The Mostly Triumphant Return of Hiking Jason

IMG_1820 copy“Been on any cool hikes lately”   

‘Not really.’  ——-Me.

“That’s a shame… that’s WHO YOU ARE…”  —— Unnamed coworker

“Hey, remember that 18-mile hike you did when you said your back hurt… I looked at your track and you rode with someone the last half mile on the jeep road.  You’re a fraud, and I’m going to tell everyone…You never deserved to be in Backpacker”  —–Prominent guy in the Phoenix hiking community

….

I hiked today for the first time in a LONG time.  It felt good, familiar yet also foreign.  I realized oddly, that I missed the smells and the sounds alot more than I missed the sights.  My lungs were fine, one of my ankles hurt a little bit and my back hurt from the weight of the 3 gallons of water that I always take in my Camelbak, mostly out of habit.  But otherwise I was fine.

But what have I been doing for a year…

I wish I could say that I’ve been writing the next great American novel, have been in some foreign country building a water source for underprivileged children, or having founded a successful non-profit.

But I can’t.  The truth is, I’ve been doing whatever I wanted to do, which mainly has consisted of spending time at home with my family, watching sports and doing my other nerdly hobbies.

For months, I beat myself up about it…  Still do/did.  But I also realized that unlike the trails and the mountains, my family won’t always be here.  My son’s already left for college and my daughter’s about to be in the eleventh grade.  My dogs that I play with almost constantly will one day die.

But the trails will always be there.  The fact is… they don’t miss you.  They also don’t really call you.  We are called to them from within and for the last year, I just didn’t want to do it.  Hiking became work.  Work became obsession.  Accomplishments meant little because no matter what I accomplished, it wasn’t as good as someone else.  My hills and mountains weren’t the Rockies, or the Cascades, or Nepal, or insert whatever other cool place that you can imagine or have lusted over. Instead of going to Iceland to hike glaciers, I got up every morning at 5:25 and went to work.

I also became jealous and envious over time.  But not of the pretty pictures, not of the hikes, and not even of the places that my friends were going, but of their desire.  Because I didn’t have any.  None.

Truthfully, what I did have was fear.  Not of snakes or animals, but fear that I’d never have any desire to hike or go outside again.

But one thing that I have learned in a year is that what we do is not who we are, and its not what we are meant for.  Although I don’t really understand why, people tell me that I inspire them.  But as some have told me its not what I do (or in this case did) its how I care about them, tell them that I am proud of them, tell them that in many cases that I love them for who they are, and not for what they do.

Today, I still hiked over 3 miles per hour, which I suppose is probably because of my long legs.  I stopped and watched a javelina make its way down into a wash.  I took a ton of pictures for a three mile hike.  Basically, I did it my way.  I hiked for myself, and for nobody else.

 

 

 

 

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On Fear

I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?– Soledad O’Brien
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The vertical, crumbly, rotten summit block of Peak 4202.  I. Was. Terrified.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I did it.

A big part of my thought processes these days are how to get more people outside. Because I believe strongly in the healing power of nature, and for me in particular, mountains.  While I altruistically want people to get outside for their health, spirit and general well being, I also want them to get outside so that they will begin to care about the wild.  I believe unless you’ve smelled the pines, seen alpenglow, or had the thrill of a difficult mountain summit that its hard to really care about policies that are designed to protect these spaces.

I’ve been afraid on mountains, I’ve been afraid on a city street.  I’ve been afraid in a car and I’ve been afraid at home.  We all have fears.  In this post, I want to talk about some things that I believe to be barriers to people getting outside and also provide some things to think about how to cope with those fears.

I want to talk about two types of fear, rational fear and irrational fear.  

Rational Fear

Rational fear is normal.  Rational fear is healthy.  Rational fear keeps us alive.  It’s tied to instincts, which we all have.  Here are some things that I think are rational fears but also how to ameliorate them.

Fear of falling–  This is a healthy fear because falls are one of the leading injuries in the wild.  I think its fine to be afraid of falling and to some extent, exposure (an area is exposed if there is a high rate of injury or death from a fall from wherever you are).  

