Today I am leaving for the wilderness.
I like to say that I’m a backpacker. To be honest, I feel like sort of a fake backpacker. I haven’t hiked the PCT from Mexico to Canada (I do watch films and read about it, however), and the longest trip I’ve been on on was four nights … and night one was at base camp. And I was with a guide. And I had a panic attack on day three when the forest caught on fire (wouldn’t anyone?). I had a terrible pack, heavy gear and no clue what I was doing.
I have friends who spent a month hiking the John Muir Trail. Those people are backpackers. My last trip involved a tram ride, a three mile walk in tennis shoes, a day-pack overfilled with a box of wine, a crash pad and climbing gear. Let’s say it was not your conventional trip — my Sherpa-esque stud of a man-friend not only carried all of the camping gear, but a second crash pad … and wore flip flops. To be fair, it was his idea.
Prior to that, a scheduling change and a foot injury turned a planned three day trip into a day-hike with a car-camping-drunk-cheeseburger-in-the-river-glamp-fest (to be honest, it was quite awesome and totally worth it). The trip before that turned into a one night trek that involved completely wetting out a Gortex shell in an unexpected hail and thunder storm that destroyed my two week old cell phone (I learned expensive lessons this day; lessons that involve Lifeproof phone cases, gloves and pack covers).
In light of this confession, I find it interesting that people comment about my lifestyle as being active. I have never thought of myself as being active — in fact, quite the opposite. I see people with lifestyles that I admire (like all those people I know who hiked the 200+ mile JMT), and by comparison I feel fairly lazy. And I certainly don’t feel athletic. I’ve spent my whole life with the the grace of an awkward baby giraffe; all elbows and knees, clumsy. It’s hard to feel like the beautiful woman society tells me I should be when I’m constantly bruised and battered and banging into stationary objects — and that’s not even trying to be athletic.
When I am home, lounging, I see myself in the mirror and I see someone with bad skin, graying hair, knobby knees and large feet. I’ve stared into the mirror trying to figure out in what ways men have found me attractive. I try to make different faces, or find the right angle to stand at that makes me look curvier than a popsicle stick. I think my feet would look smaller if I wore taller heels; and then I realize that taller heels will turn me into a towering, frightening, giant of a woman; I think of Godzilla, destroying the city. I think of a bull in a china shop. I think of George in the puffy coat. Awkward.
So, today I am leaving for the wilderness.
I’ve been planning this trip since the moment I stopped sulking about my injured foot and started rehabbing the shit out of it. Four and half days of legit back-country lay before me. My gift to myself for spending the last ten years fake backpacking. Because trust me, ten years is a long time to prepare. I will go forth, and I will be active.
I will not have a panic attack when someone says the forest is on fire (because, well, it actually is). I will not have raw hips from bringing the crappy backpack with the terrible hip belt. My pack will most certainly not weigh 35 pounds.
What is different this time around, you might ask? Aside from the fact that I’m ten years older and ten years more mature, I suppose you could also say that I’m ten years more confident. I even wonder, myself, how I came about this increase in confidence … and I really, really had to sit down and think about it. Here’s what I came up with:
- I actually did become active. I run as much as I can. It’s not far, and it’s not fast, but it gets me moving and the more I do it the better I feel. I need to keep taking breaks when my stubborn foot starts to hurt, but I keep at it. I started rock climbing. It’s a mental challenge, as well as a physical one. Yoga, hiking, walking — I try to do something most days. Be persistent, and do what works for you.
- I learned to stop putting myself down. I still have negative thoughts, but now I catch myself. And I stopped letting myself think negatively about others. There’s no place in my life for that. Stay positive whether you feel like it or not.
- I gave myself more time. I used to always expect instant results … if I tried something and didn’t succeed right away, I’d often give up. Now I look back at where I was a year ago, and I’m amazed. It’s not good to compare, but it’s definitely good to keep an eye on progress. Be patient; take time.
- I cancelled cable. I was spending so much money on television that I felt obligated to watch it as much as possible. I never realized what a time-suck it was. I stick to Netflix now — it’s so inexpensive that I don’t feel bad for not watching it at all for a month. Don’t be too passive.
- And specific to backpacking … I did my research. I read, shopped, tried, and bought my own gear, packed my own pack; returned things, scrapped things, asked people questions, borrowed gear, tested things, trial-and-error-ed like crazy on lots of tiny little trips. Taking ownership of things is truly confidence building.
- I take advice. Sometimes being humble is the best way to learn and grow. Sometimes falling on my face is the best thing that can happen to me. I’m good with that. I could honestly talk about failing for days on end. And I can honestly say that something good has come out of every failure — hard to see at times, but it’s true. I welcome criticism.
- I learned how to take a compliment. You just have to say, “thank you.” It’s easy. I used to think that people only paid me compliments because they were trying to be nice and not hurt my feelings. I couldn’t fathom that anyone actually meant it. If people want to pay me fake compliments, that’s their problem. I don’t require their compliments, but I have come to understand that some people actually are genuinely nice. And that is heartwarming. I appreciate the hell out of those people.
And with that, I am ready to face the wilderness! Ready to get away from the hustle and bustle; to listen to the wind in the pines, to be woken by songbirds, to see the sunset over a mountain, the stars come out one-by-one, and the sunrise birthing each new day. I’m going to savor every moment of this trek.