Monday, May 11, 2015

Backpacking: Why I'm Doing This.

So, those of you who know me (and I know many of you have for some time now) might find yourself wondering why I of all people am getting so dedicated to what is essentially repeated, exhausting, constant activity and exertion. Others of you might already know, or might know in part. If nothing else, this should help fill in the gaps for you. I know that if any of my old gym teachers were to happen upon this blog, and somehow recognize me that their reaction would somehow resemble the 'choosing the wrong grail' deaths from Indiana Jones. I am not a person renowned for activity or athleticism. I do however love the outdoors. Those of you who don't see my obsession with backpacking as unusual are probably thinking of my love for camping and the like, and not focusing on how much walking is really involved.

And it's true. I've always had a very difficult time with more traditional sports and gym activities and the like. I'm not fast on my feet. Not for very long, anyway. My legs have always been long, and my tendons not quite long enough, this has always made it a challenge to move fast for long without it getting painful. Never been a runner at all. I can recall a few instances where sadistic gym teachers refused to accept my 20 minute mile, and cruelly put me through it again. No. I'm still not over it. Yes, it was in like... 5th or 6th grade. No. I haven't forgotten having to do it. Nor have I forgiven whatever neanderthal had nothing better to do than collectively waste our time with it. So why walk all day long? Well, Walking's a different story! I don't have to go fast, I just have to keep going.

This all takes root in a ski accident the better part of a decade ago. Fell at the end of the season, and snapped parts of my tibia off. Now they're bolted back on with Titanium. Go Cyborgs! But, getting back to some semblance of functional after that necessitated a lot of working out. The whole thing just drove home over and over again how little I cared for exercise for exercise's sake. Despite being a hedonist at heart and absolutely loathing what a painful, unpleasant experience it is on a treadmill, or lifting weights or riding an exercise bike, the hardest part of it is the banality. I'm Extremely ADD, and I have no love for painful things, but compared to how I feel about boredom, it makes me look positively masochistic. Going to the gym is an incredible challenge for me. The actions performed there are dull and repetitive and performed in a relatively sterile and unengaging environment. Even worse, they're painful and grueling. This prevents me from my usual solution, escaping into daydream or entertainment media. I just can't engage with it, and escape into netflix, music, or television when my body keeps reminding me that it's there.

I forget where I read it, but I know it gets discussed. If you want a fitness program to be effective, it can't just be a thing you do for awhile and then stop. You'll just backslide. No, it needs to become a way of life. And, I'm still me. I don't want to subscribe to most of the fitness-oriented ways of life. I don't want to become one of those guys with 26.2 stickers plastered all over the back of a subaru. I don't want to constantly talk people's ears off about crossfit. I don't want working out to become my life. Theres too much... saccharine and testosterone and motivational posters that have no effect on me floating around in there. I can't make that my life. I could pretend for awhile, but I'm no good at living lies.

Then we get the winter of 2013/2014. I don't know how it went where you were, but in Wisconsin it was one of the least pleasant winters we'd had in awhile. Constant assaults from polar vortices and a winter that just would not die left me rabid with cabin fever. I put a lot of effort into collecting all my old camping pictures, contacting friends for albums that had long since vacated their original homes on facebook, and tossing them all on my server. Prowling the outdoor-oriented sections of Reddit, obsessing over gear. At the time, I was still pretty focused on the Car Camping thing too. But then I stumbled on some videos. Outtake reels from some through-hiker documentaries.

Enchafe The Brutality was the first. Followed by Coloradon't. Then Roaming Wyoming and The Last Best Takes. All of them, outtakes from a northbound hike up the Continental Divide Trail. I watched them. Rewatched them. Devoured everything else on Team Bad Wizard's Youtube Channel. I wanted to do this. I wanted to go on adventures like these. Still thinking about getting their documentaries, but at $40/ea, I feel weird buying DVDs when I bought a hammock for $30. I feel like gear ought to come first in my budget. I haven't stopped watching videos of hiking stuff either. I really like what they did in this one, Halfway Anywhere's Three Second Thru Hike of the PCT. "Mile, Mile and a Half" on Netflix, that sort of thing.

One thing I noticed in these videos? Through Hiking works up a monster appetite. These people were devouring whatever they could get their hands on, and still staying in shape. This appeals to the glutton in me. I've heard tale of a challenge where halfway through one of the major trails, there's a general store. Legend has it that through hikers attempt to devour a whole box of icecream there. I don't necessarily want to consume that much ice cream... but being able to do so without worry would be awesome.

So here we have it. Here's a lifestyle I can get into, actually live for this thing that'll get me out there and active. Something I don't have to force myself into doing. Something that looks like it can build quite the bond with your fellow hikers. I don't need motivational sayings, or a pep rally. I don't need a training coach or an armband for an ipod. Hiking isn't a repetitive, rote action done solely for the end result, no, it's rewarding in and of its self. Going on a hike is it's own reward, and it's constantly rewarding! If it's anything like car camping, even the unpleasant parts will be rewarding, as stories of what you've endured or as experiences to learn from.

And it's outdoors! I might struggle to complete an entire hour on the treadmill, but I'll tell you, my segment hike of the Ice Age Trail was 200x easier than that hour on a treadmill. I walked 4 times as far, through much tougher terrain but time flew past like a rocket. My love for the outdoors anesthetized me from most of the unpleasantness of the exertion. I was seeing new places, doing new things, testing gear out. I was not for a single second bored on my hike. I was exhilarated, confused, overtaxed, thirsty, hungry, happy, amazed, sore, frustrated, surprised, in pain, and relieved to reach my campsite... but not once was I bored. Not once did I want to quit.

Also it involves gear! Not only do I get to hunt for my own gear, but if I have any hope of talking friends into joining me, I'll probably need to find them the best, cheapest options so they're equipped to join me. (none of them seem to be taking it serious yet, so we're hoping for next year). I thrive on one, being well equipped for things, but also two being able to make recommendations to others. Just the other day a poster on Reddit was asking what people thought of a $50 50L backpack being sold by wal-mart. I happened to be in one of the local wal-marts and I put it on, sent them my impressions of it (it was way too small for a 6'2" 250lb person, and it felt cheap compared to the Jansport Katahdin 50L which can be had for virtually the same price)

Yeah. This is my way of getting in better shape without lying about who I am. It's about getting out into the outdoors and branching out from car camping. It's about gear obsession and cabin fever. And I'm doing this blog because I don't have enough ears to chew about it. There aren't any active IRC communities I can find. I haven't been able to sell people on joining me yet. I keep forgetting to get in touch with a local meetup group focused on it.

And now you know why.

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