Mar 13, 2007 at 8:22 am #1222343
@stephenn6289Locale: Sunshine State
My friends think that I am kinda crazy because I care so much about backpacking. They see it as a torturous practice in which you experience physical exhaustion, uncleanliness, and discomfort. I, however, see the beauty of carrying everything that I need to survive on my back. I enjoy the adventure of the trail as well as all the planning and gear selection at home. The challenge is also highly attarctive to me. Finally, I'd have to say that I don't like to be a follower, I like that few people (in ratio to all those that don't) actually traverse the backcountry for enjoyment. So my question to you is, Why do you backpack?Mar 13, 2007 at 9:08 am #1382121
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
I think there will be a common line of thought in this thread. My friends who don't backpack think those of us who do are insane. Bugs, hiking, sleeping on the ground, etc isn't for everyone.
Personally it's a matter of simplifying life. Pair that with gorgeous views, an escape from noise and pollution and a chance to meditate and backpacking becomes my favorite thing to do.Mar 13, 2007 at 10:42 am #1382127
@funnymoLocale: Sunshine State
Well put! Couldn't have said it better!
– ToddMar 13, 2007 at 11:29 am #1382131
I got into backpacking because I wanted to see what the world was like beyond 1-2 miles of cities, towns, and highways.
My folks never backpacked and I am actually a very late comer to this activity.Mar 13, 2007 at 1:26 pm #1382142
@aroth87Locale: Missouri Ozarks
I got my start in Scouts. My parents never went car camping even, but my dad started once we got involved in Scouts. We went backpacking a few times and I was hooked.
Now I do it to escape all the hassles of college and life and to get out and enjoy nature. All of my friends think I'm crazy for looking at gear and spending most of my time on forums :).
As much as anything I just like being alone and knowing that I'm the only person responsible for what happens to me while I'm out.
AdamMar 13, 2007 at 1:43 pm #1382144
@rglessLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Most of my coworkers think I'm kind of crazy. I usually just tell them, "there's water and firewood (or the equivalent) everywhere, the food is planned, there's no traffic or crowds. The views are beautiful, and I sleep very well at night. It usually only takes about 200 yards on the trail before I can feel all my worldly cares and hassles start to go away…Mar 13, 2007 at 2:05 pm #1382146
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> My friends think that I am kinda crazy because I care so much about backpacking. They see it as a torturous practice in which you experience physical exhaustion, uncleanliness, and discomfort.
You should encourage them to keep thinking this way. We don't want hordes of scruffy tourists …Mar 13, 2007 at 3:49 pm #1382152
@mitchellkeilLocale: Deep in the OC
To those who don't we are loons, Bug house escapees or certifiable and not to be trusted around the silver and family heirlooms.
To those who do we are kindred spirits in search of something that is always just out of reach and beyond the next bend, hill or horizon.
I went in search of some peace of mind and an opportunity to experience nature up close, raw and unfiltered. The internal conversation that always accompanies me at work, at home and around other urban and suburban denizens I always find myself leaving at the trailhead. Its a blessed relief to just walk and walk and experience my body doing something other than pace between walls that are no more than 12 feet in any direction or the short walk to the car from the office or the grocery store. And regular trips to the gym don't signify. I know I need a wilderness fix when I find myself, as Ishmael, in Moby Dick says: "growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off – then, I account it high time to [backpack] as soon as I can." My wife understands that hiking and backpacking are restorative and that I come back a better man than when I left. Climbing steep switchbacks, making long descents, toping out on a ridge line with a spectacular view that seems to go on for a lifetime brings me such joy that I often feel overwhelmed by the experience. I don't feel that civilized life gives us the room to expand our horizons both in a concrete sense and in the more metaphysical sense. Backpacking and wilderness travel are for me better than drugs, whiskey, and TV. Who needs HD when I can gaze down on Whitney Big Meadow or watch a golden eagle soar right over my head while I fish a Sierra Lake.
Why do I backpack? For the rapture and release from everyday life.Mar 13, 2007 at 6:44 pm #1382176
Great question. I have no eloquent response, but I will try.
Before the trip I enjoy acquiring the skills and equipment I need for self sufficiency, and helping others do the same. This builds my self-confidence, and theirs as well. Planning these trips always gives me something to look forward to.
During the trip I can see parts of this country most natives never see; and share that experience with people who otherwise might have never gone. Taking someone to the summit of Fujisan for the sunrise, taking a Tokyo resident away from the incessant lights to the countryside to see the milky-way for the first time, building their confidence with some top-roped climbing.. At these times I can build friendships and understanding where before there were none. Some of the more difficult trips offer a physical or mental challenge which makes me stronger. My recent crude attempts to learn free climbing come to mind.
