“The Outdoors are Hard”
By Brooke Jackson
“The outdoors are hard” I mumbled between shaky breathes as I trudged down the trail. My (at the time) boyfriend and “professional outdoorsman” as I like to refer to him turned around to laugh at me. “That’s the point,” he said, and then took back off down the trail with his ridiculously long legs, making this whole backpacking thing look effortless. Silently, I begged God to open the sky, soak us to the bone and give me an excuse to turn around and run (yeah right) back to the car. I knew at that moment that I had wasted nearly a thousand dollars on backpacking gear only to discover it was the absolute worst past-time, ever.
It took 6 years before I let someone else talk me into heading back out on the trail. That first backpacking trip lasted all on 1.4 miles before I admitted defeat and forced my now husband to set up camp, in the middle of the day, refusing to take another step and dreading the hike out the following morning. So how the hell did I find myself excited to pull my backpack out of the attic and shove it full of all the gear I would need for a 3-day trip? Motherhood. Motherhood changed me. Completely and irrevocably, I became a different person. One that wasn’t afraid of something hard, of a challenge, of something I didn’t know how to do.
Before my twins were born I took the easy way out on a lot of things. I didn’t push myself to be better because I didn’t care. I liked myself all right and that was enough. I was who I was and what was the point? But upon their arrival, I discovered that it wasn’t enough for me to float through my own life. I wanted greatness, not just for me but for them. I wanted to be a woman they could look up to, aspire to, be proud of, and the outdoors became my way to find myself. Backpacking 24 miles on the AT, a trail I had been fascinated with in college but didn’t think I would ever actually hike, was my goal, my focus, my holy grail. After a year of doing nothing but taking care of my kids (not that it’s nothing, but you get the point), being the stay at home mom I always wanted to be, I needed a challenge. I was confident I could do it. I mean, I survived carrying two babies to 34 weeks, preeclampsia, an emergency c-section, an 11 day NICU stay and then the first year of twin parenthood. And if I could do that, I can do anything. So I talked a friend into going with me on this crazy trip with WILD, dusted off my backpack and for weeks leading up to the trip I was the crazy lady walking at the park with a loaded down pack and screaming twins.
I was terrified. I have rarely completed anything I set my mind to, even a 4-year degree took me 8 years because I couldn’t pick a major. I just don’t have good follow through. I had nightmares that I would let these other women down by being the one that couldn’t go any further. The one that sat down and refused to move. The one that had a full emotional breakdown while actual hikers passed me in judgment. Until the morning of the trip, when I stepped on the scale in my full gear, pack loaded down with everything I would need for 3 days and discovered that I still weighed less than I did the morning I went into the hospital to have the twins. I realized at that moment that this trip was going to be nothing compared to what I had already done. That this fear that had held me back was all in my head. These ideas that I wasn’t a hiker, or strong enough, or brave enough were all just lies. Because I had already done the hardest thing I’ll ever do in this life and I was ready.
I won’t say the hike was an easy one. There were definitely moments where I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. But, I found my place at the back of the group and I loved it. I felt free and strong. I cried that first night after talking to my husband, the emotions of leaving my babies overnight for the first time and having completed one of the more difficult days we would have on the trial were too strong to hold back. It all just felt cathartic, the physical exertion and doing something I honestly never thought I would do. As the trip went on, I helped others that were struggling to find the motivation to keep moving. I discovered things about myself, like the fact that after a steep climb I actually loved the fire in my lungs and legs because I felt accomplished. I realized I loved helping other people figure things out, teaching skills I already knew and sharing my past failure with the trail. Occasionally, as we hiked, the group would grow quiet, in those moments I found my mind wandering to places I hadn’t visited in years, letting go of things I didn’t know I still held on to. I came home feeling empowered, having made lasting friendships and latched onto WILD and the outdoors like my life depended on it and maybe it did.
Now I find myself craving the time outside. I want all the time outdoors, hiking, kayaking, canoeing. If I can be outside I want to be, and if it is going to be hard, I want it even more. I’m here to learn and live, not just pass through. I want the challenge, want to feel my muscles scream from exertion, and my lungs burn. I want to push myself to be faster on the trail and more knowledgable in the outdoors. I want to help WILD grow, to encourage other women to join us and see what the outdoors can do for them too. I will forever be grateful for my first two backpacking trips, both having taught me different things. But the most important lessons and one I share with anyone that will listen is that the outdoors ARE hard, but that’s kinda the point.