"Turtle! Turtle! Tuuurrrtttllleee!"
My friends and I looked up from our attempted Chipmunk-trap to see a backpacker walking towards our campsite while yelling, "Turtle!" We were utterly confused, but the man, who introduced himself as "Billy Jack," explained that "Turtle" was his friend's trail name. He told us how he and Turtle were hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, all the way from Canada to Mexico. We welcomed the two to spend the night with us in our campsite, and we had a lovely evening where we swapped backpacking stories and organic apples.
Turns out that most hardcore backpackers have a trail name. The two guys explained how your trail name cannot be forced; it just has to come naturally. While most people, including my friends and I, are not extreme backpackers like Billy Jack and Turtle and may never earn our trail names, there is no reason why anyone should not go backpacking this summer.
The reasons why we should go?
1. It's much easier than you think.
Anyone can do it. See this picture?
That's me on the right, and fellow Eagle Scout Alex Alvarez on the left. We both had just turned 13 and probably barely cracked 100 pounds. This was the first night of our 70-mile and six-day backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park, including a 20-mile round trip to the top of Half Dome. If we can do it, then you can do it.
2. Nature is neat.
You can see some truly beautiful scenery, like this.
You will never see nature like this from a car or even a simple stroll in the woods. You have got to get yourself out there, deep in nature, to truly see something this neat and majestic.
3. It is surprisingly affordable.
While the initial cost of your backpacking gear can be fairly pricey (unless you buy them used), your costs for everything else is dirt cheap. If you plan accordingly, you could easily eat for $5 to $10 a day, or even less. Things like oatmeal, homemade granola, jerky, freeze dried or even fresh fruit, pasta, and soups can be very affordable and light for your pack. If you want to spend a little more, you could buy freeze-dried meals like Mountain House (my dad and I love the Beef Stroganoff). Believe it or not, after a long day on the trail, those freeze dried meals taste like they were made at the fanciest of restaurants.
Wilderness permits can usually be purchased for a few bucks. Some places, like Desolation Wilderness in Northern California, offer annual passes for $20. And it is not just America that is affordable.
4. You can travel all over Europe easily and for a little more than a plane ticket.
After high school, my brother backpacked all over Europe for almost three months. He said the experience wasn't like anything you could ever experience in America. The amount of unique cultures and lifestyles, historical monuments and ruins, and people you can meet and experience in a matter of even a week is unbelievable.
Since Europe is so small (in comparison to America), getting around is very easy and cheap. You can buy plane tickets from country to country for sometimes around 30 Euros. Trains are even cheaper, and you can buy tickets for subways, like the world famous London Underground, for a couple of Euros. Youth hostels can sometimes run for around eight Euros.
My brother told me how important it is to get to know the locals. Go to a local pub, youth hostel, or coffee shop and start meeting people. Europeans are very friendly to backpackers and generally will tell you where you will find the best local attractions, cheap or free sleeping accommodations, and in some cases, will even offer up their home for the night. Europeans love when foreigners reach out and have a strong desire to experience their culture and learn about their country's history.
Ever seen "The Sound of Music?" Why don't you backpack to Salzburg, Austria and sing your heart out in its angelic green and mountainous hills?
5. You can experience a myriad of new things.
Never seen the Redwoods of Northern California, Stonehenge in England, the snowy peaks of the Rockies, or the divine paradise of Hawaii? Do you not want to spend over $15 a meal and potentially thousands of dollars on hotels, plane tickets, and tacky souvenirs that you'll look at once and then throw in the back of your closet? GO BACKPACKING. You will experience more than you ever would on a fancy vacation, and you will be able to be up-close and personal with nature, new cultures, and history. And the best part? It'll be at a fraction of the cost.
Do you like this picture? Well quit staring at it, and go experience it for yourself!
6. You will experience incredible personal satisfaction.
Feel like you can only hike five miles? Challenge yourself to a five to 10-mile round trip. When you complete it, plan a seven to 12 mile trip, and then a 10 to 15-mile trip. Each time you complete your trip, you will be incredibly satisfied that you accomplished your challenge, and you will be hungry for more. Seeing nature like the pictures in this article will make your trip ever worth-while, and you will be glad you did it.
Once you feel confident enough, challenge yourself to something big. Personally, I would suggest hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It can be anywhere from a 14 to 20-mile round trip from a base camp or local town.