After the trip, after doing difficult things, normal life seems easier, and things I took for granted I see in a new light. For example, years ago, after some poor planning on my part I walked many hours without any water and became badly dehydrated. That next drink of ordinary water tasted so amazingly good; I will always remember that moment, like I was brought back to life with that ordinary liquid. I never took water for granted again. I can understand now why some people 'fast', and why it is part of some religious ceremonies.. but I digress..
A large share of the satisfaction I get from trekking comes from sharing the experience with others. So unlike some PBL members who (understandably) enjoy the solitude, I enjoy going with a group. In my mind taking a small group to accomplish things they never thought they could do. This usually leads to hikes below my ability level, but very rewarding nonetheless. When planning a trip with people of a higher skill level than I, I like to set initial conditions such that there is a 50% chance of success, 50% chance of failure (failure to reach the objective, not of death). Like Chouinard said in Climbing Ice; "..the victory was flawed, it was too easy"
And when my co-workers ask why I go on these short trips, imagining how miserable I will be, my reply is: adventure is what happens when things don’t go as planned.Mar 13, 2007 at 8:40 pm #1382191
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Honestly, I really don't know why I go. I just know I have to. For me, it is that much of a drive inside my self, I need it.
I have always thought in a way, that every night out there, I wake up in the morning, and I know I survived a night in the wilderness. Doesn't matter if it is sunny or rainy, I still am happy every morning I am out, when I wake up.
I love being far out, I love being in alpine meadows and walking along isolated ridges :-)Mar 14, 2007 at 8:44 am #1382241
Why? Because there is a big world out there beyond the edge of the road. There are so many things to see. I think of incredible experiences at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and on top of mountains. It's about wild places. On a hike is where my senses are overwhelmed in the beauty of the place and the moment. God's creation is pretty powerful stuff.
This weekend we'll take a bunch of young Scouts out on a short, easy (to me) backpacking trip. Most will complain about carrying all that stuff and how tired they are after walking a few miles. But some of them will find something that catches their imagination. It may lead them to more hiking. It may just inspire them to take action in caring for our natural resources. Hiking can be a tool to open the minds of young folks.
You know. It's just fun. Sometimes that is enough.Mar 14, 2007 at 10:10 am #1382255
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
I'd much rather have "hordes of scruffy tourists" in the backcountry if the result is lots of protected backcountry. I'm afraid that people who know nothing about hiking will not fight to protect what is left.Mar 14, 2007 at 11:19 am #1382265
Hmmm… I am not an elitist — but I think tourism cuts both ways. Yes, people will care more about things that they like and/or are familiar with. But very often, with increased tourism, comes increased demand for "facilities and infrastructure". Of course, this isn't black or white, all or nothing. The devil lies in the details — where does one draw the line?Mar 14, 2007 at 11:49 am #1382271
@mitchellkeilLocale: Deep in the OC
Good Point Ben. I just got finished listening to an NPR report that interviewed someone who lives practically in a National Forest. He loves the peace and quiet that living where he does affords him. He also commented that the "elitest" position of keeping the wild lands pristine and untrammeled by the the "tourists" is a two edged sword. Keep them out or fail to encourage ordinary people from using and visiting our Parks and Wilderness areas and you run the very real risk of these same voters not understanding or caring about these same wilderness areas. Witness the growing grafetti problem. It is a real issue,INMHO, and one with no really good solution. We do run the risk of a large portion of our society not seeing any interest in preserving for the future these lands or species that occupy these lands. Look at the current assault on the Endangered Species Act. Where is the larger constituency clamouring for continued protection of wilderness lands? There are too few of us and we can ill afford an "elitist" attitude toward "tourists." We need to reach out to those we do encounter on the trail who don't seem to exhibit proper trail etiquette or behavior.Mar 14, 2007 at 12:15 pm #1382275
I'll be honest. I don't much care for overnighters. They don't do the two thing I really need to feel the love of backpacking.
1) Help me lose body weight. I am notorious for putting on weight during the school year, despite getting out and hiking/biking/"gymming" 3-6 days a week. I am naturally a big guy and if I don't consciously starve myself (which I did in the Marine Corps), I tend to gain weight. But when I step off on a 3-6 week through-hike, I lose an average of a pound a day, in a way that seems almost effortless.
