Different – That’s How I Feel: Lessons From Our Winter Backpacking Trip To Camden Hills State Park

The view from atop Mt. Megunticook

I just returned from a 3-day adventure in Camden Hills State Park in Maine (not far from Acadia National Park). Yes, it’s mid February, and yes I just got back from a backpacking/camping trip in the middle of winter. I spent the better part of the last three days with an aluminum frame pack on my back, hanging out with 8 other companions (9, including our dog), including the Tougas family, whom I introduced to you last year here. We spent the days lugging around our packs through the snowy hills and mountain in Camden – stuffed full of sleeping bags, extra layers of clothing, and most importantly FOOOOOOOOOD. I think I probably carried more weight in food than anything else. Some would argue that we ate better while camping than at home! Our weekend trip was a delightful adventure and it ended far too soon.

It’s impossible to encapsulate the experience in a single essay, but I will tell you that it included some of life’s simplest and greatest joys and a breathtaking mountain/ocean view on one of the most beautiful days we’ve had all winter (see video and picture gallery below).

Perspective

Surreal is the best term to describe my feeling upon returning from a trip like this one. I know that I’ve changed, even if ever-so-slightly, and I’m returning home from a foreign environment, back to my norm – my circle. A trip like this puts a lot of things into perspective, and I wanted to share some thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for the past few days.

  • People are always talking about “general fitness this and general fitness that,” to be prepared for the unknown future. Debates resound on the internet about the best method for getting generally fit, and most of it is nonsense. Let me tell you something. I don’t care if you can run 10 miles, bench press 315 lbs, perform 30 pullups, or can complete “Fran” faster than anyone else . If you cannot carry on your back what you need to survive for a day (or even a month), then you are not fit for the unknown – that’s rudimentary fitness, folks.
  • In the same breath, if you do not have the skills to survive outside of your usual, comfortable bubble, then you won’t last long in the wild – especially if you don’t even have the equipment to make up for your lack of skills (such as a water purifier, for instance). We are far too dependent on modern conveniences. In a time of crisis, it could be our own undoing. Put another way, your fitness doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have the skills or resources to survive. (I’m talking to myself here, too.)
  • If you boil down what our basic needs are for survival (and even a relative level of comfort), then you will stand in awe at what our lifestyle obsessions have become.
  • Clean water in ample supply is of paramount importance and comes very clearly into perspective when you’re purifying it for a group. We are greatly dependent on some basic things for our very survival, and we tend to take those things for granted.
  • I went 3 days on an almost exclusively vegetarian diet, and I did just fine.
  • If your training only involves spending an hour at the gym, 3X a week, then you cannot expect to be prepared for much more than that. It’s true that you can get significantly applicable benefits from training in a minimal amount of time (and I’m a big fan of this), but sometimes the best training is not training at all – it’s putting yourself into a challenging situation. MovNat is a system that implements this as part of its standard curriculum, but you don’t need to practice MovNat to practice adaptability.
  • You can be fit enough to complete an activity, but that doesn’t ensure that you’re prepared for it. Fitness only gives us the PHYSICAL ability to apply skills, but it doesn’t ensure that you can actually apply them (or that you even have the skills to begin with). We are not compartmentalized beings, and you cannot isolate your physicality from the other elements of human nature (mind, spirit, etc.). Our bodies are only capable of what our mind and spirit allow. Our training should build on this integrated nature.
  • Speaking of integration… your level of fitness should not only be dependent on your personal goals, but on the fitness levels of those around you. If you’re fit for something, and your partner is not, then how can you be fit for your life if your partner cannot participate or join you. Said another way, you can’t climb a mountain that your loved ones cannot climb, too. Or maybe you can, but what’s the point? Physicality is something that is meant to be mutually shared with others.
  • If you’d like to learn about rudimentary fitness, follow a dog for a few days and observe their behavior. You’ll learn more than spending the same amount of time reading fitness blogs, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself a lot more, too.
  • Experiencing new things with children is one of the most enlightening pursuits one could employ. Kids teach us just as much as we teach them.
  • Everything tastes delicious when you’re tired and hungry. Good food tastes even more delicious. Eating a lot of good food is very good. Period.
  • I experienced many cases of “second wind” while hiking. On the last day and about halfway through the most challenging hike, I got to the point where I felt I could hike forever (aka 5th gear). No more fatigue, no more discomfort. Just two legs, a pack, and the joy of knowing I had adapted. The take home lesson is that if it’s easy, then you’re not adapting to anything. If you’re facing resistance, take heart, because you are at the very beginning of the growth process. Similarly, if you are not facing resistance, you have not started the growth process yet. The moment that you cannot take another step is the exact same moment before triumph and success. When you most want to give up, that’s when you must press on. Once you get through that escalating resistance, the discomfort will melt and the work will become play.
  • Intu-Flow joint mobility was a hit with the whole group and was essential for me to perform at my peak and stay comfortable throughout the entire weekend. Who would have known that a few shoulder and hip circles throughout the day could do so much good? I’m not nearly as sore as I could be from a trip like that (even without eating “complete” animal proteins for 3 days).
  • Upon returning home, I’m not tired in the least, but invigorated. There’s something about being out in nature (aka our natural environment) that’s greatly revitalizing. In the scientific community, I think we’ve only scratched the surface of research in terms of how our physiology depends on and interacts with our environment. Sure, we know basic things like clean oxygen is good for us, and that we get a good dosage of Vitamin D from sunlight, but I think we’re just barely beginning to understand the depth of our connectedness, physiologically, to nature. If you want to experience this firsthand, then spend a few days mostly outdoors and see how you feel.
  • One of the major themes of this trip was integration. We are all looking for integration in our lives, and this is easily demonstrated during a camping trip. What should I pack that I can re-purpose so I’m not carrying a ton of stuff? How can we combine family time, fitness training, entrepreneurial work and a vacation into one trip – and greatly enjoy ourselves? How can we do this while eating good food, getting plenty of rest and developing meaningful relationships with others? The answer is integration. (more on that in the future)
  • One of the ultimate purposes of fitness is to be of better service to others. If you are not fit, then you are a burden. This may not be obvious to you, and it may not even be obvious to those closest to you. But someone in the world is burdened because of your lack of basic health and fitness. And of course, the person who is burdened the most is yourself. I don’t want to be a burden on anyone – not now or into old age. This is one of the reasons why I train.