Tips to combat:  Be sure of your holds and when descending steep slopes I like to pause on rocks just long enough to see if they move.  Another thing is to not look down until you are on terra firma.  This really works.  There’s a reason they say, don’t look down!

Fear of certain animals-  I think its good to have your guard up.  My Canadian friends that hike and climb have to deal with grizzly bears.  Most American bears are harmless. Attacks are VERY rare.  Frankly, the only two animals that I fear are mountain lion and humans.

Tips to combat:  If in bear country, take bear spray and ensure that your food is secure. Here in Arizona, we don’t really have very many areas where a canister would be necessary but if it is, use them.  As far as mountain lion, if you see one (it would be VERY VERY rare that you would) DO NOT RUN.  It triggers their feline instincts.  Make noise and usually they will leave.

Weather related fears-  Frankly, I believe this to be the most important fear to maintain, and one in which I simply do not play around with.  If you see lightning, leave.  If you hear thunder, seek shelter.  If you cannot leave, DO NOT SHELTER under trees.  Research the lightning position online.  Supposedly no one has ever died, using this technique.  

Admittedly, I have a fear of snow and ice.  Mainly because I don’t have much familiarity with the gear that it takes to enjoy the outdoors in them.

Tips to combat-  Check the weather BEFORE you go.  The night before and before you leave your house. I LOVE mountain-forecast.com because it has forecasts at various levels of the mountain, the trailhead, and at the summit.  I also use Weather Underground because of the numerous weather stations they have.

Irrational Fear

Irrational fear in my experience is most common in newer hikers and outdoors-people.   Because they may lack experience in the outdoors, they can often fear a litany of things. Getting lost, running out of water, snakes, bears, animals, being too slow, not being able to keep up, it getting dark outside, etc.  The list can go on and on.

Getting lost-  This is one of the things that I hear that actually happens the most.  There is no reason to get lost.  There are numerous smartphone apps that will track your hike.  If you feel unsure, if all else fails, just refollow your path the way you came.

Tips to combat- Purchase a GPS, or download a smartphone app such as Route Scout. BUT also please learn to read topographic maps.  This link is the single best internet resource that I have seen to teach people how to use maps!

Snakes-  Please do not let fear of snakes keep you off the trail.  They simply ARE NOT interested in you.  I have stepped on two rattlesnakes in my life and lived to tell the tale.  

Tips to combat-  When using handholds in rocky terrain, you do need to have some caution.  99% of the time on a maintained trail there is no possibility of an actual encounter unless you bother the snake, try to move it, or anger it.  Just cut them a wide berth and go around them.  

Fear of being slow-  I will be blunt.  Honestly, no one cares that you may be slow.  No, really, we aren’t judging you.  What we are is happy that you made the decision to get outside and you chose to spend time with us.  Those of us that are fast hikers have other opportunities to hike fast on another day.  And we can take more photos.  We are just glad to be in your company.

Tips to combat-  Don’t worry about this one.  We are glad you are with us.

Over time the more often that you hike, climb, ski, kayak, whatever it is that is outdoors, you’ll have less and less irrational fears.  You’ll learn to trust yourself, your gear, your hiking partner, or in whatever spiritual being that you believe in (or not).

Another thing that helped me conquer my fear is a personal preference to potentially die outdoors rather than chained to a desk.  It’s a feeling of letting go, managing risk, and accepting outcomes that you cannot always control.  I learned to control what I could control, and not worry so much about things that I couldn’t control.  This is truly how I conquered most of my fears.

I hope that this helps you conquer some of your fears and I hope to see you out on a trail.

Let me know your tips to combat fear in the comments below.

Lessons from the Mountains

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I was six.  My dad was 54…  He had taken me to a place near our house in Alabama that geologically were the absolute end of the Appalachian Mountain foothills.  As in, THE END, the foothills are no more.

