Modern life seems so soft, in a physical sense.
A person could live their whole existence on this earth
Without ever breaking into a sweat,
Without ever needing to use every inch and fiber of their being.
Without ever tasting a physical struggle, defeat, or conquest.
Or ever making a conscious decision to live.
I guess thats what my purpose in persuing these trails is,
to use and explore every inch and fiber
of myself, of my world.
Pressing to the outer limits of my abilities,
and when I have been there, to press further.
Wondering if what I am will serve...
Hoping to realize that what I am
There is a line in the movie Ben Hur.
In the hull of the slave galley,
where the men are chained to their oars,
the captain of the ship warns them,
"You are here to serve this ship. Row well, and live."
That line always runs through my mind when I think of my body.
It is here to serve my purposes.
I feed it, and allow it rest,
but I chain it to my will.
Some athletes have that sort of attitude.
The record setters.
Not content with what has been done.
Looking to push the limits.
Asking their body for more.
Survival, in extreme conditions has always fascinated me.
It takes an indomitable spirit.
Willingness to do whatever it takes, and never say die.
There are stories of men and women eating ants,
bark, cadavers, and sled teams.
Reports of coming back from nowhere,
when given up for weeks as dead.
People improvising shelters and clothing,
living and surviving.
Forcing their bodies on,
though in pain and agony.
Its not fun.
Its not a good time.
It's life with the minimum of resources.
But I think it then becomes
the ultimate experience.
So I am wondering.
Wondering what every mountain top will feel like.
Wondering what each valley will hold.
Wondering what it will be like to ask my whole being
to surrender to the primitiveness of self-reliance.
I am not going alone this time,
but it is my responsiblity to hike the miles, and survive.
I am not afraid.
It takes a measure of misery to make memories.
I think I will love it all.
Until then, I will be wondering.
This short quote summarizes my philosophy for life, and ultralight backpacking. I take what I want to enjoy the journey, and it is the lightest, most basic gear, all components of a harmonious system. Over the years and thousands of trail miles, my needs and wants have been redefined or eliminated, making an incredibly low pack weight possible. In this ever learning, ongoing process, any difficulty in the journey brings opportunity, and an amazing confidence born of hardship, not fluff.
An ultralight attitude can be developed over a period of time. Henry David Thoreau said "How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.” The idea Thoreau presents is not to carry anything too big; it just drags us down. We want enough, but just enough. Less material goods does not indicate poverty but the power of personal restraint, a very satisfying concept and lifestyle. Embracing this philosophy may require an adjustment of attitude for most Americans, brought up to believe that two chickens are needed in every pot, two cars belong in every garage, and a home with one full bathroom is substandard.
This ultralight concept does not refer to financial resources or money in the bank. A wise man once said, “Most emergencies can be solved with the proper application of a Master or Visa Card”. Instead of pushing stuff through life, I prefer to live lightly, with back up funds kept safe and accessible.
A self-sufficient ultralighter shows personal power. They do not borrow gear, food, water, fuel, or guide pages from others. I will not advocate that anyone go to a trail ill equipped or unprepared because they want to eliminate extra pack weight, figuring they will come across some good Samaritan or trail magic to bail them out. An ultralighter's goal is to have all the essentials or learn how to improvise until they get it. In some areas, a person may not meet another hiker for days or even weeks. Also, it is not fair to put others at risk, obligation or inconvenience because of our lack of planning. At times, ultralighters have been disparaged as "moochers". I feel duty bound to help shake that image by never borrowing or accepting anything, except for rare trail magic.
In real terms it means that as a petite woman, I carry clothes that fit me. Nothing is baggy, too large or too long. All can be layered harmoniously for maximum warmth. It means keeping body weight down, which has a double impact. By staying lean, not only do I feel better, and can climb hills easily, but also the volume and weight of my pack is reduced because of smaller clothes and sleep systems. My shelter is a minimalist, single wall silnylon structure, just large enough to sit up in, and sleep. I analyze each gear item, both for weight and volume, replacing them with newfound substitutes. For instance, my only knife, a 5 gram cutting tool found at office supply stores, has worked well for over 5, 000 miles. The food is adequate, and simple, requiring minimal cooking time with less fuel on an alcohol stove. I utilize town stops by eating a lot of extra calories, and carry about a pound of food per day on the trail. I take advantage of natural daylight, to cook, clean, write or read, and avoid doing anything that requires batteries. The two exceptions are a waterproof watch, and photon light, both still have the same battery after 5, 500 miles. I use well-made gear that can be repaired with superglue, electrical tape, or needle and dental floss.
Ultralight living and backpacking are natural for me. I have never been a collector of material goods. Instead, curiosity and love of personal challenges cause me to try all sorts of new ideas, and I collect experiences. Sometimes there's a lot of discomfort in these adventures, and I concede the failures and recognize the success, however marginal. This firsthand knowledge is applied to future escapades. Some of the techniques I learned hiking the Pacific Crest Trail did not apply to the Appalachian Trail, nor the Colorado Trail. Researching trail conditions always helps in making appropriate gear choices, and resupply plans. I believe in carrying trail data, and developing a strong understanding of the trail you're on, especially if it’s a long hike. The most important piece of gear a backpacker has is his or her brain. The knowledge you carry in your head can save you many pounds of pack weight, prevent miles of missed trail and wrong turns, give you options and back up plans, and the confidence to press preconceived, and often erroneous, limits.
My Journey to Freedom and Ultralight Backpacking ISBN 0-9728154-0-6, published by Fire Creek Pass in March 2003 is a personal account of my journeys on the Pacific Crest Trail, John Muir Trail, and Appalachian Trail. It details my journey from car camper to ultralight backpacker, and a spiritual journey to personal freedom. By sharing my experiences with you, I hope all your journeys will be lighter.