I run an adventure-inspired group on Facebook, and one of the things I like to do is to feature one member in the group each week. I genuinely believe in the power of community, and I cannot imagine a more positive, supportive community than a group of wilderness-loving adventurers. My mom happens to be a member of this group, and this past week, I asked her to be the featured member. I honestly didn't know what to expect from her answers, so when she sent them to me, I read them immediately - and found myself standing in my kitchen, with tears streaming down my face. I was so struck by the vulnerability and the honesty of her answers that I knew I had to share them with more people than just our small group.
My mom is a pretty tough woman. Her very first backpacking trip was up and over Aasgard Pass into the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness during freezing temperatures in late October of 2008. I still remember climbing over slick, frozen waterfalls on our ascent - and posing for an awkward "prom photo" at the top of Aasgard Pass. She had never even carried a pack before before - little did she know that Aasgard Pass would likely be one of the EASIER backpacking trips that we would ever do together.
So, without further adieu, I am so proud to have my mom as my first official "guest post" on my blog.
1. Tell us a little bit about you and your hiking/outdoor interests.
My earliest childhood memories of happiness were always related to the outdoors. I grew up in a military family and while neither of my parents were particularly interested in the outdoors, there were four children and it wasn't unusual for us to get kicked out of the house in the morning and told not to come back until dinner. So, by default I became an outdoor enthusiast. Fortunately, we were stationed in some beautiful locations, like Guam, California, New Mexico, and North Carolina. These were wonderful locations to explore and learn about their unique flora and fauna. As a adult and young parent I knew that I wanted my kids to love the outdoors as much as I did. I would design all our family vacations around some hiking destination. I think, for the most part, my kids enjoyed these experiences. I will admit that learning how to car camp with three young children included moments of sheer terror and utter frustration. It took me several years of practice to build up to the epic adventure we had one summer while I was homeschooling. We headed West for a 6 week odyssey that would take us to some of the most spectacular National Parks in the US. Sporting a six person cabin tent we camped in some of the most dramatic locations imaginable. My family and friends thought I was crazy, but for some reason I had absolutely no reservations about this trip: it would be a grand adventure and what I lacked in experience I made up for with enthusiasm. It must have worked because at the end of 6 weeks no one wanted to go home. Since that time I have switched from being a car camper to a backpacker, thanks to my daughter, Anastasia's dumb confidence that her old mom could make it up Aasgard Pass with an enormous pack. I guess you could say I'm officially a backpacking junkie. There is nothing I like better than setting up my tent at the end of a long day hiking, cooking a meal, and crawling into my tent at 7pm. Thanks to my daughter's patience and confidence building style, I'm on my way to working through my list of, "must do hikes." Two years ago I backpacked across Iceland for 11 days, and I completed the Wonderland Trail the same summer. Last year I backpacked rim to rim of the Grand Canyon in July, it was amazing! I have been on countless backpacking trips with Anastasia and there are not words created to do justice to the beauty I have shared in the mountains with her. Besides backpacking, I love to trail run. Every morning at 5:15 am I hit the C&O Canal (near my house in Maryland) and run along the Potomac River and watch as the world wakes up to a new day. Last week I thru hiked the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in PA, a 70 mile trail in south central PA. I also spent a week in May hiking in Ireland and reached the summit of Mt. Brandon and Carauntooil, the highest peak in the country. I'm not really a mountain climber but I do enjoy a challenge now and then.
2. What is your favorite trail food?
My favorite trail food is Annie's Macaroni and Cheese with a packet of Wild Planet tuna thrown in. Also, the Good to Go meals Thai Curry is the bomb!
3. What is your favorite outdoor experience?
My favorite outdoor experience: This is a tough one. I have so many...all of them are shared with the people I love the most in the world, so there is a common theme there...although Iceland was pretty awesome. I'd have to say I'm still flashing back to the whole LaBohn Lakes (Alpine Lakes Wilderness) experience. The fact that I survived might have something to do with how it affected me. I think for pure epic beauty, the Spider Meadows Buck Creek Loop is one of my favorites. I don't just have one though...they are all special in their own way. Sorry!
4. What have you learned from the mountains that has had a "ripple" effect into other areas of your life?
The mountains/wilderness has taught me to not go into anything half-hearted. If you're going to do something in your life, love it and learn everything you can about it then do it with confidence and believe you can be successful. I would never attempt an ultra trail run without preparing...learn the terrain, hike it, become friends with it. Your mental attitude shapes your success in the mountains and in life. If you let a little rain and snow on a backpacking trip send you home with your tail between your legs, what will real challenges in life do to you? The other very important thing I have learned from my outdoor experience is to be present in whatever you're doing. That's easy to do in the mountains, it's just you and them. I can take that same sense of presence back to life and be present for the people in my life. Slow down, ignore that cell phone, really look at the people you are sharing your life with. This is love and it's as good as it gets folks.
5. What's your favorite piece of gear?
I'm a shoeaholic (if that's a thing). I love my Altra trail running shoes...The Lone Peaks, The Superiors, and the King Mt. Your feet being happy is very important. Besides that, I love my new Jet Boil Flash and my Big Agnes Tent Fly Creek Ultra Light 2 person.
6. What is your absolute passion in life? What lights you up when you talk about it?
Ranked above my love for the outdoors is my love for my husband and three amazing daughters. They have helped me grow and accomplish things I never dreamed I would. Years ago I read a poem that I printed up and carried around in my wallet. It says so beautifully what I feel:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes you imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Sj
7. Do you have any dream trips that you would like to take?
I have so many....I would love to backpack around New Zealand. I would like to hike the 100 mile Wilderness in Maine and finally climb Mt. Katahdin. Every time I pick up a Backpacker Magazine I see a hike to add to my list. So, I'm going to have to live to be 110 in order to get this all done. Oh! I'm looking forward to my backpacking trip in the Sawtooths (Idaho) with Anastasia and Aaron this year...my number ONE dream.
8. Through the lens of your own life, if you could give one piece of advice to others, what would it be?
I guess I've already given my advice, which is to be present in whatever it is you're doing. Don't short change your life experiences by always looking to the next best thing....that thing that is right in front of you might just be the best and if it's not, it is in your power to make it the best.
Hope this isn't too corny but it's all I've got. And hey, I'm corny.