Grandmas way or the Credit card

Grandma

The tent, sleeping bag and backpack, are the major items carried by a through hiker. There are various arguments to consider, with balance for each individual, being the most important. Ray Jardine the rock climber popularized ultralight backpacking in a 1992 Hikers handbook later retitled Beyond backpacking, the foundation for what was to follow. Grandma Gatewood, was aged 67, when she became the first woman to hike the entire 2050 miles of the Appalachian Trail alone in 1955. A mother of 11 and grandmother of 23, she survived more than 30 years of marriage to a brutal man who beat her repeatedly.

Media coverage.

It’s been said, that the media coverage of her hike, led to the restoration of the trail, inspiring a new generation of hikers. The reporters thought they were talking to a widow, as that’s how she described herself. They didn’t know the awful truth, so couldn’t describe, what we now know, as domestic violence. This begs the question, was she walking towards something, or walking away? She carried a blanket and a plastic shower curtain to protect herself from the elements. She had no sleeping bag or tent, but relied on the hospitality of strangers and her own resourcefulness.

Circumstances.

Circumstances dictate most things in our lives, most people today, would not choose to set off on a hike with extremely little preparation. In 2017 we have a plethora of choice, with designers making better tents and equipment giving consumers a greater choice. Modern tents, began to take shape around the 1960’s, pegs were introduced to stake the tent down, and new lightweight metal poles began replacing wooden frames. The 1970’s, saw a boom in interest in backpacking which has led to a linear progress towards the equipment we can choose today. This hike and seeker has his own way of organizing things, weight is important, but I’m not obsessional about it.

My tent of choice.

My tent of choice is the Wilderness equipment space 1 person lightweight tent with an inner tent for warmer weather, or just the fly as shelter, or combined. By inverting the walking poles to become part of the framework, weighs 1.53 kilos and has stood up to many high winds. This tent, already has lots of memories, setting it up in the garden numerous times, more than I would care to mention, with much laughter ensuing. I read somewhere you can never get your tent up and down fast enough in a strong wind or rain, the laughter was worth it. The tent, felt safe, snug and almost womb like, this may be pushing the boundaries, but that’s how it felt. My wife said that it looked like I was sleeping in a coffin, so who knows.

Other choices.

As more people began to enjoy the benefits of hiking in nature, tent makers saw the need for season and activity specific tents. Generally as weight decreases, the skill to use a shelter safely increases.  There are many alternatives for weather protection, single layer hybrids, hammocks, poncho-tarps or a bivouac sack configuration. A lightweight enclosed tent, works for me on many levels. The space 1 is a four season tent so its very adaptable to what ever season you find yourself in. The inner layer for warm weather, the outer layer, for wet weather protection.  I have always combined the two, because it suited the conditions at the time.

Comfortable sleeping.

I have a thermarest neoair ultralight hiking mattress. A bag can be attached to the inflation toggle, to inflate and be used as a carry bag. I have used this as a laundry bag when camping out for longer periods.  To top off my sleeping arrangements, I have a Mont Prolite 300 sleeping bag, this is down filled, another personal choice. The use of down as an insulation material, is lighter by volume, than currently available synthetic fibers. The argument between down and synthetic goes on. Moisture causes loft loss in down, my choice is down, it’s lighter and condenses better for packing away. If getting it damp is a problem, then don’t.

Convenience.

It neatly teams up with the thermarest mattress as it has no down on the bottom and Velcro straps that pass around the thermarest, to hold it in place. I have my backpack outside the inner tent but protected by the outer fly sheet, which becomes my organized storage area. Easily reached by unzipping the inner tent door without having to leave my sleeping bag on a cold night.

Credit card

Looking  at this from my own perspective, I have a sense of the “tool box” effect, I can’t remember the countless hours that went into researching all my equipment, it could be  a male thing, to have an organized tool box. Grandma Gatewood, set off with nothing, by todays standards, I can’t imagine many hikers wanting to put themselves in that position now. We can still have less, but better quality and embrace the absolute minimum like Grandma, but have our credit card in our pocket just in case.

Grandma
Wilderness equipment ultra light tent Swiss farm camp site Henley-on-Thames  England

 

Models and balance

Models and balance.

Modelling, is the representation of a real world object or system in a mathematical framework. It can be used to make inferences about potential future outcomes. Models that represent the human condition, can’t capture the individual within the model, for obvious reasons. I think we realize that we need a sense of order in our lives.  We can’t be completely  random, or things as we know them, could not function properly. Somewhere between order and randomness, there has to be a balance point for each individual.

