When I was 11 years old, shortly after I had joined Boy Scout Troop 116 in Elkhart, Indiana, I prepared for my first backpacking trip. Until this trip the only camping I had done was when the whole family and our giant canvas tent were loaded into my dad's station wagon, and we travelled to a nearby state park.
As the planning and packing began I knew backpacking would be better than any previous camping trip. I was going to carry my own gear and hike with other scouts five miles to a farm. I was excited.
I borrowed from the troop a canvas rucksack and my mom helped me pack it. I tried to tell her what I was told I needed to bring, but she had a hard time believing I would only need a few essentials.
She called the scoutmaster to check with him, but even then when he only named a few items, she was skeptical. She couldn't believe scouts could manage in the wilderness with only a few items, like a sleeping bag, a cook kit and a canteen. Then she found a checklist in my Scout handbook, and that convinced her I wasn't taking everything I needed for a successful trip. With this list she collected more items for me to take. I don't remember all of the extra items on the list, but I definitely remember there was a plastic wash basin. She put that in a nice, knit bag. Her list was now so long the items wouldn't all fit in the rucksack.
Of course now there was too much stuff for me to carry by myself, but that was no deterrent to my mom. She called the scoutmaster again, and this time he agreed to transport some of my gear in his car to the campsite. He took the rucksack. I carried on the hike the knit bag containing the plastic wash basin and several other items I didn't need.
I remember the teasing I got for bringing all of that extra gear I didn't need. I remember the hay the farmer gave us to spread in our canvas tents so that we would be warmer on this early spring outing. The hay made my nose so stuffy I could barely breathe.
I remember being in the woods on that farm, attempting to cook my own meals, and learning outdoor skills like setting up a tent and building a fire.
And I still remember when it was over I wanted to go backpacking again.
To this day I don't understand why I wanted to do it again. I just did.
As I said, my family did some car camping, but you could hardly call us the rugged outdoors types. My parents wanted my sister, brother and me to have lots of experiences, and camping allowed us to travel on a limited budget.
It must be in part because of a sense of adventure I learned from my parents, but I quickly grew to love the outdoors. I grew to appreciate the feeling of freedom, the beauty, and the serenity. To this day I would rather be outside than inside.
Since that first backpacking trip, I have made many more. Some trips have been to places like Wind River Range, Wyoming, and Weminuche Wilderness Area, Colorado. Every single one I would gladly do again, even the ones in which the weather was miserable.
If this article is to really be about me I have to fill in a few other important details. For instance, my real name is Jim Smith. I live in Tennessee with my wonderful wife, Kim. Together we raised two sons, Logan and Landon, who have grown to be fine young men and productive members of society.
When I'm not backpacking or hiking I might be working as a web developer or I might be making beer. I'll let you guess which one I'd rather do.
Being a husband and a father are what complete me as a person. My family is why I continue to be happy and successful. It's their love and support that allowed me to successfully complete thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail in 2017 and the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019.
But to understand why I wanted to hike those long-distance trails, you have to know about that weekend 50 years ago when I became a backpacker.
Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons, From "Song of the Open Road" by Walt Whitman
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.