Yes to more long distance backpacking, on my terms

Continued and concluded from my last post.

Backpacking, by its very nature involves a lot of physical exertion, sweat, and dirt. These might not be considered restorative but in the right ratio of effort to relaxation turns out it feels exactly like the vacation I've been pining for my whole adult life.

What the heck? How did that happen?

Part of it is that we are experienced backpackers. After 2,000 miles of backpacking the AT and other short trips we have some stuff figured out.

There was no stress on the trail for Damien or I about weather, warmth, or safety. We know and trust our gear and our systems. We've tweaked them over many miles. And also, the significance of not being responsible for anyone else can't be overstated.

Perhaps this is what I've been looking for all these years, just a break from taking care of other people's needs.

this is what the trail community refers to as "Vermud"
we had lots of it on our hike

I love the memories I have of sleeping in the tent with my kids, the moments of discovery and joy shared with them on the trail. I love that they have bodily, physical experiences with weather, geology, flora, and fauna from all their outdoor experiences. I love that we've sweated through hot days together and we cuddled up for warmth on frosty nights. These are some of my best parenting memories.

But I am ready and happy to embrace an independence in the outdoors I've never had before. I didn't hike or backpack before marriage or children. These became a part of my life in the context of raising kids. I have only existed as a outdoors-woman in the context of children. And there was a lot of responsibility I carried with that.

And now there isn't. And I get to re-discover my love for the outdoors and the backwoods and the mountain trails as an individual.

What a gift.

I finished this hike talking about the next hike, and re-considering longer trails that I had completely written off after I hiked the AT.

I realized I can do long distance hiking on my own terms. And I can do it because I love it, not because my husband loves it (though he does). And I can spend days in the woods without having to wrestle with deep personal growth (growth that was one time required to just get through the experience).

I can have fun, relax, and rest deeply (mentally, emotionally, and even physically) while backpacking. Who knew?

I came back from our Vermont Long Trail section hike so deeply rested and refreshed. My knees were still sore, and this is something I need to figure out for future trips, but I was completely mentally rested, especially in the area of parenting and homeschooling my teenagers.

The kids' well-being is one of the focal points of my life. And as a details-orientated, naturally anxious person it's easy to lose sight of the big picture and to lose my joy (in the schedules, commitments, and deadlines), and to worry about all the unknowns as we parent and educate our kids through their teen years.

On this trip I arrived, unexpectedly, at a more joyful and lighthearted perspective as a homeschool parent. I experienced a deep feeling of optimism (not something I naturally experience) for my children's futures and I regained vision for seeing my kids through to the end of their high school education, however that unfolds. After hiking for days and being so removed from everything in my life I couldn't remember what I was so uptight about to begin with.

When I woke up at 5am in my sleeping bag I didn't start to get anxious that we had messed up our kids by homeschooling them, worry that we weren't/aren't able to provide them what they need, and that I am a failure as a mother (my usual early-morning angst).

Those thoughts just never even occurred to me as I listened to the wind, the rain, the rushing brook, the unidentified animal noises, or the snoring of a fellow hiker. All I felt was safety and gratitude, as I pulled the hood of my sleeping bag tighter around my head for warmth. And as I would fall back asleep I'd feel a deep sense of peace that all is well in my world - with my kids, their schooling, their future. It's all good.

It's not all easy but we have access to a lot of resources, we are strong and resilient individuals (and our struggles make us stronger), and we have each other. What more can you possibly need?

I came back confident that we will meet the challenges of the coming school year and beyond. And not in a tight-fisted, grit my teeth kind of way, but with a relaxed, open-handed posture.

I think this is what happens when you go on vacation.

Damien and I will do more backpacking trips, I'm positive of this. And after this experience I expect to enjoy myself when we go backpacking.

I expect to sweat, to grind up mountains and feel physically sore at the end of the day (and at the start of the next). I expect the weight of a full pack coming out of a town stop, getting wet in the rain and hot in the sun. I expect mud, roots, and rocks.

And I expect the grace of mountain breezes and flat ridge walking. I expect the ease of a lighter pack the last day before town, finding shelter in the downpour, streams for bathing. I expect evening sunsets and morning mists rising from the lake, section of trail with soft pine needles and fallen leaves.

