Reconnections

Many moons ago, I started this blog to record adventures I had begun taking on my quest to hike 1,000 miles in a calendar year. Since 2012, I’ve hiked over 7,000 miles, but I stopped recording adventures – at least in any personal sense – when I began writing for Modern Hiker. The sort of directional writing I do there has served me well, as I’ve published a book, I’m writing two brand new ones, and I’m contributing to a backpacking compilation guide. Lately however, I’ve felt that something is missing.

The “A-to-B” style writing for hiking guides appealed to me not just because I could make half a living at it but because I had grown more and more uncomfortable with personalized narratives. Although my reasons remain murky even now, the gist of my feelings is that it’s more valuable to tell people how to have the experiences themselves rather than inadvertently have my experience and attitude influence theirs.

Enter Kolby Kirk, a respected journalist/artist/author/photographer auteur-type who is a master of journaling. Although I don’t know him, I’ve followed his success long enough to begin realizing that there’s a lot of value in recording your impressions. I can remember exactly where you need to turn on the Engelmann Oak Loop, but I have no idea what I was thinking or feeling the last time I hiked there.

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It’s time to change that, and so this blog will again serve as a mouth piece for thoughts, opinions, feelings, and observations that occur to me while I hike.

I’ll start with a trip back to my “Ancestral Homelands” as my friend Casey likes to call them. I took a short hike to Century Lake, which is a destination I frequented before I moved to San Diego in 2012. I used to hike here on a nearly weekly basis to decompress. While using my favorite lakeside perch for similar purposes, I reflected on who I am now versus who I was then. After skimming over the accomplishments – books, blogs, presentations, professional licensure, marriage, baby, fatherhood, flatulence – I began pondering the differences in my attitude toward hiking and how they’ve affected my approach.

These days, I tend to hike with a purpose. I’ve got ground to cover for field work. I want to write something new for Modern Hiker. I want to see if I can squeeze in six miles before the babysitter leaves. Mostly gone are the days when I would dive into books to find out what a plant was called. Mostly gone is the sense of uncertainty that went with following a new route. Mostly gone is the sort of raw excitement that came with discovering an unknown. And mostly gone is the tendency to stop and soak a place in long enough for it to permeate the dusty layer of responsibility, stress, and sleep deprivation that I wander around in these days.

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How do I reclaim some of that? Well, start blogging again for starters. But moreover, there’s a certain intention that I often skate right past before I set foot on the trail. Without this intention, I plow through the miles, snap a ton of pictures, commit the trail to memory, but all in the service of turning out a product.

That new/old intention is mindfulness. Too often there’s an eye on some future goal and not an eye on slowing down enough to fully enjoy the moment as it’s occurring. It’s this lack of mindfulness that’s as much a culprit as anything, not just in hiking but in all life itself. I feel it when I’m frustrated that my kid won’t let me put him down without crying. I feel it when I have three hours to go at work before I can leave. I even feel it when I’m on my last bit of text editing, and I can’t wait to move on to something else that I’ll be anxious to move on from. And of course, it also includes moving on from beautiful spots on a trail before I even give them a chance to sink in.

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I sat beside Century Lake for about 25 minutes, which is all the time I had. However, it was 23 minutes longer than I would have stayed had I opted for the more ambitious hike to get in the miles. As I listened to the birds sing, I noticed how many strains of bird song there were. I heard it ebb and flow and sometimes cease altogether. I noticed the occasional rumble of jumbo jets flying out of LAX, and I also began to notice how the willows on the opposite banks shimmered and swayed in the southeast breeze. I gave the smells of the lake – bay trees, redwood, that rich tea created from vegetation steeped in the water, and my own sweat and sunscreen – permeate my awareness.

In the process, I lost track of my mild anxiety over whether my kid would be fussy or not when I got home, and it didn’t bother me when he was fussy. I forgot about the potentially catastrophic laptop failure that may lose me 7,5k images and a big chunk of manuscript. I forgot how tired I was. I forgot whatever mood I had walked in with. And, I remembered why I do any of this in the first place.

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If you’re interested in the hike:

Park at the Ronald Reagan Ranch Trailhead and head east on the road. Continue past the buildings and follow the overgrown Yearling Trail to the Cage Creek Trail, and turn right. Cage Creek Trail drops you off at Crags Road. Turn right to follow it over the concrete bridge crossing Malibu Creek, and make an immediate left onto the Forest Trail. Keep in mind that the Forest Trail is overgrown with poison oak in some spots.

Download the GPS Track.

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9 thoughts on “Reconnections

  1. Your journey sounds like a familiar one to me. I was born (1947) and raised in San Diego. I was a backpacker for most of my life—still am I guess. I was there when A-16 (Adventure 16) and REI gave birth to new and innovative gear. When I reached my sixties I switched to ultralight backpacking (I couldn’t handle the heavy loads any longer). I was bogged down for fifty years with just living (husband, father, grandfather and banking professional). Seven years ago that all came to an end and I was totally FREE. Broke but free. For the past seven years I have been trekking the world full-time (365 days a year) with my Osprey Farpoint 70L backpack and Pelican photography case as a photographer and writer. I turned 71 on the 18th of May. I label myself Location-Independent (homeless) and a Slo-Traveller (visiting fewer places for longer periods of time, seeing less but experiencing more). I believe that life (a good life) is a series of phases, each to be lived to its fullest before moving on to the next. To journey through this existence with mindfulness and gratitude is a blessing. Hopefully, I have more years to come but if not then I am grateful for what I’ve already been given. I enjoyed your post and it struck a chord. Best wishes for a bright future. Steve Dennstedt @ http://www.IndochinePhotography.me.

    1. Thanks, Steve. All of us have so many trips around the sun, and we all start out with a limited loan whose interest rate is ultimately death. Lots of ways to spend that capital, but it looks like you’re using yours exactly the way you want to. Best wishes on your travels, and may your trail go on for many more years.

  2. Exactly… mindfulness and being in the moment are very difficult. It requires conscious effort but it’s worth it in the end. Great post and I look forward to more!

    1. Thanks! It’s such a strange irony that simply being in the moment requires a Herculean effort. It’s a combination of modern distractions, bad habits, and a tendency for the mind to think it ought to be the boss when it’s only fit for middle management.

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