4 Things I’ve Learned From My Time in the Woods This Summer

It’s been a good summer.

Among other things, it has been a good summer because of all of the backpacking that I have been able to do. A five-day trip to Canada with my boyz at Pilgrimage for an adventure of canoeing and backpacking, a most fun three-day trip with my youngest daughter Claire to Nicolet Forest in Michigan, and a three-day trip this past week with some Redemption Hill dudes to Sylvania Wilderness in Michigan.

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I know that not everyone enjoys backpacking, and there are certain elements of being and sleeping outdoors that you need to reconcile if you are truly going to take away lasting memories. But after three trips, 11 days, and 8 nights in the deep woods this summer, there were certain takeaways that were consistent from trip to trip.

And it is these that I want to share with you.

Today is more of a reflective post – no grand themes of leadership – but rather sharing what I have gleaned from being outdoors. But I think you will still see some threads of thought that will benefit you.

Because there are benefits. In our western culture, we have become so acclimated to the indoor lifestyle that we can forget that outdoors is more than just a place to pave a parking lot for store shopping or a use as a highway to get between home and job.

This past week’s trip involved about 27 miles of hiking, but yet I am coming back with a clearer mind, renewed thinking, and a rested body. Seems like it might be the opposite, but strange enough it is not.

Explaining my terminology

And when I speak of backpacking, I do not mean camping, where you have a neighbor to your left and a neighbor to your right, ten feet from your tent or camper, with more paraphernalia than you would normally find at a house. And nothing wrong with that!

No, I mean getting deep into the woods, where I might or might not see another person outside my party, with a 35-pound pack on my back with everything that I need to live comfortably.

What I am sharing today is not “the scientific benefits of being outdoors.” Rather just some observations about my life before I go into the woods, while I am in the woods, and after I come out of the woods. I share because it is through the reflections of others that we are sometimes are best motivated or provided with fresh thought or at least a new lens through which to view life. I do not have to always experience something in order to learn from it or receive some type of benefit.

This is not a “We need to spend more time outdoors!” monologue or chastening for spending too much time indoors. I do hope, though, that it provides you with some new ideas to push your own sense of what is valuable in a life.

And so here are four streams of thought that impacted me from my time in the woods this summer.

The life of the essentialist

I recently read a book titled Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. One of those pause and “that was good stuff” types of reads.

McKeown defines essentialism in his title. It is the disciplined pursuit of less. One helpful quote:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

There is something about carrying everything on your back that gives you a sense of having just what is absolutely essential…nothing more and nothing less.

When I first started backpacking, I took whatever I felt would be convenient. And guess what? I ended up carrying around a small apartment on my back. “Oh, I might need this. This would come in handy.” And it was killing my knees and my feet. Over time, though, I am purchasing lighter gear, carrying less food and clothing, and looking for what I can leave behind rather than what I can take.

Essentialism.

I am learning to take just what I need. And this past trip I felt like I was lean and really had no extra stuff to carry around. And you know what? I had just what I needed. And I found myself content. Really content. I was content for what I was not carrying around. And content for having just what was necessary to enjoy the trip.

And that leads me to a second observation.

Life got really simple

When you focus on what is essential, and the less in your life is what gets more focus, you learn the value of simplicity. My pack, in an effort to stay light, contained what was good for the simple life: food, clothing, shelter, and minimal pampering. Ok, so at almost 50 years old, I cannot sit on the ground like I used to. So I have a 2.5 inch compact air mattress for sleeping that can also be used in a very minimal chair frame to give me a comfortable sitting spot.

And so here is what occupied our three days: a map to get us to the next site, a place to stay, a lake for filtering water, a fire for warmth, a tent to keep us dry, and a small stove for a hot dinner. Honestly, there was nothing more I had to have. When I learned to be content with what I had, wants began to dissipate because I had all I needed. 

Dinner was great because I had one of two dinners to choose from (and they were both the same!). My long-sleeved [sn]super.natural base layer was perfect because it was the only long-sleeved shirt I brought. I got up and put on my Walmart $8.99 special rubber slip on’s and love their comfort because I only brought one pair of camp shoes. I was thrilled to put on a clean pair of hiking socks each day or add powder to my feet.

Life got really simple.

Paul said it well…

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

And these first two observations lead to my next.

No multitask, just task

Not gonna lie. It was nice to not juggle a text, reply to two emails that need to be sent, check out the latest news, check who left me a voicemail, and read my latest blog I subscribe to…all at the same time.

Being out in the woods, I literally focused on one thing at any given moment. Where do we need to go? We all stopped and looked at the map. No need to feel like I have to walk while opening the map and try to read it while traversing a trail. Let’s just stop, gather around the map, and see where we need to go.

Novel.

Hiking consisted of…just hiking. OK, I admit, I may have walked while trying to unwrap my fourth Jolly Rancher of the day, but complexity did not get any higher than that.

It was not that I did not have to multitask; I just did not really need to multitask. And it felt refreshingly odd. In my thinking, I must multitask if I want to be efficient. After all, there are so many different demands flying at me simultaneously. But in the woods? One task, one focus, one result.

And this leads me to my final observation.

No noise

And by no noise I do not mean absolute silence. I simply mean there were not a variety of things vying for my attention all at once. This brief video clip below was taken on the last morning of our trip. I had a bit of time to sit on the beach and listen to the harmony of sounds that were around me.

You may have to turn up your sound because it is…well…quiet.

Do you see what I mean? There were multiple sounds going on – wind, waves, insects, but they were all working around me as a symphony of nature and not three distinct voices that all demanded attention simultaneously. And it rejuvenated my spirit, my mind, and my body.

It recalibrated my thinking.

These observations are not implying that I would like to spend all my time in the woods. There are too many other elements of my life that I would not want to do without – that give me happiness, joy, and purpose (like my wife and kids!). But I am realizing that this time away served like a plug-in to boost my battery power by several percent. I did not realize how much it did for me until I went in…and then came back out.

My time away will actually allow me to provide greater value to the important areas of my life.

This is not meant to be a “Go get out into the woods more!” type of post. Each of our lives is different and has different needs. But I am challenging each of us to do the necessary work of evaluating our lives once in a while and assess if we have picked up any clutter that is inhibiting greater success, clarity, purpose, or value.

It might be time for me to start planning for next summer.

 

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