I remember looking up with a sense of awe at how huge this mountain was and how I couldn’t wait to climb it.  My dad called it Brown’s Mountain.  It was in reality known as Baxley Hill to the fine folks at the USGS and I found out in later years about 400 feet tall.  But to me it was Mount Everest.  And a love affair began!

But like a lot of love affairs, they can tend toward being on again, off again.  I still explored, adventured, and hiked the Alabama(and later Florida) woods but didn’t really climb very many mountains. Mainly because Alabama doesn’t have many!

But about two years ago, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in particular Cave Creek. When I first moved here, mountains scared me.  I thought I would fall.  And die.  But like most things in life, I began to notice that if I got up and just WENT, that everything seemed to work out well in the end.  I began to get stronger and more confident. But most people feel that.  I want to share with you some other things that I have learned from mountains.  Things like core values and things that all humanity can benefit from.

“Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.” Saint Francis de Sales

Patience-   I recall being six years old simply wanting to charge up the mountain (hill!) In fact, when I moved here, I’d climbed a few mountains in the South, but I really just walked the trail.  When I began climbing mostly off-trail and obscure mountains, is when I began to see patience in other parts of my life.  See, mountains require you to stop and think sometimes. They don’t just reveal all their secrets to you immediately.  They’re like a puzzle that only you know how to figure out how to assemble the pieces.  And patience helps with that. Believe me.

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

Accomplishment-  I’ve always accomplished things.  Mostly smaller things.  And mostly with my brain.  See I’m not super physically strong, and two to three years ago I wasn’t even very fit.  But I am now.  Because I have accomplished most of my mountain related goals.  But what I really learned from the mountains is that these are personal accomplishments.  I didn’t do them for others, I did them for me.  And every time I climb a mountain, it just makes me want to climb five more.  And higher and steeper.  This is a lot like life.  We just build on our accomplishments one by one until you really look back and say, wow, I really did that.

“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Beauty- OK, I am a typical guy.  But mountains have taught me to appreciate the beauty in all things.  Most people just see a big tall pile of rocks, but I see the equivalent of a snowflake.  I’ve never seen two mountains that were exactly alike.  But all of them are beautiful to me.  In their own way.  Kind of like humans…

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” Aristotle

Solitude-  Well… I am certainly no god.  But I not only delight in solitude, I crave it.  I need it to recharge my batteries, recharge my soul and basically to challenge myself to learn to depend only on myself.  But much like there is no silence without a sound.  It also reminds me that I also need people.  Genuine human interaction.  

I saved the best thing that I have learned from mountains for last.  It is the greatest of all things, and that is love.

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” Orson Welles

Love-  Wow, where to begin.  I love everything about mountains.  Looking at them, climbing them, reading about them, I could go on.  But that’s not really what they have taught me.  They’ve taught me that even I can love something other than my family, something intangible, something not living as much as I love those other things.  And that my purpose in life is to share that love with everyone else.  Because if others love them half as much as I, they’ll want to climb them.  Then they’ll want to tell others about them.  Then they’ll want to protect them.  Then they’ll clean trash off of them.  Then they will ask their politicians to prioritize them and to pass laws protecting them.  

Love is the single most powerful thing that we as humans can do.

But more important than even that, is that love will be passed down through the generations.  Just like my father passed down to me.  See, he took me to that mountain for a reason.  Because he loved me, and he wanted me to love it.  Now I understand.

A Landlubber Looks at 42

Forty two years ago today, I entered this world.  My dad was probably the happiest man on Earth considering he was forty-eight and had left his first wife because she was afraid of dying in childbirth.  My first night that I was brought home, I slept in a chest of drawers drawer because my crib wasn’t ready.

We lived in the woods, in the middle of nowhere on property that had been in my family for a couple generations. Some of my kin folk still live near there, on Cleghorn Drive.  It seems so far away.  So long ago.

I was a fat baby with huge rolls.  I’m told that I was extremely inquisitive and walked and talked very early.  My mother was much younger than my father, by nineteen years. This foretold…problems later in life.