Models and balance
Getting some balance in our lives

As individuals, its part of our mission, to find that balance. If we are pulled towards either spectrum by forces within or outside ourselves.  We have to work on ourselves to reach the balance that is right for us. There is a tendency to seek order and comfort by default, we often live in that zone.  But in doing that, we are missing out on a chance to experience what it may be like to find a new balance at a higher level.

Looking for balance.

Hiking in nature for me, has been the catalyst to reaching a new balance point.  It has allowed me to think differently about many things that I took for granted as being the truth for me. Even as I started hiking, there was a perception of how things should feel.  From all the articles I had read and thought about. The experience was similar, but  different, because I brought my own unique experiences to nature.  So that ultimately determined how I felt.

Being in nature has helped me to be gentler with myself and not to force anything to happen. I am finding my way towards a new balance that works better for me. Two of the greatest human emotions we strive for, love and happiness, can’t be forced.  They often come slowly and have different feelings attached to them. What may work for one individual could be completely different for another.

Personal development.

I have used plenty of different personal development material in my quest to become a better version of myself.  An inner core of values, that are built in a linear fashion, over time. A different model that often talks about the negative and trying to move towards the positive. There still has to be a balance point.  You can’t fool yourself that if you work hard enough, everything will automatically move towards positive.  There will always be a negative that we have to deal with. Affirmations may work for some individuals, but for me, it feels like sticking a band aid over something.  It feels like I’m trying to bullshit myself at a sub-conscious level.

It has been suggested that neutral affirmations may work better, for a person with a more negative mind set.   Every day in every way I’m getting better and better  replaced with  I’ve had better days, but I’ve had worse, today, I’m ok.  I’m beautiful, happy and love myself, replaced with I’m working on accepting me as I am.  If your character leans towards positive then you can top yourself up with  I’m beautiful, happy and love myself.  There is a very good chance you may believe it over a period of time, it’s still about finding a balance point that works for each individual.

Finding balance.

A compelling argument, can take us into a certain way of thinking, but there is always a counter argument that can be just as colourful and compelling.  Presented in the right way, what felt so obvious no longer is. There is an overall big picture effect in nature, it transcends any sense of our ideas of order. It’s the order that was in place before we started to try and impose our own ideas of order to it.  If humans were taken out of the nature model altogether, there would be another adjustment balance.

Models and balance
Things in our life are often finally balanced

Hiking in nature especially over an extended period of time.  With our cell phone turned off, no I-pad and not looking for internet coverage.  Can often help us return to a place where our mind can relax and let go of reactionary responses. The constant distractions and stimulations of modern life, can be a threat to creativity and other cognitive benefits. Without becoming a hermit and living in complete solitude.  Or allowing ourselves to be pulled towards reactionary responses and negativity.  There has to be a balance for each of us, and that balance, I believe, is our mission to find.

Hike and seeker

Hike and seeker.

Seeker
Seeking

Hike and seeker, is a site for linking ideas and thoughts while on the trail. I hope to provide a platform that while not age specific, will possibly link a more mature agenda to the content. I should add that just because it leans towards a more mature hiker.  It doesn’t mean that we mature hikers can’t be told to “get our heads out of the sand” and look at things in a different way. My only fixed point is, I’m nearer to the end of my life than the beginning.

I have been seeking ‘something’ for as long as I can remember. It started in my teenage years, and has been my constant companion ever since. A knee injury a couple of years ago, changed my life in so many ways. I had over a year to reflect on my feelings as life became a very long weekend for me. My recovery process started with a rehabilitation program so that I could walk properly again. Part of the program was physiotherapy, starting with walking short distances, then building to longer walks over time.  The rehabilitation program included visits with a phycologist as my mental health was not progressing as well as my physical health. There were lots of  “why me” moments that those close to me were having to deal with as well.

Seeker.

The seeking part of my life was becoming more exposed now. As I grappled with thoughts of retirement and how that might work financially. Hide and Seek is a game we have all played at some stage of our lives. It seemed to be a metaphor for how I viewed my life.  Hide, was something I had always been doing.  Hiding my feelings, emotions, abilities and how I truly wanted to interact with the world around me. I was wrestling with all these feelings, trying to seek a way forward to firmer ground. A lack of confidence was locking my emotions in, and without these being released, the seeking was becoming harder to achieve. I started walking around the park. Then on rougher and more undulating ground, to test my knee.  This is where my journey really begins.

