted to eat during each rest break. We ate the same basic meals for dinner every night—based on either instant potatoes or dehydrated rice. Our choice was limited to which flavor meal we wanted to eat each evening. I’m still not back to cooking a widely varied menu of meals at home—there are entirely too many choices to overwhelm me when I enter a huge grocery store and can fill the cart to the brim with food that will not have to be carried on my back until it is ready to be cooked and eaten! meal time

Finally, we lived from sun-up to sun-down in the woods. Occasionally, we used our headlamps to read a few more chapters of a favorite book on the kindle before going to sleep. But most hikers went off to dreamland shortly after the sun went down. Very occasionally a few hikers would stay up past “hiker midnight” (8 or 9 pm) to enjoy telling a few more stories around a campfire. Here at home? The lights are on for hours after dark before we finally wander off to bed. But then we are tired when the alarm goes off the next morning.  Life is ruled by clocks and schedules.sunset

As we readjust to life off the trail, we are trying to lessen the number of choices we have to make each day–getting rid of extra clothes, shortening our to-do lists, making a master list of meals. We look forward to returning to the woods in early summer—happy to live once more with fewer choices. That’s not a hardship but a gift! Life really IS much simpler in the woods…

Nitty Gritty Details

We will be (mostly) living in the woods for two months. We will carry what we need on our backs. In general, most folks understand this concept. For those who have not been on a long-distance backpacking trip before, the details may be fuzzy. Most books and movies don’t show the nitty gritty of daily life on the trail. No Plumbing

There is no plumbing in the woods! No faucet to turn on for water. No shower or sink (or ready hot water) for cleaning. No toilets to do our “business.” Roughing it may sound manageable for a day or two…but how does a lack of modern amenities work for longer times?

There are streams and springs along the Appalachian Trail. In some places, the water might be clean enough to safely drink. To lessen risk and avoid getting sick, we will filter all water before drinking it.

Long-distance hikers quickly become dirty, smelly folks. Hair goes unwashed. Sponge baths are taken with a wet-wipe or with biodegradable soap and cold water (at a long distance from the water source to avoid contaminating it). Socks and underwear get hand-washed most evenings—since we are carrying just one pair to wear and one pair to be drying for the next day. Otherwise, the same clothes are worn day after day. Each week when we are in town for food and fuel resupply, we will savor a hot shower with plenty of soap and shampoo to get body and hair squeaky clean. In addition, we will do a big load of laundry to get smelly, dirty clothes clean again before heading back into the woods for another week of hiking.

Do you REALLY want to know about pottying in the woods?! Some of the lean-to shelters we might stay at overnight have outhouses nearby. Otherwise, we walk off the trail into the woods to do our business. Poop gets buried 6” deep. All toilet paper used gets packed out and disposed of at the next town. The same applies to monthly feminine pads. (See,  I knew you didn’t really want to know…)Potty in the Woods

The nitty gritty details show that…long-distance hiking is not for beauty queens!

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