Wrap Up: A Working Mom's Year of Backpacking Once a Month
In January, Washington Trails editor Jessi Loerch set a goal to go backpacking once a month. She reflects on the year's adventures, and what she learned.
In January, Washington Trails editor Jessi Loerch set a goal to go backpacking once a month. 12 months later, she's reflecting on the year's adventures, and what she learned.
Last winter, while I was thinking of goals for 2018, I'd just successfully completed a year of going camping once a month. It was fun, and I learned a lot doing it. I thought my goal for 2018 could build on what I'd learned the year before. So I decided I'd go on one backpacking trip every month of the year. It's December now, and that task is nearly complete; I've gone on 12 backpacking trips so far, with one more to go.
I'm a seasoned backpacker, but I learned a lot trying to complete this goal.
One (growth) step at a time
Making this a monthly occurrence meant I had to get creative in the winter. A lot of my close-to-home backpacking destinations are under snow most of the year, and simply doing a backpacking trip once a month was challenge enough. I didn't want to make my first snow camping attempts at the same time.
Finding snow-free trails year-round meant I got to visit a wide variety of landscapes. Sometimes I had to drive a ways to get somewhere I was comfortable backpacking in and setting up camp. But that meant I got to hike on beaches and in the desert as well as in the mountains.
I also didn't set any huge mileage goals. Especially when the days were shorter, it was fine if I hiked just a few flat miles to my campsite for the night. My shortest hike was just a couple miles, but was still so fulfilling. That day, I wandered quietly and had time to just be alone. I enjoyed five hours in my tent with nothing to do but relax and, at some point, boil some water to make a hot water bottle for my sleeping bag.
Self-Care is IMportant
As a mom with a full-time job, I rarely feel like I can relax for five hours at home. There are always chores to do, or simply the vague feeling I ought to be using my time better, not a particularly relaxing mindset. Backpacking lets me remove myself from the to-do list at home and focus on being present.
It's all a balance — or an attempt at balance. Weekends are when I get the best quality time with my family, since my husband and I both work full-time. I give that up when I go backpacking alone. But getting to recharge alone in nature is important to me, and I think it’s important for my daughter, Hazel, to see me make space for the things I love.
So I set the example of self-care. I went alone for several of my trips, a few more I took with good friends. I shared Second Beach with my one of my closest friends, who I have been backpacking with for a decade. It’s something we both work hard to make space for in our lives. Our trips together are good for my heart. We tell stories and laugh, and catch up on each others' lives while basking in whatever bit of nature we've made our home for the weekend.
Shared Experiences are priceless
Those shared experiences are so important to me. And as a mom, I want to share the joy of being outside with my daughter. But I also know not everyone is quite as enthusiastic about hiking and camping in the rain as I am.
My husband (who would happily play a full round of disc golf in a downpour) prefers hiking on a dry trail. And Hazel's much more likely to continue to hang outside with me if I don't make her sit through a wet and cold winter night in a tent. So I saved our family trips for sunny weather.
Of course, the more people you add to a trip, the more planning you have to do. So these trips do take a fair amount of planning. But they're totally worth it. I even managed to get a full contingent of family friends out for one of my backpacking weekends.
This year, I learned that the more often you make yourself get outside, the less planning you have to do and the easier it gets. You start to learn where you can go and what you need to do to get out the door quickly. Forcing myself to go every month made me a better backpacker. Though I do still always bring too much food .
Having WTA's Hiking Guide and trip reports to plan and research with is a huge help. And I always write my own reports when I'm back from my trips, to help other people plan their trips. (And it's a nice reminder for me, too.)
I’m a better parent, a better employee and an all-around better person when I have time to recharge in nature. This year has taught me how important getting outside is to my all-around health. I've got one more trip left for this year — I'm going to head out right before Christmas for a trip with my husband. He's less of an avid backpacker than I am, but my year of backpacking must have inspired him to brave the cold. (I promised to bring mulled wine.) I'm excited to finish my year with one last trip — and I'm looking forward to seeing what 2019 holds for me.