I started to become aware of a gradual change in my thoughts, as I walked in the forest and tracks around my home town.  Looking for solitude, with my hikes getting longer, seeking that solitude. Everything started taking on a new meaning, with one thing leading to the next.  Which started me thinking about my physical health apart from my knee. I wondered what a hiker might wear, what to eat for energy, how much water should I drink.?  Could I extend these hikes with a tent.?

The terminology behind what you would imagine is a simple concept, started to mean more. Layering your clothing, goose down or duck down, hiking boots or shoes.  The list of new words were endless at this stage, as I was being drawn into this new world of possibilities. Of course, as with any leisure pursuit that regular people can attempt, business possibilities were endless and accordingly, confusion started to be a part of that.

Destination.

People have been putting one foot in front of the other for as long as anyone can remember. Then the benefit was simply to get to a destination, with hardly a conscious awareness of the activity of walking, as a form of exercise. In our multi-layered and complex world, where we are bombarded with choice. Nothing has fundamentally changed we still walk, but it’s different now. Our thoughts have also become more complex. But once we’re on the trail, for an extended period of time, it changes again. The mental baggage we carry, seems to fall  away and again we are just putting one foot in front of the other.

The thoughts we do have seem to be more in the moment. This has become part of being a hike and seeker enjoying this feeling.  Now that I have become aware of these changes in myself. I plan to extend my hiking onto tougher trails, with more solitude and with more time to think. My first venture was in April 2016, when I went to Scotland to hike ‘The West Highland Way’ camping out each night. My next hike this year, will be the ‘Cape to Cape’ close to my home town here in Western Australia.

Retirement.

I don’t think that age should have any effect on our abilities or our dreams. We do need to take better care of our health.  Not that we can’t perform as well as younger hikers, it just takes a bit more effort to arrive at the same destination. As I go into my retirement years, I hope to prove all these things to myself. I’m working hard to keep myself fit and healthy. Exercising, and trying to eat the right foods. I’m passionate about an activity for the first time in my life, I have arrived late on the trail, but not too late.  “Better late than never” springs to mind.

If you are starting your hiking experience late in life, I would love to hear your story.  How you got started and what, if anything you are seeking. I’m making an observation, that most hikers are predominately younger. Younger than me anyway, but I don’t believe this is a reason to not be a Hike and Seeker.

Seeker
Which way ?

 

From sack to pack

From sack to pack.

The John Muir trail is 211 miles long in the Sierra Nevada Mountains running from Yosemite to Mount Witney. The John Muir way is 134 miles across Scotland’s heartland, running between Helensburgh in the west through to Dunbar on the east coast. I mention these two trails because I want to start my story with John Muir. I’m sure you may know them, but if not, they are yours to discover. He was born in Scotland in 1838 and died in 1914.  In America at the time he would have been influenced like all of us by what was going on around him. As he saw things starting to change, he was quoted as saying “Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea into a sack and jump over the back fence.”

Its that simple of course, or is it.?  John Muir didn’t have ultra light on his mind.  Maybe he was already expressing sentiments of the hiking scene. Suggesting that there was a basic way or a more complicated way already starting to happen. The next quote “I rolled up some bread and tea in a pair of blankets with some sugar and a tin cup and set off.”  This suggests that he needed a bit more comfort, with sugar and a pair of blankets.  Or was it a through hike this time.?  It’s easier to carry a backpack than a sack over your shoulder.  What about those telescopic walking poles John, how would they have worked.?                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Sack

Hiking choices.

Has the commercialization of the outdoor and in particular the hiking genre become too much now.?  Has it taken away a sense of adventure in trying to make it accessible to more and more people.” In doing that, made it more elitist as it is now connected to exotic locations all over the world, that are easily accessible now.  Hiking has become side tracked by all the high tech gadgets and equipment that money can buy. While how much of this vast choice do we need, when we only have fundamental needs on the trail. Of course I am not immune from these temptations either.

My generation were influenced by parents who grew up through a time of rationing during and after the second world war.  This had a profound influence on the way I view things. Also it wasn’t  a throw away world, the things you did have were treasured and looked after.  Hence the thought was to buy quality if affordable, juxtaposing that with a cheaper throw away culture now. I think buying cheap can and has to work for many people because of financial constraints. When your on the trail and camping out it’s the same deal. This time though, cheap hiking boots, tent, sleeping bag or backpack can lead to discomfort and pain. While ultimately effecting the experience of joy that you could have.

Acceptable luxuries.

