Why I Like Backpacking (and how it almost made me cut my hair off)


Whenever I’m home, I’d rather be backpacking, and whenever I’m backpacking, I’d rather be home. This is the universal fact of my life. It’s frustrating sometimes, always wanting to be somewhere else, but I suppose it’s a perfect manifestation of the age-old, parent-repeated idea of the “grass is always greener.” It’s easy to lose the feeling of cold winter nights or boots so frozen your feet won’t fit in them when the heat is on too high and your nightly cup of chamomile has started to taste more and more like leaf-flavored water. And when you’re shivering in your sleeping bag or really not in the mood for more Ramen, it’s normal to forget how microwaves and toilets and showers stop being fun after a few hours of being able to use them.

Dumb as it sounds, my first backpacking experience really did change how I view discipline and fun, and how they can intersect sometimes. My brother, a pretty seasoned hiker, decided to take me to one of his favorite places on the Appalachian Trail. We arrived at the trailhead later than planned, and didn’t start walking until 6 pm. He was pretty set on camping at the top of Three Ridges, so we hiked 9.5 miles, some of it in the dark and most of it uphill. We set up our tents and made watery bowls of Ramen in silence – it was 11 pm, well past hiker’s midnight (9 pm), and, no matter where you are, it is always rude to wake people up. I didn’t have to worry about being woken up though, because I didn’t sleep at all that night and there were no other people around. My stomach hurt because I was nervous and because Ramen wasn’t exactly a staple of my diet. All night, I tried to untangle the sounds of squirrels and deer from the sound of a bear’s approach. My brother’s snores only made the thrashing leaves more imposing.

The first thing I saw in the morning was light as it struck the obnoxious yellow fabric of my tent. I felt like I was cradled in a bowl of really ephemeral mac and cheese, which seemed nice at first. But when I stuck my head out of the tent, the yellow was gone. The sky was divided into pink and blue, and the tree textures pushed out so clear against the remnants of sunrise. I felt afraid for a moment, but I’m still not sure why. All I know is I was happy that I got to eat breakfast instead of being a bear’s breakfast, and that I had this whole day in front of me. It was also strange though, knowing that behind me were these weird lights reflections that once made me feel safe but now made me kind of claustrophobic. I put my tent away as fast as I could.

When I got back home, I realized how long it had been since I thought about grades, my future, or how my hair looked. While sitting in my tent that night, I would have traded my entire head of hair for safety and some Tums. On the ride home though, I thought about cutting all my hair off; backpacking made it knotty, so it seemed impractical if I was going to keep at this whole hiking and camping thing. I didn’t end up cutting it off, but it was cool to not think or care about how awful I’d look with short hair for five minutes. It was cool to be excited about a bed and a stove too. For a few hours after the trip, I was both a child and an adult – fascinated by and excited about the dumbest things, but washed with a new trust that I could still live and be happy without them.

I’m travelling to Alaska in a few days to spend a month or two staying in a tent and not showering very often. It’s not backpacking because we won’t be very mobile, but it’ll definitely be rougher conditions for longer than I’m used to. Even though I won’t have great internet (or hygiene) for awhile, I’ll probably end up writing something about my trip for this grand website. Prepare yourselves for a slightly sappy what-I-learned-this-summer post, with the inevitable closing metaphor about life. Going into this whole shebang, I can say with both confidence and anxiety that backpacking, or even just roughing it, have taught me that it’s nice to be disciplined sometimes, to take yourself away from nice things. Not that you have to stay away from them forever, just long enough to make them nice again. You’ll be proud of yourself and maybe find other nice things to like too. At the very least, you’ll have some good stories to tell, and isn’t life just a bunch of stories anyway?

Like backpacking? Check out this article on how to pack for your upcoming trip.

Becky is an environmental science and poetry major, who really likes cats. A habitual walker, Becky loves to hike and backpack, and loves to talk about environmental issues. She will be spending this coming summer on an archealogical dig in Alaska, and regaling Literally, Darling readers with her experiences there.

* Photo by www.abbieredmon.com

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