2) Help me lose soul weight. After an academic year of kids who are in state custody, abusing illegal substances, being killed in botched convenient store robberies, being arrested for assaulting staff or damaging property, and dealing with a system where you, as the chief disciplinarian, are also this poor child's closest thing to a real friend and caregiver, I NEED some time to lose some of the angst. Time in wild places also helps me pare away all the clutter of traffic, noise, deadlines, evening news, and everything that weighs down on my heart.
Backpacking becomes as much a spiritual event as a physical endeavor. The cathedral of mountains is grander than the likes of Notre Dame, the sharpness of an alpine clearer than a baptismal pool. Wild places, largely untouched by man's presence, help me to put life in perspective. I am bigger for the effort, yet happily small in the meaning and flow of the world.Mar 14, 2007 at 1:58 pm #1382292
@hammer-oneLocale: Walking With The Son
Just when I was looking for some glib answer I get to Shawn's post (well put by the way). The thing about the question is there is no wrong answer. My counter question is why not? Why NASCAR and a 12 pack, why golf and time at the clubhouse, why video games or nonstop tv (I'm not judging any of these right or wrong mind you, just asking the same question from MY perspective).
Back in the late 80's when I started backpacking just about everyone asked why backpacking? Nowadays it seems to be more accepted, at least among my circle (maybe everyone tolerates me with that same one eyebrow up look you get if you were to say," I can fly, because the voices in my head say so").:-)
I usually try to explain the beauty of a mountain top view, or the joy of drinking from a mountain spring, the incredible silence to be found at times, the smells, the incredible celestial light show unencumbered by light pollution, the freedom of carrying your house on your back, etc. In the end you realize that they'll never get it, which is probably just as well. If everyone knew and felt what we do about being in the outdoors, the experience would probably be something akin to backpacking on a mountain top freeway.Mar 14, 2007 at 10:29 pm #1382367
If everyone knew and felt what we do about being in the outdoors, the experience would probably be something akin to backpacking on a mountain top freeway.
You Americans are incrediably lucky to have all that grandiose space. Here in Japan the mountains literally are very often highways. It isn't uncommon to be trudging up a trail and have groups of 50 to 100 (Japanese love traveling in big groups) come juggernauting down the opposite way, forcing you to stop every twenty minutes to wait for them to pass and, get this, because of the tradition here of always greeting mountain walkers, having to cheerfully sound out "Good morning!" or "Good afternoon!" to EVERY one of the individuals in the groups! Last summer, descending from the peaks early one morning to catch the bus at the bottom, I passed over 20 such groups. By the time the 15th group appeared in front of me and they didn't even stop to let me pass, I lost my temper with the leader, telling him that after having to wait for over 500 people to pass me my generosity was wearing very thin. Of course the leader and the group were completely amenable and stood aside to let me pass… after all they were up in the here because they love the mountains, too.
In spite of the people, and very often because of the people, I nevertheless love backpacking even in Japan. For myself it is as others have written here, when I get up there and out there it feels as if the bungee cords that strap me to the complications of city life snap away and only the things that life really asks of you remain. The lighter the pack and simpler the gear the more engrossed in a place you become. Like the simplicity of animals, who are literally completely immersed in their surroundings. When I am out in the mountains I always feel that the reasons we are alive all click into place… the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects all in one, without discrepancy or hypocrisy.
As for meeting other people, there is something about the mountains or being out in wild, demanding places that forces people to become humbler and more interdependant. The close-mouthed, often stoically private Japanese of the cities suddenly turn into the friendliest, most generous, kindest people you can imagine. Countless times I've had food shared with me. On several occasions, especially when I was new to backpacking, I've had individuals literally save me in dangerous situations. And I never hesitate to do the same in return. I like who these people and I become. It's the way people are supposed to take care of one another. The Earth demands generosity and consideration for survival; something that so often is lost in cities until some big disaster happens.
The trick is how to make backpacking happen more often in my life. I dream about it all the time, literally every day, but can never get out as much as I need to.Mar 14, 2007 at 11:34 pm #1382373
Compared to Japaneses swimming pools and beaches, Japanese mountains are actually quite underused! :)Mar 15, 2007 at 8:19 am #1382400
@geekguyandyLocale: New York State
I started in late high school as something to do with friends. I always like being outdoors.
