My posts about modest local walks probably indicate that I have an interest in a real and long walk, somewhere, almost anywhere. It’s been hard to say exactly why so I’ll try that here. In my discussion with others in my life: a) they don’t get it, and, b) they aren’t supportive, mostly for their own reasons. But I can’t get it out of my head and I feel I must find a way to do it.
When I was much younger I did a fair amount of backpacking including some week+ trips. That was easy then, being young, not far removed from college athletics. Not so easy now, but even more compelling. While there are many good (and not so good) things about backpacking the one I remember is the requirement to be resilient and self-sufficient. I never did anything really hard or dangerous, but a few times, if I’d been stupid and not resourceful about solving problems, my trips could have been life-threatening. No I’m not a thrill junkie, but I like the idea, that with minimum assistance and mostly my wits I can do something like that. You appreciate a drink of good water much more when it’s hard to find than a quick trip to the fridge. Lousy freeze-dried food tastes pretty good when it’s all you’ve got. Simply put, in our modern world (and my life in high tech) backpacking was a way to connect with my more primitive nature and inherent human abilities to survive and prevail.
So, for me, it’s the old meme, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. To encounter difficulties, unpleasantness, even dangerous, and survive, and even more so, enjoy yourself is an experience you can’t get other ways.
Due to my nearly three year weight loss kick I’m actually in, perhaps, the best physical shape in my life. The sheer volume of exercise (to burn calories, but also increase fitness) is the most I’ve ever done. But I need a goal, a reason (more than weight control) to push myself to meet the numerous numerical goals I set. And I feel the biological clock ticking – my ability to do something like this won’t last much longer, no matter how much I try. It’s now or never and never is not an option. So, one way or another, for my next year’s 70th birthday I’m going to find a way to do the trip I keep obsessing about.
I face two challenges, one fairly easy to overcome, one not so easy. The easy one is my age and some accommodation I have to make to my body. Nope, no sleeping on the ground with a thin mat and mummy bag – these days my body needs to sprawl a bit. Then there is the nightly nature call I used to be able to ignore. When I left California any chance of quickie backtracking trips (even good hikes) came to an end (but I thank Iowa for the Wabash Trace, at least something). I went stir crazy when I first moved here and threw my backpacking stuff in the car and headed south, ending up at Big Bend National Park and at least camping and a few longish day hikes. But age caught up with me and I even thought my camping days were over. But then I realized if gasoline and car was carrying my tent I didn’t have to get by with a 3lb lightweight backpacking trip, and, oh yeah, even a queen size air mattress. So I realized I could make some changes and still do walks (or outdoor trips) even now. And I can make other changes that may be required but still find a way to get the real essence of a physically challenging adventure.
So today that means some trek where I can overnight and eat without worrying about the weight of my pack. And there are lots of possibilities for that. At first, after seeing The Way I was fascinated with the Camino de Santiago, but now I’m not so sure (a little too easy, definitely too crowded). I haven’t found any treks in the U.S. one can do unsupported or without backpacking, but in the more densely populated parts of the world, esp. those with a trekking tradition (and as a concession to age, safe) there are still choices. I’m sure I can find one.
So my challenge, esp. as I’m probably fit enough (and could train more if I need), is getting “permission”. I’ve got a couple of people in my life who are strongly discouraging me from doing this. The simplest (but hardest to solve) is my 100YO mother who panics at the thought I’d not be a phonecall and 10 minutes away. Well, for 20 years of her retirement she toured in their RV without being tied down – don’t I deserve a little of the same? And for 15 years I have been “on call” most of my days. So the guilt trip she does may be hard to overcome, but I don’t accept the notion that with my limited time to do this I should “wait” until she’s gone (she’s in great health so by that time I might not be able to walk with my steadily increasing joint wear).
Then there’s my spouse who is irritated that I’d want to do a trip that doesn’t include her. She can’t (and doesn’t want to) do a long walk, so therefore it’s reasonable to her that I have to compromise my interest to find something we can do together. Well: a) we’ve done lots of trips together, mostly with her agenda, and, b) an easy car trip with short walks I expect to be able to do for decades more, but the clock is ticking on a long walk. She perceives my interest as “selfish”, but: a) maybe it is, but don’t I deserve, after 70 years a little for myself, and, b) forcing me to do trips that only meet her requirements is a little selfish too.
So it’s easy for me to reject these guilt trips people are laying on me as unjustified. But that said, it’s still rather hard to go against what they’re saying.
So to do a long walk is going to have a high price for me (even including financial) and so it had better be worth it and not just some fantasy I have.
So why do it?
Some people like the treks for the people they meet, both locals along the route and fellow trekkers. Sounds good, but there are lots of ways to get that experience (car camping in Wyoming gets a lot of that, or even a foreign trip, even if from the window of a tour bus, at least partially). So that’s a bonus, but not my main reason.
No, my reason is simple. I wish to test myself. I want the trip to be hard enough to challenge me, but not kill me (or some serious outcome, mugged, injured, kidnapped, etc). I want to prove, not to anyone else, but to myself I can do this. My backpacking trips remove some of the romance and I know longish trips have their problems – getting dirty, some injuries, bugs, bad sleep, bugs, sunburn, etc. It’s not all wonderful. Nature is trying to kill us (or at least suck our blood) all the time. To survive takes resourcefulness. Even such a civilized trip as the Camino is still a bit of ordeal and bad things can happen. So while I’m not a thrill seeker, OTOH, I want a bit of pain and suffering, and to prevail. To overcome my own laziness and weakness and keep on keepin’ on. No, I’m not going to thru-hike the AT or PCT, but I can do something harder than any routine thing I’ve done. And at the end of each day there is no car (or bus or train) or motel (maybe a hostel) or fancy dinners – no just the basics, water, safety, self-medical help (or emergency help), some place to sleep, some place to eat. Just enough. Sure I like “luxury” trips too – last year’s trip to Santa Fe (via Wyoming and Utah) was fine. Clean beds every night, good places to eat – nothing wrong with a trip like that. But it’s too easy.
And even my camping trips to Wyoming are “too easy”. Once campground reservations on the Internet became possible, now they’re mandatory. My favorite campground, certainly my favorite campsite, is impossible to get into without reservations. So that means a strict schedule, nothing spontaneous, so all the other roads are not taken since if it’s Tuesday that means site X and Thursday is site Y. Again, not a bad trip, but not what I want. I want some uncertainty and definitely not a fixed schedule (except maybe the plane flight on each end of the trip). My ideal trip would have my minimum living requirements readily available no matter what path I took.
I’ve only made a few trips to Europe and then to Japan and China (both business, a little sightseeing) so there is a lot of world out there I’ve never seen. So why go through the trouble and expense of a trip to see just a few hundred miles. Well, simple, I’ve done the rush-rush, more cities, more museums, more sights to see, more food to sample type trips, and so seeing a small part of the world one footstep at a time is what I’m looking for. So what if I’ve taken the time/cost to get to Germany and all I see is one river and a few towns; it’s the experience, especially including I do (most of) it with my own power.
So hopefully I’ll get my wish. All I can do at the moment is stay on the treadmill and keep doing the Wabash (all to keep up my walking fitness) and continue to scan the Net for the trip that finally might come together for me.
Wish me luck.