If you're reading along, you probably see a trend in how my approach to fitness, outdoor sport and endurance is evolving. I'm branching out, and I've fallen in love with a new kind of endurance adventure: backpacking. I give 100 percent credit to my sister for introducing me to this wonderful activity when she invited me on a trip back in March. It's really been life-changing and such a good complement to competing. Backpacking is not an attempt to replace what racing offers, but rather enhance my life experience with new kinds of adventures that test the mind and body in a different way. I'm sure some of you may be thinking (because I did too), "What could be so great and life-changing about backpacking? Sounds dirty and like a lot of work." Well let me tell you from my POV, it's not just another workout to burn calories, and it's not just about bumming it. It's so much deeper. I've attempted to summarize in this top-10 countdown. If you've backpacked and/or still do, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!
|Thanks to my sister, Karlee, for bringing backpacking to the forefront. This was our first trip that ended with a plunge in some darn cold water, and, man, was it refreshing in more than one way.|
Top-10 Reasons I Love Backpacking
9) It's not comfortable. Backpacking presents new challenges and risks that I'm digging. You do not have the peace of mind that race organizers and volunteers are taking care of you--there's no one to point the way, or shorten the course if the weather's bad. No aid stations with a full buffet. No port-o-potties, no medical tents, no sag wagons to pick you up if you fall. There's no such thing as a DNF. You're diving into the unknown, paving your own path and totally responsible for your survival and well-being. Like triathlon, mistakes happen along the way and you have to manage yourself and the situation. And you have to work for everything little thing or it's not happening. But unlike a race, it doesn't end after you've done your miles for the day--you keep working. Granted, backpacking technology and supplies are pretty advanced, and that makes it nice with some added comforts. But even with all the cool gear you can get at REI, when you're out there you still get a taste of truly roughing it.
|Great Western Divide.|
7) Exploration. As I mature and am more comfortable with my career and life situation, I see myself starting to crave more travel and exploration, and I usually prefer nature over cities, so backpacking is a beautiful fit. It's funny, though, because I didn't have this mindset as much in my 20s--I would often make excuses as to why I couldn't take off on a trip or adventure. I suppose I was too wrapped up in establishing "my foundation" and also being all-in for triathlon. I think it's a bit like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs--you meet the basic needs and goals then move on to the deeper things that create a well-rounded and fulfilled existence. Perhaps I'm moving up my unique pyramid. Or maybe I've just gotten out of my head of being Type A workaholic. Whatever it is, I'll take it because the things I've encountered, seen and experienced so far with backpacking have enriched my soul. It's a beautiful world out there, and I for one don't want to let life pass by and miss out on these opportunities to explore.
6) Spirituality. I'll admit, I'm not religious, but I do consider myself a spiritual person. Don't ask me to define spirituality, that's a tough one and it's so individual. For me, when I think of spirituality I think of being in nature. It's the No. 1 place where I feel most spiritual, and it's been that way ever since I can remember. As a kid, I can recall memories of feeling something special when I would be surfing or mountain biking or hiking, as if I was connected to a force bigger than just me and was touched in a deep way. Into my triathlon days, early-morning solo trail runs would often elicit the same vibes. Now, with backpacking, I get those same strong spiritual vibes when I'm out there, and I just soak it up.
Also, food as fuel takes on another meaning. I better appreciate the nourishing aspect of food, how it tastes, and taking the time to slowly enjoy each bite--you earned it! I'm also more in tune with how it feels to reach satiation. Obviously food supply is limited out there so you only eat what you need to, and you can't really afford to overdo it--as such, you really start to truly feel how much or how little the body needs and portion wisely. I'm trying to apply these principles back at home in regular life, especially trying to eat slower and less distracted.
... and my top 3... drumroll ....
3) Get off the grid*. Ahhh. Let's talk about this. As much as I love being connected with others around the world on a daily basis, and as much as I love coaching and podcasting and yapping, I equally love getting off the grid and quieting down. It's all too easy this day in age to be too plugged in to everything all the time and that creates a mind that's cluttered, lacking focus and often stressed and overwhelmed. Going off the grid and back to simplicity is the perfect cure--and it's cheap too, way cheaper than therapy. Interestingly, shutting myself off the world and having no cell service is not something I would have desired even a few years back, for reasons like FOMO, and to this day FOMO--in a serious sense--is sometimes a real concern, but I certainly have evolved and understand the importance of disconnecting and taking extended breaks. It's no stretch to say that taking these breaks certainly makes me better at what I do for a living. At first I would think the breaks showed weakness and that I wasn't working hard enough, or my clients would think I'm lazy and not paying attention in enough detail. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Going off-the-grid re-energizes me so that I'm more focused, engaged and productive upon return (and happier too vs. being a zombie who's always nailed to the office). There's research to prove I'm not crazy for saying this; less really is more, and it's time we stop trying to work hard 24/7 thinking that's the only way to reach success.
2) Be present. As I begin my journey in studying and practicing more mindfulness and meditation I've really started exploring my ability to be present--and how easily I can fail at being present in everyday life. Like I said above in No. 3, it's all too easy to get incredibly distracted, and even though I know I don't have ADD it sometimes feels like it with how conveniently we're connected to a million things with constant notifications of new emails, texts and tweets or whatever it is. I'm actually working on a separate set of posts on a related topic--getting over my multitasking habits and letting go of busyness as a goal, both of which completely take away from the ability to be present. But I digress (see? lol). Bottom line: Backpacking keeps me in the moment, focused and engaged. It just does.
*I have a question for you. Do you enjoy and embrace being off the grid? I know this concept may not be for everyone, but maybe it's because you haven't given it a chance. What do you think when you imagine multiple days of no people, no traffic, no electronics, no phones, no email, no social media, no "typical" interactions with the modern world? Does that give you the heebie jeebies or does it sound exciting. If it terrifies you, why not try it out? You may be surprised at how refreshing it is. In fact, assuming a lot of you reading are endurance athletes/triathletes, I think you are more likely the type who would embrace being off the grid and alone--considering endurance sport entails a lot of that. In fact, I think I originally fell in love with triathlon for similar reasons as I have backpacking--as much as there's a strong community and plenty of people with whom to interact in sport, triathlon is also about solitude and being alone in your head with the goal of continuing to move forward. Food for thought....
|Big Sur, Salmon Creek Trail|