by Shannon Shanning
I glanced at the trail sign ahead, Wassataquoik Stream Lean-to 2.5 miles. I was only 3.3 miles into our 50-mile backpacking trip and was already craving a pizza, some Netflix and a rather large glass of wine. Funny how I can go 5 hours on a typical day and not think of food once, but 5 minutes in the woods and I am as ravenous as bear coming out of hibernation. Knowing that it would be another 5 days before I ate anything other than an MRE, I decided to shift my focus away from food. After all I had almost three more miles to go before we reached our Lean-to, just enough time to mentally plan lessons for the first few weeks of school, redesign my kitchen, make our back to school shopping lists, and draft that letter to the editor I’d been meaning to write, but never had time for.
As I mentally began tackling these tasks, my train of thought was interrupted by laughter. I looked ahead at my ten-year old daughter, head back, pointing and giggling at my husband. They both were engaged in what appeared to be a heated “would you rather” discussion about survival. I chuckled to myself as I watched them each present their case as if this scenario was their destiny. Aside from being a real life Grizzly Adams, my husband has an incredible knack for distracting people when they are hiking so they do not realize how hard it really is. Case in point. If history repeats itself, I knew that this 1 mile game of “would you rather”, would quickly lead into the “ABC, I am going to __ and I am bringing”, and would end with the “think of a song with the word ___” game. Usually we would all be singing at the top of our lungs by the time we reached our destination (in this case the lean-to), oblivious of how blistered our feet were or how tired we felt. While this is a brilliant strategy, I am sure every hiker we passed along the trail could hear us coming and did their best to not make eye contact. Little did Percival Baxter know that his request for the park to stay “forever wild” had nothing to do with preserving nature but rather with the behavior of those who choose to hike it.
As I continued to put one foot in front of the other, sporadically chiming in the “ABC game”, I could feel the weight of every item I carefully placed into my pack, pressing into my lower back. It is ironic how a package of oatmeal feels like a sack of stones after a few miles. Just 48 hours ago, my living room had been littered with pre-packaged meals, bug bivvies, sleeping bags, water filters, camp stoves, trail maps, and in the middle of it all, a scale. While it might have appeared to be a training camp for the Biggest Loser, this actually is our method for strategically selecting which items to place into our packs. As we critically analyzed every article, my 10-year-old daughter, Anna walked into the room with a deck of cards and our adventure journal. She carefully laid these artifacts on top of the pile requesting they make the cut. For those who have never backpacked, the weight of your pack is the determining factor for a successful, and let’s be honest here, enjoyable trip. If your pack is too light it could mean cold nights, hungry days, and possible wet, stinky clothes. Too heavy, means pain, blisters, and sheer exhaustion. Having survived both, our goal was to aim for somewhere in the middle and I was quite confident that this adventure journal and deck of cards would send us into the “too heavy” category.
Anna, having observed my eye roll, quickly chimed in noting that it was my idea to have a “family adventure journal”. And yes, that little book was my idea, one I found on Pinterest pinned by one of those mothers who somehow masters everything exceptionally well and has earned in my eyes, “cape status”. I thought if we wrote down all of the things we did as a family, even the most mundane of events, that somehow it would make everything more exciting. This notion that when you treat every day occurrences like an adventure, your perspective totally changes. Placing the adventure journal on the scale I suddenly cursed Pinterest and all of those “cape wearing” mothers who didn’t have to strap 40 pounds on their back and trek 5 days in the Maine Wilderness.
Frantically looking at the piles for something else I could take away, I grabbed the deck of cards. My daughter shaking her head, declared, “Mom this trip is about having fun, and we can use these cards in the lean-to at night to play games”. Damn it! She was right….this trip was about fun. Needless to say, the cards and adventure journal made the cut.
As we approached the lean-to my hands grazed the deck of cards that were strategically placed in the pocket of my hiking shorts. Not ideal, and truth be told they ended up chaffing my leg after day two, however they were a game changer. You know what else was? That damn adventure journal. The first night at our lean-to, we promptly took out the journal and by the light of our lantern wrote down our “adventures”, we included insights from our “trail games”, how it took us until dark to get the bear line up in the tree, swimming in a freezing cold river, the trail note we found from a through-hiker, our strategy for peeing in the woods, and the final score of our Rummy game (which my daughter legitimately won)
For the rest of our trip we approached everything not just like an adventure, but an adventure worthy of writing down, an adventure worthy of reading over and over again. And these items: the deck of cards and journal (which weighed close to pound), not only changed our entire trip, but changed my outlook on a whole lot of things.
As a “non-cape wearing” mother, a teacher, and as an adult who too often prioritizes things based on their urgency rather than their value, I started for the first time thinking about what I choose to carry with me. Since our trip, I choose what matters and I encourage you to do the same. Choose those little things which sometimes chafe your leg and add extra weight in your pack. They will make the whole trip worthwhile.
About the Author
Shannon Shanning is Maine’s 2013 Teacher of the Year. She works at Whittier Middle School in Poland, Maine as a Special Education Teacher.
“I am a teacher, perhaps one of the things that I am most proud of in my life other than being a wife, mother, and friend. I live in Poland, Maine in an old farmhouse with my husband, Harold and daughter, Anna. We also have four cats, yes that is right …FOUR CATS?! My family and I enjoy spending time outdoors (hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, and camping). My students can tell you that every experience for me usually turns out to be an adventure!”