I didn’t grow up hiking and I was ten the first time I went camping.
The entire fifth grade at my small parochial school clambered onto the school bus, our backpacks stuffed with fleece jackets and granola bars, and with the necessary parent-signed permission slips, cheap pocket knives clipped to our belt loops.
The nights we didn’t curl up in warm cabins, we lived on the brink–constructing lean-tos from dead tree limbs and massive fern fronds, wondering if we’d make it through the night to tomorrow morning’s strawberry pop-tarts.
A year at an alternative public school for sixth graders pushed me out into the woods again–camping, tapping maple trees next to the freeway, and traipsing around marshes on private property, all culminating in the feared “survival night” on our spring camping trip. (Spoiler: We survived. Mostly on Ramen Noodles and wild leeks).
Over the next ten years, I didn’t venture much beyond that. The closest I ever came to wilderness backpacking was on a trip to Lake Michigan’s North Manitou Island with my father. Despite the 80ºF humid afternoons, we were decked out in jeans and sweatshirts to avoid the persistent mosquitos and black flies, trying to orienteer with a tourist map and a chipped compass we found in the glove box of my dad’s work truck before hopping on the ferry.
My real interest in hiking and backpacking came in college in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula where I met people whose idea of a good time was to wander along Lake Superior or through the hundreds of square miles of uninhabited land for long afternoons that stretched into evenings and eventually weekends.
But if I’m being honest (and if you can’t be honest on a blog, where can you be?) I didn’t really get the bug until I moved to Washington state almost exactly a year ago. The mountains were so near and inviting and I couldn’t help myself. In June, after deciding to attempt the PCT next year with next to no experience or backpacking knowledge, I set about to learning. Now at the end of the summer, I can hike 20 miles a day without fatigue, and I’ve seen some of the more amazing things the Cascade Range has to offer.
I’ve read a some books, a few articles, a trail anecdote here & there, and I’ve tried to get out into the wilderness as much as possible. Am I ready? Probably not to those ultralight backpacking purists. My pack still weighs over 20lb. My orienteering skills are for shit. My understanding of weather and pressure systems is non-existent. My experience hiking long distances in snow and desert is dismal. My tracking ability is laughable.
But I can light my stove and unstuff my sleeping bag and set up my tent and read a map.
And I can walk.
And in the end, that’s all it really is.