I expect an environment that makes me feel alive and grateful, fully present to my physical being and the stimulation of my senses, removed from so many of the distractions and stresses of my life (traffic, social media, schedules, and stuff).

It might have taken me nearly 10 years to get here but I may have just found my backpacking groove and sweet spot. For sure, I've re-discovered my love for this activity, or perhaps newly discovered it, on my own terms.

When can we go again?

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  • Mom

    Mom on Oct. 5, 2018, 3:23 p.m.

    Your backpacking-hiking series has been especially meaningful for me: watching and sharing the story develop in real life and the reading of its pleasure and future potential for you. I so hope to share in the mud and the sweat and the joy of more hiking with you. XOXO


  • Dominique

    Dominique on Oct. 5, 2018, 5:27 p.m.

    THANK YOU for sharing so honestly. I can resonate with the rest from responsibility and finding refreshment outdoors. As a mama a bit behind you in the journey, the intense sharing that you do sheds light on the days of motherhood of teenagers. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU... and I'm rejoicing with you and for you, to see such a victory for you after your AT experience.


    • Renee

      Renee on Oct. 5, 2018, 5:40 p.m.

      Dominique, Thank you for sharing in my joy. And I will continue to write and share more about the teenaged and young adult years in my upcoming writing (and other content - something new about be launched!) as I am able to (while still respecting my kids privacy).

      Parenting my teens is incredibly rewarding but also emotionally challenging and I do have those morning wake-ups where I think "what have we done?!"

      Just this morning I had a nightmare-ish dream, unrelated to homeschooling/kids that threw me off, so I woke up feeling vulnerable. And whenever I'm vulnerable I question my mothering. And so I had an "oh no" moment of insecurity re: homeschooling/everything about raising kids.

      And my husband helped snap me out of it with his very practical "it's too late to worry about it now, whatever we've done - good, bad, otherwise - is done".

      Yep, it's a new day. Always.


  • Blythe

    Blythe on Oct. 5, 2018, 6:25 p.m.

    Thank you for this post. I just came out of the woods yesterday on the AT for a 14.5 leg of the trail. I was thinking about your journey along the long trail. My youngest has a love for these woods that I admire and share. We are planning on adding more miles and overnight trips. I find it a bit scary to be responsible for not only myself but for him too. Hiking takes me out of my comfort zone. The unexpected is something that I struggle with. This helps me get a handle on my fears of my aging kids. I have homeschooled these people for their whole lives. Transitioning to a different role is a bit frightening to me. Thanks for the reminder to keep moving forward and being willing to try challenging things.


    • Karen

      Karen on Oct. 5, 2018, 7:14 p.m.

      I loved reading your comment, pulling out these bits: "planning...bit scary....moving forward...being willing to try". I hope you have courage for 'the unexpected....out of the comfort zone" - with all the adventure to be discovered and shared with your kids.


  • Laura

    Laura on Oct. 7, 2018, 2:24 a.m.

    Thank you so much for this series. I really appreciate your reflections, especially on the angst of parenting/homeschooling. I think we're about the same age (I'm nearly 42) but my kids are only 5.75 and 8 and so I'm in such a different stage. I appreciate your reflections as some who is further along this path than me! And I"m so glad you got a true vacation! I experienced some of that rest on vacation this summer as well and I was so grateful.


    • Renee

      Renee on Oct. 8, 2018, 8:55 p.m.

      Laura, you are so welcome. It's funny because this backpacking series of posts wasn't about parenting or homeschooling but that's what resonated with you. And it's what I mention at the end because it's the "thing" that occupies the biggest space in my heart and mind.

      With the start of my Patreon community I am planning to offer more homeschool support/community as Patrons want and need. I've pulled back from sharing a lot of that during my kids teen years to give them space, time and safety. But as my kids start to emerge from teen into young adults I feel more confident sharing more of our homeschool story, and you can be sure it includes doubt/angst/worry (because that is the story of all parents!)


      • Laura

        Laura on Oct. 9, 2018, 1:08 a.m.

        You're right - although definitely not the point of this article, that's clearly what's resonating with me right now. Thanks for sharing!


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