Monday, November 23, 2015

5 Life Lessons Backpacking Taught Me

Growing up my family taught me a large appreciation for the Great Outdoors. Hiking with my father and grandmother early in life formed a spirit of adventure and love for nature.  I feel like we have passed on to my two sons. Growing up in rural Texas, I spent a lot of time hiking around the Colorado River, exploring caves, playing hide and seek with friends in the hill country. In fact, graduation night I will never forget our Glen Rose M&W Ranch adventure. As a college student, I backpacked, canoed, and explored the Great American West.  As young adult hiked the Grand Canyon in 1999, parts of the AT in 1999, 5 trips in a tent across Europe from 1998-2009, Ontario in 2010 and 2012, and have camped in over 33 states. During the last 5 years, like so many became preoccupied with other things and haven't backpacked. I know I haven't backpacked alone in over 20 years. This last weekend I was fortunate to connect with the North Texas Outdoors Meetup Group and took a leap of faith. Backpacking continues to teach me so much about life.

New Years Eve 1999: I slept at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, 22 degrees, and hiked 22 miles.

Me November 22, 2015. Nothing like the Grand Canyon, but I did it! 
  1. We need less than we think. In the past, my husband Uel would carry the tent and I carried the water, food, and heavy items. This time, I got to carry only what I needed alone. I did it and took more than I needed. Meeting very experienced backpackers, I learned how to reconsider my needs. Backpacking teaches us to really consider needs versus wants. Needs are things that keep you alive and physically or mentally healthy. Everything else is a want. Most things in modern society are wants. A big house? A want. A shiny new phone? A want. A nice vacation? Probably a want. The prestigious job? A want. You can tie your happiness and sense of self worth to your wants, but you don’t have to, and don’t worry, letting go of your wants won’t kill you either (that’s the definition of a want). That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get things you want. But I find that I appreciate getting what I want more, because rather than feeling like I’m getting something I’m entitled to, I can feel like I received an unexpected gift.
  2. Learning through failures: Backpacking requires you to test your limits. Did you plan accordingly? Did you bring everything you needed? What could you have done differently? The experienced group I met utilizes spreadsheets to accurately plan and track their progress. All in the group reflect after each trip. I was surprised how many programmers, engineers, health care professionals, and educators were in my group. All are professionals, many females, seeking a natural challenge. However, also don't forget to celebrate your victories. 
  3. Unplugging helps you reconnect with yourself. Unplugging in nature really helps us reconnect with ourselves, our goals, and provides us time to consider were we are in life. Night skies are the best and remind us of the vast universe.  
  4. Hiking heals: Hiking offers serious health benefits, from lowering blood pressure, assists with depression, to improving creativity and cognitive functions. Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. I was fortunate to meet 3 other women who just this year finalized a divorce and experienced major life changes. Together the four of us worked through experiences, challenges. and formed a friendship.