Try to research the basic equipment that you need and buy the best you can. You can get away with cheap gadgets and gismos until you find what suits you.  Or if you need them at all.  But don’t compromise on your hiking boots and socks. If everything else falls down around your ears, at least you can hike home in comfort. The clothing you wear is no different, research it, try it on and test it. Remember your hiking and possibly camping, so you don’t need a wardrobe on board.  It’s ok to be grungy, you don’t need to change your clothes everyday,  although fresh underwear always feels good.

John Muir only took the basics with him, a sack with a few essential items inside it to have an enjoyable experience on the trail. There are luxuries that each of us enjoy and within reason, I think we should accommodate those particular luxuries. If you like to listen to pod casts on your phone as I do, make sure you have enough downloaded to keep you going. If you enjoy a cup of tea or a brew of coffee then allow for that. Have your stove to heat the water, onboard and ready to go.                                                                                                                 Sack

Memories.

Those quiet moments on the trail when you stop for a while to take in the atmosphere or enjoy the vista around you.  Will feel more poignant if you can indulge in your favorite drink or snack and perhaps with some quiet background music coming through on your ear buds. How you take the view or the atmosphere into your consciousness, seems to be more vivid, when you recall those memories later. Ultimately, the trail lasts for a given amount of time and feeling very alive and in a flow state sometimes passes very quickly.  While the memories, as we know, linger on.

Hiking for therapy.

Hiking therapy.

It would seem obvious that hiking in the fresh air and in a quiet environment would be beneficial to our health and well being.  I think this would be hard to dispute. While I don’t think there needs to be a scientific answer to everything. Yet I do think being aware of how we are feeling in the moment, can be very helpful in a therapeutic way.  Being able to recognize what a good feeling actually feels like, is different from an affirmation of  ‘this is how I’m going to feel.’  Its very much like happiness, we are always striving to be happy, but happiness comes when we least expect it.

Often it happens when we are immersed in something outside ourselves, which has been my own experience. While it can’t be denied that happiness can be found inside ourselves. I think our minds are becoming overloaded with data, due to our very busy lives and constant exposure to social media.

Our brains are having to filter much more information and adding to the problem is, the shallowness of this information. This mainly comes to us in bite size pieces now. Looking at something more substantial requires our brain to reason and contemplate more. Yet in the mainstream media anything substantial is becoming harder to find. I was reading a book recently and on a page at the end of the first chapter were these words.  “Congratulations, you are one of a select few who have made it to the end of the first chapter, please enjoy the rest of the book.”  Then I wondered if it might of been better to issue the challenge on the front page.  “This book has substantial content, are you up to the challenge?”

Hiking therapy
Therapy amongst the trees

Hiking in nature.

Research shows that even brief interactions with nature can soothe our minds. Also it’s similar to immersing our minds in something more complex and at some point, reaching a state of flow. Nature has its own unique qualities. The benefits of hiking in nature are, decreased anxiety, brooding and negative emotions. Also decreasing ruminations, the habit of thinking over and over about causes and consequences of negative experiences.  “Shirin yoku” a term that means” taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing,” was developed in Japan in the 1980’s. Consequently becoming a corner stone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

Various studies have concluded that inhaling air containing essential wood oils given off by plants. Also the sound of birds, cool air, green leaves, trees, wild plants and grasses.  Finally coupling this with the atmosphere of the forest, all leading to a very calming affect.

I have had all of these experiences myself. My sense of calmness comes from open countryside, green fields and country lanes, with very few trees. I think this links to memories of childhood and earlier experiences of that beauty. Other people may see it in a similar way, or for the scenery in its own right. If I had lived around the forests of Canada, my bias may of been different. My  experience is, that often every aspect of nature can happen on the one trail, forests, fields, mountains, rivers and the list goes on. When a part of the trail starts to meander through your particular idea of beauty and calmness.  You can feel yourself smiling and drinking in the feelings. Nature provides a live and dynamic environment, which can lead to a sensory experience. This could be similar to putting your feet in an icy mountain stream.

Hiking in solitude.

Hiking in solitude, can create a different perspective from our everyday life. The longer you spend in solitude the more your perspective starts to change.  A new way of seeing things begins to happen as our relationship with nature becomes more intimate. I think you come into an alternate grounding with the world around you. Losing any sense of hierarchy, or rights of possession. They no longer seem relevant to your experience. You only realize these feelings when you return to your everyday surroundings. For a while many things may seem odd or strange, because you have lost those formal boundaries for a while.