You'll hike to this beauty.
Hike up the rounded side like this.
And be able to see the entire Yosemite Valley. Here's a tiny sample.
It is a tough hike, but anyone can do it if they try. When I went with my Boy Scout Troop at age 13, we saw a wide range of people hiking Half Dome from little old ladies to kids younger than us. Yes, you should be an experienced hiker/backpacker before you attempt it, but a few practice day hikes or short backpacking trips should be fine. Everyone that completes this hike, and I stress it again, everyone, says that they were tremendously happy that they did this hike and would love to do it all over again.
And you have full cell service at the top of Half Dome, so if you are ever so inclined, you can post to your favorite social media account.
7. You could leave that cell phone at home and separate yourself from the distractions of the outside world.
Do you get exceedingly tired of all the notifications you receive on your phone? Twitter, Sports Center, emails, Facebook, or the dreaded Candy Crush? If you are like me, you are probably too addicted to the bloody thing to detach yourself from it. You will probably need to forcibly remove yourself. Go backpacking and watch what happens. Five minutes after you lose service on your backpacking trip, you will be distracted by all the birds sharing their love songs throughout the trees. Fifteen minutes after you lose service, you'll notice that you smell no cars, factories, or smog and your nose is overloaded with all the new alluring smells of nature. Thirty minutes in? You already forgot that you even brought your phone.
There might not be a more pleasing experience than to rid yourself of the smells, stresses, and sights of the city. Submerge yourself into nature and you will see sights you have never seen before: a forest barely touched by humankind; a skyscraper not built of metal, but a mighty and majestic mountain, built from the biggest boulders and the tallest trees; and a night sky, absent of all human lights and smog, and filled with an endless supply of the biggest and brightest stars you have ever seen.
But nah, I'd rather sit by the city pool and tweet about wanting to hang out with my "besties."
8. You will learn new things and become a more resourceful person.
One of the biggest things I learned from my years of backpacking with my Boy Scout Troop is that tampons soaked in Pine-Sol guarantee no bears will step anywhere near your campsite.
Yes, tampons soaked in Pine-Sol. Turns out, bears hate the smell of ammonia. One of the dads in my troop told us how he recently went on a big camping trip where they tried out this crazy contraption. Every single campsite but theirs was trashed by a bear one night. Since then, I have used this method on every single camping trip I've been on, with 100 percent success.
Aside from this, you will develop your own way to pack your backpack, prepare food, make and light a camp fire, and many more things. The best way to become an experienced backpacker is not to Google it or watch Youtube videos; the best way is to experience the joys and wonders of backpacking yourself, and maybe develop a few silly tricks along the way.
9. You will meet a wide variety of fascinating people.
You will meet an occasional backpacker from a city near you, or a city half-way across the world. You will meet the old guy with dozens of stories to tell, and the young woman just now creating hers. You will meet the family on a simple overnight trip, and the two guys hiking from Canada to Mexico.
Shorty after we met Billy Jack and Turtle, we met Mad Hatter. He was an older, quieter gentleman who was hiking to somewhere further down the trail. We were not expecting to meet anyone, but we were glad we did. Each one of those men had their own entirely different, but equally unique story to tell about how they got their trail name. They helped us create a lasting memory out of this trip. And this leads me to my last point.
10. You will make lifelong memories with lifelong friends.
There's something special about going on a backpacking trip with your friends. You all have to come together and look at a map to decide where to go, or find out how to actually get to your destination. You will all experience things together like new sounds and smells, new trees and animals, or perhaps a new world itself. You are creating memories that you could not even dream of in the outside world.
Haven't seen some of your friends in a while? Have some friends that are lazy and addicted to Candy Crush? Grab a couple of them and experience the world together. You will create memories that will last a lifetime. Everyone has those memories of their favorite time at the movies or dinner with their friends, or favorite school dance, or funniest moment in class. But think of all the new, fun, and inimitable memories you can make on a backpacking trip through Desolation Wilderness, Yosemite, Hawaii, the Rockies, Europe, anywhere. If the sky is the limit, shoot for the moon.
Summer is meant for you to enjoy the outside. Shut off your TV, leave your phone on the table, lock your doors and leave. Go somewhere. Anywhere. Adventure is out there.