One of life’s most beautiful compensations: No one can sincerely try to help another without helping themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is sad that this wonderful experience had to end, but it’s not as sad as the idea that our daily reality is not always one of delight and growth. Life feels hard, and complicated, and stressful, and sometimes exhausting. But the truth is that we make it that way. We shape our lives into exactly what they are. We are not like the ocean waves – tossed and thrown by the wind and current. Rather, we are like the wind, we are the force that moves the world around us. We become victims only when we accept ourselves as such.

There is such a fire in my heart to share with others what I’ve come to appreciate from a trip like this, but I think it’s easier said than done. I think the best thing I can do is keep living my dreams, keeping challenging others, keep showing people that life is what we make of it and we are not by-standers, but participants and controllers (if we choose to be). You can’t easily force a reluctant animal out of it’s cage, but you can leave the door open and show it the way out.

I’m happy to say that we’ve moved past the stage of friendly acquaintance with the Tougas family. We’re no longer shaking hands, but embracing each other upon our visits and departures, and I know it’s a good thing when the kids ask us to sleep over “just one more night, puh-leeeeease.”

This is why I train – why we train. Family, Fun, Adventure.

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

6 Responses

  1. What a great trip John, and some fantastic and very meaningful observations. I can truly feel you emotions and energy through your words.

    I have experienced similar feelings through surfing and mountain biking, with the connection to nature or more I think more accurately the disconnection from the rat race or concrete jungle. In surfing, putting yourself into natures hands and dealing with the challenges that she throws at you, paddling further out, pushing yourself into larger waves, taking steeper drops, etc. or on the bike going deeper into the woods and taking steeper drops, going faster, harder than you have before, all with a definite possibility that if you are not physically or mentally ready, there could be serious consequences. And then in the middle of all this, just stopping and floating around, splashing yourself with water or hopping off the bike and sitting on a log and soaking it all in.

