Author: Tina Eckerlin
I get asked a lot why I backpack. Normally, unless someone has the interest in hearing my ramblings I just give the obvious answer – I love it. It makes me happy.
Even my own family does not fully understand my inherent need to explore and live wild. Fortunately, they have accepted it.
Like my inherent need to create, my love affair with the outdoors has been ongoing since my inception. It has evolved from playing outside in the woods, and spending my days playing in the sand at the beach to becoming a horticulture technician; where I spent the last couple of decades with the outdoors being my office. I have always had a connection to the land.
My spare time over the years has been spent on all things outdoors, growing, camping, hunting and backpacking. When I wasn't doing these things I was making new backpacking gear for upcoming trips.
I think it was inevitable that I was destined to be enamoured with the outdoors. During my formative years I was exposed to many different outdoor activities. My folks were split up, and I was able to experience different things at each house.
My mother ensured we had many family travel vacations and camping trips. Outdoor play and getting dirty were always encouraged. I remember fondly a large popular tree we had as a kid. I would stay up there as much as possible. She even gave me a rope to use as a pully to haul my lunch up the tree. The rest of the time I was making forts and exploring the forest.
She would set up an old army tent in our backyard, where I would live most summers. She would pick me up at lunch from school to have impromptu picnics, just because everything was better outside!
She also passed along her love of Girl Guiding. Girl Guides taught me skills, how to be resourceful and social responsibility, but moreover these activities gave me the self-confidence and independence that every young person needs.
My father and I would go on extensive canoe and camping trips. We would build forts, explore and would learn about survival.
I remember exploring caves with flashlights in the middle of the night, and paddling rough water that was likely well past my skill level. I remember my first leeches, and paddling as hard as I could during a canoe trip in the Laurentians, when a female moose started charging us in the water. Never underestimate how fast a moose can swim or run!
We used a construction belt and rope to climb rock faces, and he let me drive down backroads even though I could barely reach the clutch.
Upon reflection, I realize that a lot of the activities we did were sketchy in regards to safety, but it taught me risk-assessment, my own boundaries and the need to sometimes suppress your fear to get through the situation.
I can remember clearly the first time I acknowledged the desire to live wild. I was about 5 years old on a school hike in kindergarten or grade one. We visited a near by trail system for a field trip.
We had been hiking along with our class on a cool day in the fall. The suns light was dappled and danced through the leaves. We stopped for lunch in an open rocky area.
I was wearing my rubber boots, a sweater my grandmother had made for me and my favorite wind breaker jacket.
We were sitting on our homemade sit pads we had made In class, by placing a folded newspaper in a garbage bag and taping it. I could still feel the cold from the rock beneath me.
I sat there eating my peanut butter and cheese sandwich my mom had packed from out of my schoolbag. I can recall the way the air smelled of damp earth and decomposing leaves. The sunlight flickering on my face and the cool breeze calling me to explore.
I thought how I could live here happily. I had my favorite wind breaker and my backpack with peanut butter and cheese sandwiches. I wanted to live wild.
Little did I know, that moment would shape the rest of my life. It was complete freedom.
We all know that spending time in the outdoors is amazing for your mental health, and that the benefits of physical exercise not only is good for your body, but makes you feel good.
I enjoy the physical challenge of backpacking. I like to push myself to hike longer distances or at faster speeds. I set goals for myself and personal challenges.
Sometimes the challenges are against nature. Sometimes, I push hiking 14 hours a day for a week straight in +35°C hot weather where the air so humid you almost choke, or mentally surviving swarms of black-flies and mosquitos, to 4 straight days of cold rain or extreme cold and snow.
I love the accomplishment of completing a technical trail, reaching a mountain top with a spectacular view and the feeling of completing a long or hard trail. I feel drawn to explore and see new places, bought forth only by my feet and a sense of adventure.
I love planning a trip, gear selection and trying to lower my base-weight. I also love bush crafting, but see backpacking as more of a minimalist challenge trying to lighten my pack load and multi-purpose items.
But more than all of this, I love the freedom of having everything I need on my back and becoming overwhelmed with sights, sounds and smells. I try to commit each leaf and tree to memory. I allow myself to become overwhelmed and to be in the moment.
I get excited when I see wildlife, and have never grown tired of watching the sunrise. I am comfortable in my own mind and company. I seek out the solitude of my own thoughts with no responsibility except for walking.
Backpacking can be tough both physically and mentally, but I have always found this to be part of the reward and what I seek on my trips; that personal challenge of I did it!
I hike for many reasons. It is my happy place. But mostly, it is to feed my soul, be connected to the land and the yearning to explore. I feel the sense of wonder and fascination like I did when I was 5 years old with my favorite wind breaker, rubber boots, peanut butter and cheese sandwiches.
What drives you to backpack? Share your story below in the comments!