I wrote this article for “N” magazine. It was published in the Winter 2018-19 issue. I’ve added three more pictures.
Liberation on the Trail
We see these advertisements and articles of vibrant people out backpacking on trails across the world. They are athletes crossing wilderness mountains, thru-hiking for hundreds of miles. This is the face of backpacking.
For some of us, this is reminiscent of days of youth, packing 50 pound weights, or military expeditions. Some see a challenge, some an uncomfortable activity. Some will write it off for health issues.
I’m in my sixties, now. I have had back injuries from rear-enders. I’m just not up for packing 45 pounds around the Bolivian Andes anymore. Did you see an elderly Robert Redford and Nick Nolte dragging up the Appalachian Trail in “A Walk in the Woods”?
My girlfriend and I love to explore, to find places remote enough that we can be naturally nude. We can spend days imbibing nature, photographing it, smelling it, and feeling every subtle sensation of our nudity. We find that there is a special sense of spirituality and oneness. We find wonderment and vistas, solitude and the teachings of the wild.
There is a certainty that most of us can participate nude on the trail. Here is our personal story of evolution, from the couch to the wilderness. I hope that it brings to you some inspiration. There are solutions. We can do this!
Our first strategy was to get a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. From that, we set up tents with twin-size air-mattresses. We used gas cooking and coolers for a relatively comfortable accommodation and a campfire. We could arrange our presence to block the view of others. We were glamping.
Still there were limits. We wanted to know the more pristine quality of this Earth. We wanted to get away from the crowds. We could hike for miles to a lovely spot, but we had to hike back that day. Why not backpack to a lovely spot and just stay, or instead, hike the same distance, but all in the same direction, deeper into the glory of it all?
I began to think this through. If we wanted to get out to paradise, live deliberately, natural, and spend some time there, we would have to carry lodging and food. We like a warm meal and a comfortable bed. We hike nude, so we are fair weather hikers, but nights can turn cold. We would have to carry warm clothing, too. Do we hire a sherpa?
I found the solution in ultra-light backpacking. Today, we each carry less than ten pounds each. When this much weight is placed primarily around the hips, it ceases to be a burden. We have delicious healthy meals. We sleep together in a pleasant airy shelter. We stay warm. Many people carry as much weight, or more, during a day hike.
The first backpacking arrangement gave us 12 to 15 pounds each to carry on a $250 budget. With this, we found the naked wandering pleasure of it all and it landed us in a natural paradise. We were hooked. We also discovered a sense of liberation, empowerment and accomplishment. Today, I have a stimulus to take my “Silver Sneakers” to the gym.
With this encouragement, I began to invest in something that would last for years and bringing us better health, both physically and spiritually. I set to work on honing our system. The old four and a half pound backpacks were replaced by a one and three quarter pound new pack technology.
The foam pads were not giving a comfortable enough rest. I added two one pound air-mattresses that could be set together.
Eventually, I got rid of the cheap four pounds of zip together sleeping bags. I splurged on a one and a half pound American made custom down camping quilt. Because it feels so good, I sometimes use it at home on my bed. Around that, our five pound tent was replaced by an efficient two and a half pound net tent with a special tarp rain covering. We now sleep well. We fall asleep looking at the stars, spooning and then wake to fresh scented air.
Our burden is lessened by splitting the load, yet individual clothing can weigh several pounds. We invested in high tech down jackets that weigh just eight ounces. I found that thermal and silk underwear are enough because they breathe so well. If there is chilly wind, I have techy pants. If it rains, I have a plastic poncho. All of this rolls up into a small ball, with a pair of wool socks.
I dehydrate many types of food and add bulk spices. For the labor of heating up a small pot of water, a large hot cup of stew, or spaghetti, eaten in the ambience of a forest, tastes gourmet. The kitchen and several meals for two, weigh only about two pounds.
I can recommend products; I can go into detail seemingly endlessly, about what I have found to work, but I won’t attempt that here. I will say that I have shaved off pounds by attacking ounces, like light plastic spoons, only enough loose dental floss, smaller containers for liquid toiletries and a light towel. When we are with a dependable water source, a filter can weigh three ounces, instead of carrying extra water at two pounds per liter. It all adds up and by the end of the day, every ounce gets heavier, if it stays in the pack.
For a quick overnight trip, I have also devised a solo, more austere backpacking arrangement that weighs five to seven pounds. It is supported by a thick belt. The only encumbrances that I feel are the belt, a sarong on my shoulders and my camera hanging from my shoulder. I wear my hat and light weight shoes. It is naked.
My sense is that I’m actually getting younger. It is never over, until it is over. I’m beginning to think about Bolivia again….
This is a segue to a backpacking story. Our Ascent up into the Huachuca Mountains to Miller Peak, just last September begins.