Backpacking as Vacation

Continued from my last post.

During our two week section hike of the Long Trail, Damien and I had no one to take care of but ourselves. I love our children dearly and love all the memories of trips we've taken with them, but to only be responsible for myself in the company of 3 other competent adults who were taking full responsibility for their happiness and well-being was transformative.

It was a complete vacation. Whaaa???

Prior to this trip I had never imagined backpacking as a vacation.

I've written a bit about my angst around vacation and holidays and how I felt I haven't had a vacation in many, many years. In part because of what I expect vacations to be (based on my childhood) and in part because Damien and I have different ideas about what constitutes vacation. Like I say in this post:

Camping, and then backpacking, was not vacation because it became an area of personal growth and stretching. I'm tired of character building on my "vacations" (I have ceased to call camping a vacation). I just want to be. To sit on a porch swing drinking iced tea or an Adirondack chair at a lakeside cabin, sipping coffee and watching the sunset over a lake. I don't want to be trekking through woods so wet my underwear is dripping.

I'd just find my comfort zone in the great outdoors and then we'd push it a little further. None of this felt like vacation to me.

But this backbacking trip... totally vacation. I don't know what strange magic made it so but I do know not being responsible for anyone else helped a lot. Having short mileage days made for lots of camp time/down time during which I sipped my decaf coffee at a trail shelter and sometimes was lucky enough to catch a sunset, not over a lake but over a ridge of mountains.

I slept many hours. Going to bed usually at 8pm and getting up at 7am. And when I'd wake up up in the middle of the night to go pee, if I couldn't fall asleep right away when I returned to my bed I would just revel in the coziness of my sleeping bag, enjoy the feeling of resting my legs, and listen to the sound of the wind or the water or the rain, whatever was present to that moment. And if the sound happened to be snoring, which happens in trail shelters, I'd pop in my earbuds and be asleep in short order in my dark cozy cocoon.

After about a week I felt truly rested and the most relaxed I've felt for many months (years?)

I was restored.

Unfortunately I experienced some knee and achilles heel pain. And I worked to resolve those with compression sleeves, ibuprofen, and handfuls of anti-inflammatory tumeric pills. This pain limited my full enjoyment of some days but was completely manageable with only 10 miles days. And I've resolved to do more training and targeted exercises to build support and strength around my knees before our next long hike so we can bump up the miles a bit.

By the end of our trip I wanted to do a couple more miles per day but we would have hiked past our car and ended in the middle of the woods somewhere. So we stuck to our easy pace and when one of our hiking days ended at 1pm (it was the easiest 6 miles we hiked the whole trip) and our shelter stop for the night was near a road crossing, we hitched a ride to town to enjoy an afternoon coffee and slice of pie.

The most significant thing about this trip is that I want to do more. I want to return to long-distance hiking, on my terms.

I didn't want to put too much pressure on this trip but I had decided earlier this summer that this backpacking trip was a test, or trial, to see if backpacking was in the cards for my future. There was a time in our marriage when I followed Damien's lead in these activities. And if he wanted to do it I made a significant effort to follow. That era is over in our marriage, it died on the Appalachian Trail. I know that if we're going to continue backpacking together it will because we both enjoy the activity.

The question I had been asking myself before this trip was: Do I love this? Is this really something I want to do or do I only do it because Damien loves it?

You could say I set myself up a bit for a positive answer. I controlled the variables in such a way that was more likely to yield a yes response. But heck, why not do it that way? I'm not interested in grueling backpacking trips. I'm interested in fun, relaxing, and restorative hiking.

Continued here.

(To view photos and trail journals of our entire two week trip, day by day, see my Trail Journal at Outsideways.)

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  • Jennifer

    Jennifer on Oct. 4, 2018, 3:48 p.m.

    Oh, I'm so happy you found the joy in hiking again. It's an interesting thought that sometimes there are things we don't enjoy because of certain parts, not the whole. Looking forward to more happy hiking stories for you in the future.


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