I keep doing it because it's my way of proving to myself that diabetes isn't limiting. I was diagnosed with Type 1 (significantly different than type 2 and always gets confused with it) 3 years ago. Getting 3 hours away from the closest road is incredibly scary when I know that there's a good chance that my bloodsugar will drop, and the very slight chance of passing out on the trail. I'm too confortable normally, knowing that help and sugar is everywhere, so I like getting out, and knowing that I have the skills and packed the right things to bring me there without worrying too much. I've never met another backpacker with diabetes, so it makes me feel a little special too.
With all that said, I really enjoy the outdoors and would be hiking regardless. I just won't hike alone.Mar 15, 2007 at 10:02 am #1382410
@redleaderLocale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
A few years ago a mother and her 18 year old son hiked with us. They were both diabetic but were determined to enjoy their lives to the fullest. They gave us demonstrations of how to give insulin injections in an emergency. The son had never backpacked and joined our group to train for a Boy Scouting 50 mile hike. They were quite a pair.Mar 15, 2007 at 11:28 am #1382421
I never thought about that, but how right you are. The people I meet on the trail might be from downtown Tokyo, but they act so much nicer.. no, friendlier, on the trail. I try to keep my patience and answer those "good mornings" as well..Mar 15, 2007 at 11:51 am #1382424
Andy, I have diabetes also. I was diagnosed as Type 2 originally but due to genetic propensities it turned into a rare case of Type 1. I now require insulin four times a day. When I got the disease in 1997 I thought my life was over. I thought I'd never be able to backpack or do any of the things I love again. Through a lot of trial and error and lots of self-education (it's scary having diabetes in a land where the methods are 20 years behind and education about diabetes is still in the dark ages, in spite of Japan being a leader in diabetes research!) I've managed to do ten years of backpacking, albeit with some truly terrifying experiences with running out of food on two long walks, high in the mountains. I'm much more wary and hesitant about getting out to the mountains than I used to be, and packing for food is a major undertaking, much more difficult for me than packing the pack with gear. I have a tendancy to take too much food because I'm so scared of not taking enough.
So I understand your feeling of accomplishment in getting away from the roads (and away from the Land of Sugar). Last year when I accomplished a ten day walk without getting low blood sugar I was immensely joyous on the way out. I even met a doctor up top while I was injecting myself with insulin and he voiced great pleasure in seeing me up there and taking care of myself, but also in that I didn't let my disease stop me from doing what I love doing. I don't know what I would do if I became unable to get out to the mountains again. I just can't imagine losing that sense of grace and joy.
Andy, have you seen Madidea, a Yahoo Newsgroup that caters to diabetics who love sports? Most of the members are very serious mountaineers (quite a few have climbed Everest). Some very good advice sometimes.Mar 15, 2007 at 11:57 am #1382426
Ben, I wouldn't know about the beaches and pools. I never go! LOL. But you're right, the beaches and pools here are, well, simply hard to imagine what people find at all attractive about them. No different from the sardine can rush hour commuter trains. Ugh! I can just hear those plucked violins playing to the scene of army ants crawling up some poor traveller's leg!
But I wouldn't say that Japanese mountains are underused… some of the erosion up there due to the thousands of tramping feet is quite horrendous. I don't go to the Tanzawa Mountains just west of Tokyo any more because in the 25 years since I started walking there the tops of nearly all the mountains have gone bald due to erosion. Some of the erosion gullies that used to be trails, that have been ground away by all the tramping feet, have literally had at times three meters of soil washed away, so you end up walking in these huge, muddy tunnels and never see the forest around. The fix that the authorities proposed? Build wooden stairs and plank paths on all the trails instead of cutting the number of people who go there. The result is endless stair climbing and truly ugly scenes of crumbling mountain tops and continued hordes of hikers, most of whom never ever do anything to help restore the trails. And just as bad is the huge over population of sika deer that die in the hundreds every year from starvation.
Most of the hikers who go hiking there, or in many other areas of Japan, know very little about the ecology of the places they are visiting and so see nothing wrong with the landscape. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss I guess.Mar 15, 2007 at 4:17 pm #1382453
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
Re: "The thing about the question is there is no wrong answer." Oh, Yeah? Here's my answer: because backpacking is good excercise for the entire family. I make the little wifie carry all the water and the shelter, I make our little ankle nippers carry all the food, and I follow along behind making sure they keep up a proper pace. It toughens up everyone!Mar 15, 2007 at 5:26 pm #1382466
@hammer-oneLocale: Walking With The Son
Ok, maybe there are a few "wrong" answers like "to get to my "pot", man" or "because the feds will never find me there, dude"(and they might not be wrong either, depending on your perspective) :)
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