October 5, 2018
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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