Hiking therapy
Solitude for therapy

These higher level feelings of connection with nature take time and can’t be rushed.  They come slowly, as the pressing thoughts you began with start to dissolve. While a high level of fitness helps, not in the experience itself, but in allowing you to forget about your body. Your more able to take your fitness as a given, which allows you to concentrate on inner feelings. As if you were in some way, separate from any bodily constraints. This can be seen as a form of walking meditation. How long you need to be in nature to achieve this, is a personal thing. Since it will depend on many variables.

Personal feelings.

Time in nature and what can be achieved is a personal thing, while our time constrained lives allow only brief encounters with nature, this can be all that’s needed to make a difference to our perceptions.  Hence this can be in a forest. Walking along the beach. Visiting a local park or at a micro level buying a pot plant that will soften and enhance your personal space. Hiking, in my experience, can be a source of therapy and the benefits for me have been easy to feel. I would encourage you to find out for yourself, if the benefits I have found from hiking, will apply to you.

Hiker for ever.

Hiker for ever.

The Australian pension age requirements are 65 years of age or older. From 1 July 2017, the qualifying age for the age pension will increase by 6 months every 2 years reaching 67 by the 1 July 2023, I’m sure this will increase in the future. Regardless of any argument, either way we are perceived to be living longer than when the pension was first introduced in Australia. In 1909, it was originally 60 for women and 65 for men, living longer is being acknowledged in the pension debate now. Giving us every chance to imagine we could be a hiker for ever.

“Why” factor.

I have been thinking, we are living longer and that is official, so shouldn’t we be trying to enjoy those extra years.  If our investments and income are high enough, then of course we can pursue the high road and do it in style.  Am I using this argument that I’m making to ease my pain as I’m unable to finance my life going forward in style and comfort.?  I acknowledge that these thoughts did cross my mind as they are reflected by the people that surround me.

I am sure you have experienced the “WHY ” factor.  Why are you doing this, why do you want to camp out at your age and why do you want to hike that distance, can’t you act your age and be sensible.  If you are lucky enough to have not encountered any of these’ WHYS ‘ then you can consider yourself very lucky.

“Grey” hiker

When you’re hiking the trail and ascending that steep pathway your lungs burning and your heart racing. Or descending a pathway with loose ground under you feet, just remember to keep it to yourself.  Only share it with your fellow hikers who understand and except that’s the way it is.  The grey hiker never go’s home at the end of the hike and admits to anybody they were ever in that position.  Rather slip quietly away and get yourself checked out. So if anyone asks, just say you went to get some Viagra to harden up for your next hike.

Of course age does have a way of showing up whether we like it or not. Hands up anybody past sixty who has not suffered from back problems. Hence it makes getting in and out of your small tent more problematical. Sleeping on the high tech mattress never feels quite so high tech in the morning.

Hiking etiquette.

I remember thinking about and experiencing these things and others on my hike in Scotland on the West Highland Way.  I admit to wondering how the hell you take a leak when you are hiking with a group, including a number of ladies as well. Like everything else it somehow works when it needs to. Dropping to the back of the group and stepping off the path is easy if your a man. Of course, harder for the ladies for obvious reasons. Since they require more of a pit stop but the pace just slowed until they caught up. Hiking etiquette at work.

Hiking for fitness.

The benefits from hiking are tremendous in a physical and mental sense.  Age does not need to become a factor at all with some simple precautions. First of all if your over fifty, overweight, out of shape, then get yourself checked out. If you need to be a work in progress, be that. Take on the task of getting your body and your mind into shape.  Since there really are no short cuts to this process, if you want it bad enough, you will get there. Don’t put a goal up on the board that is unrealistic to what you can achieve.

 You intrinsically know where your edge is in your fitness, just go to or a bit beyond that edge each time.  Just out of your comfort zone, but not too far. Therefore with incremental steps, if your disciplined, you will show quite rapid progress. If you go too fast too quickly, you will need more luck on your side to prevent injuries.

Sensible hiking.

While all this boring fitness stuff is going on, of course you will still be hiking, it obviously will become part of your program. This was part of my routine coming back from a knee injury. I can testify that it works and I will explain how it worked for me in another article. I went from moderately fit to walking twenty miles in one stretch on my first real hike. Of course all you seasoned hikers are scoffing at that. My experience was to go just beyond my comfort zone, at that particular part of my journey that was my edge.

 Hiking is a personal achievement it should be fun and not torture, hard work at times, but rewarding as well.  Hike and seek and enjoy the experience but, you will need to be fit enough to forget about your body.  Rather your able to spend time in your head, filtering the things you see and building your own story.

Hiker
Hiker for ever