The Evolving Backpacker
I am happy and blessed by the fact that my parents instilled in our family a love for the out of doors. For me as a young adult growing up in Southern Alberta and then moving to the interior of BC this meant that I had ample opportunities to spend time in a number of our wonderful National Parks – and in those days one didn’t need permits to just head off back packing or canoeing on over night treks.
For me this meant exploring various sections of the Great Divide Trail in Jasper, Banff, and Yoho National Parks; canoeing the Bow River from Lake Louise to Calgary; completing the Bowron Lake canoe circuit in the central interior; hiking the West Coast and Juan de Fuca Marine trails on Vancouver Island; and most recently exploring the Coastal Mountains off of Princess Louisa Inlet on the Sunshine Coast. All of these pursuits involved hauling a considerable amount of equipment – tent, stoves, food, sleeping bag and foamie, and of course clothing to handle weather fair and foul.
As I have gracefully aged (I say) I still maintain my passion for outdoor pursuits, however they no longer entail my 40 – 45 lb. back pack! A few years ago, I discovered the joys of Hut Hopping in the European Alps. For those of you who have yet to experience a European mountain hut, the term hut is a misnomer. These ‘huts’ are more like luxury lodges which often include private accommodations, terrific cuisine, and of course a place to down a celebratory cool or warm refreshing drink after an exhilarating walk. The real clincher is that for many overnight excursions involving these facilities you only have to pack clothing, snacks, and a sleeping sack – your own personal sheet, and this can all very easily be done with a pack that weighs under 20 lbs.
This approach has worked exceptionally well for me on a recent Tour de Mont Blanc (through France, Italy, and Switzerland) and in the Stubai Alps of Austria. More recently my wife and I have discovered the next ‘pack lightener approach’. This spring we did the Jesus Trail in Israel – a 65 KM walk from Nazareth to Capernaum. For this trip we used a tour company that pre booked our accommodation, provided us with a detailed trail guide, and moved our luggage for us each day. We only had to hoist a small day pack that contained water, our snacks, and clothing for unexpected weather conditions, and then walk to our next pre-booked lodging to find our luggage. This is definitely a very civilized way to go for folks who are still mobile and interested in ‘doable’ walking adventures.
Are there any caveats? Yes, in our experience, the guide book for the Jesus Trail we figure was written and walked (timed) by a 21-year-old who had just completed his or her mandatory Israeli military service and physical training. It was very difficult to meet the posted way marker times. The Tour de Mont Blanc, and the Stubai Rucksack Route we felt were timed by 20-year-old Germans who run mountain trails for fun. In both of our Alpine guides we found that we were adding another 1/2 of the posted time to get an adequate estimate of the length of the hikes in hours. In Israel we did the KM’s but it left little time for the ‘optional’ side trips that were recommended and often sounded interesting.
What have we learned? It is still great to get out-side and be in the great out of doors however we are no longer youngsters. Figure out how far you want to walk in a day and what is potentially on the route and then try to plan your own day. Remember, references to ‘allowed time for museums’ are done by folks who don’t like to read! Guide books are only for ‘guiding’. This may result in adding an extra day or two to the outing, however this little adaptation can make or break an experience, and at this stage of our lives, every little thing to make life easier and more enjoyable is worth considering.
Happy trekking or whatever you pursue to make life full and meaningful in your retirement!