    Heck, this re-connection with nature can even be as simple as laying down in the yard and looking up at the clouds on a nice day, pointing out the different shapes and creatures you see. I recently did this with my wife and our grand-kids and we both realized that it had been years since we had done that.

    Again, thanks for the story and inspiration John, you took the experience and broke it down even further into great observations and analysis (kinda’ CST stylee eh?).

    Keep the stoke!

    • Thanks Dusty. If I’ve inspired you, then I’ve done my job. My father is an electrical engineer, and I think I got some of his analytical neurons that become apparent in my writing :-)

  2. I am really glad to have found your blog as you are a great source of inspiration and everything you say in your blogs resonates a lot with me.

    I adore camping. I was an Air Cadets and I remember how it was to go to survival camps and you are basically working ALL THE TIME. Not just 9 to 5, but the moment you wake up you work: finding wood for the fire at night, making sure the shelter we build is still strong and sturdy and adjust it if required, etc etc etc. We didn’t hunt but we had one can of food to share with 5 people per day. You had no choice BUT to find your second, third and fourth wind in order to stay energized and wake to do what is necessary.

    So, with this background, I believe that we are indeed meant to be outside. I go crazy when I go on a hiking trip. I can’t stand driving. I believe it makes people lazy and, to a certain extent, un-civilized.

    Road rage is something I experience on a daily basis here in Mexico City, and even back in my home town Montreal. People get histerical, impatient and words and fits are flying out and make people behave outside the norm.

    We don’t see this in nature. I don’t see animals yelling at each other because some other animal was in the way or because it cut him off.

    I know I exaggerate but I do believe that we are animals with a conscience, although I think that the conscience is basically thrown out the window.

    Anyway, going back to the topic at hand, I’m glad to have found your blog and I do have a goal to turn my lifestyle around to be more “basic”, go on hikes, walk more than drive, etc etc etc. Like you say, to have a “´physical living”. Even if the culture here in Mexico makes that hard, I do plan to find ways around that challenge.

    Thanks for this great post and for being a source of inspiration to me. I slowly am finding myself back with the help of your blogs.

    Alan

  3. Alistair

    I recently discovered your website & have enjoyed reading your blogs, i even did my first yoga class on Saturday after reading your blog on yoga, well it was a P90X yoga DVD but it was tough!!! it sure showed me my weaknesses!

    Back to this great post, you’ve really taken me back to my childhood & early 20’s when i spent more time with nature, the feelings of connectedness with nature & a disconnection with the consumerist world we occupy.

    As odd as this may sound a lot of your points resonated with me from my time in the military & how we were taught if we were overweight, unfit & not in control of our own bodies, then we were nothing more than a liabilty to not only ourselves, but those around us. You’re part of growing number of fantastic trainers online helping me break free of the gym & get back to real training thats beneficial to me holistically & not just about creating show muscle.

    Thanks again for such an enlightening fresh outlook on training & connecting with nature.

    One last thing John, you’re dog, what breed is he? I’m thinking an Akita, but im not sure? He’s a beautiful bog btw

    • Hi Alistair,

      Thanks for you comment. You’re right – our dog, Ronin, is a purebred akita. Good guess! His long coat throws people off sometimes. It’s considered a fault in the breed, but I think he’s all the more handsome for it. We get a lot of “is he a chow?” – but he’s about twice as big as a chow :)

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying the site and that you’ve started some yoga because of it. Keep it up!

      Your service in the military is a perfect example of that last point. We’re all here for service, whether we have a “service” job or not. Service to our family and friends, to our community, and country, among other things. If we’re in poor health, then our ability to serve is hindered, and I don’t ever want to be in that position.

      Thank you for serving in our military, and let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write on.

      Best,

      John

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