I've come a long long way in my "trail smarts" from the first bushwhacking, backpacking trip (if you can call it that) my brother and I took to the Land Between the Lakes in southwestern Kentucky. Sitting on the banks of Kentucky Lake with our campfire two feet from my brother's Walmart tent, we thought it didn't get much better than that. We were hikers, no better than that, we were backpackers. Along the way I've learned just how clueless I was then and I've picked up some valuable life lessons and morsels of advice since. Here are four things I've learned from the trail.
1. Take it one step at a time: It might sound cliche' and predictable but it's one of the most important things I've learned from the trail. In our lives often times we make a habit of looking way up the road, squinting, even straining to see what's around the bend when really what we should be focusing on is that root right in front of us that we're about to trip over. I've been on several trips where you get so exhausted you can't do anything but think about putting one foot in front of the other. Twenty one miles, in one day, on the Buffalo River Trail in Northern Arkansas was excruciating but I had to take it just one step at a time, because each step got me closer to camp that night.
2. Say hello to every hiker you come in contact with: You never know when you might call upon that fellow hiker to save your butt way out in the backcountry. I can remember doing a 22 mile loop in the western part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. My brother and I, still green horns in the backpacking scene, each one of us carrying about 50 pounds of gear on that overnight trek... to a shelter. Almost none of the gear essential and we had the grand idea that we were going to boil our water over an open camp fire... it had rained hard the night before and everything was doused. If it hadn't been for the kindness of a small group of hikers we had met earlier that day we would have been very thirsty or sick. Instead they let us filter water with their pump and even offered us some amazing dinner they cooked up that night at camp. Hiking and backpacking is a community and we're all at different stages of the journey. I only hope I can return the favor to some newbie one day.
3. Get up to watch the sunrise: It's a must do for me on every trip. It doesn't matter if I'm in the densely wooded mountains or the wide open desert I want to be up to greet the sun and enjoy the awe inspiring view. Too often in our lives we don't stop to take in the little things, the formalities that occur around us everyday. We're too plugged in, too unaware to realize that we're just a small cog in this big blue spaceship orbiting the sun.
4. Don't shower while on the trail: There are few better pleasures in life than that first shower after five days and four nights hiking in the hot desert. Endure the smell, disregard the stickiness and dirt caked in your hair until you hit the hotel room and it's all worth the wait. In addition, few things taste better than that first big, greasy burger once getting off the trail. It's the small things...
What are some things you've learned from your backpacking and hiking experiences?