As most of you know, my dad has been dead now since 2007.  Most of my life has been trying to apply lessons that he tried to teach me, and making him proud.   People tell me that he would be proud of me and I know they mean well, but I don’t always feel that way.  It’s hard not knowing.  You just can’t call them up and ask them, any more.

But this post was meant to share all the things that I wish that I could have told my 21 year old self.  21 years ago today, I turned 21.  The world was my oyster.  I thought I knew everything but really, I didn’t know much.  I didn’t know much about the world, and worse, I didn’t know much about myself.

Go outside and view sunsets and sunrises

When I was 21, I was lucky to not still be drinking at the time of sunrise.  I never saw them.  I never cared to look, or distinguish between a beautiful one, or the mundane. There is magic in the rise of the sun.  Every day.  My favorite part is five minutes before sunrise when it actually gets darker than it was before.  It’s awesome.

I never saw them.  Sad.

Put down the alcohol and drink water

I was never a HUGE drinker.  Sure I drank a lot in the Army and some in college.  But I sure wish that back then, I had drank less, drank more water, ate better, exercised more, took care of my body.  When I was young and could have gotten into the best shape of my life, I didn’t.   Now, stuff hurts, stuff I didn’t even know could hurt, hurts.  Then I was damn near invincible.  Or at least I thought I was.

Save more for retirement

I remember thinking that who in the hell would want to ride in an RV, much less BUY one?  Those are for OLD people. Well, yeah, now that I am old, I want one.  Badly.   I was so eager to get to work that I failed to contemplate the me that really wouldn’t want to work anymore.  Which is now.

Don’t pick short term happiness over long term contentment

Pretty self explanatory.

Prioritize career happiness over financial mobility

I started out my college career as a Pre-Med student.  All my life, I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. Then, at the first sign of adversity, I quit.  I wasn’t disciplined enough at the time to go through what that took.  Sad but true.  But then I compounded my mistake by choosing a career that would chain me to an office desk.  Because at 21, I thought that it was ‘lesser’ to work outside.  What a fool, I was.

The desk has come to symbolize for me a ball and chain and a death sentence.  I want SO BADLY to be working outside.  I ALMOST majored in Forestry, as Auburn had an excellent program.  Every day, I regret not doing so.  Kids, ensure your long term happiness and the money will somehow work out. Unless it won’t and then you can regroup. Money is not everything.

So if you’re still reading you may be thinking, what did he get right…  Anything? Bueller….

Yes, some things…

If nothing else, be principled

Probably the best compliment that I get from my friends is that they see me as principled, if even to a fault and sometimes to my detriment.  It’s true, I’m an extremist with it but I just have lived life refusing to compromise my core principles.  And like most people, I sometimes fail to live up to them, but for the most part I try and be principled and choose right over wrong and expedient.

Read

Reading is the single most important thing that IMO that humans can do to better themselves.  My life has been dedicated to reading.  I don’t read as many novels as I used to but I’m always reading something.  A map, a blog post, magazines, articles, what have you.  If you don’t read, start NOW.  And never stop.  It is probably the single most important gift that I received from my childhood.  As chronicled before, I’d venture to guess that there aren’t 50 people in the US with an 11th grade education that read more books than my dad.  And from disparate sources and subjects.  You simply MUST do this.

Be on time and be present

It’s amazing to me how little time management skills that people have.  I’m psychotic about it but it works.  Honestly, just showing up is probably about 40% of what life is about.  But be present for people.  I try to.  Be present for others even if they aren’t present for you.  It’s hard, but do it.

Love your kids and your friends

Seems self explanatory but I grew up in a love neutral household.  Perhaps I’ve repressed the memories but I don’t ever remember being told I love you.  I know that my parents loved me but they didn’t show it.  Telling someone that you love them is not weakness, it is strength.  I tell my male friends ALL THE TIME that I love them.  Because it is right to, and because I do.  People these days need to hear these things.  More than ever.

I don’t really know how many years that I have left.  At times I feel like I have accomplished a lot, and at times I feel that I have accomplished nothing.  I’m sure that most people are like this.