Boots and Reboots

I am a busy lady. I may look and sound like someone you know. I have a demanding job, as an executive with a Fortune 500 company, where I am routinely called upon to make difficult decisions and decipher the fine line between black and white in a sea of grey. I work hard. I have the reputation of “getting sh*t done.” Some might say I am “intense.” While at the office, I am 100% “ON,” and when I leave, I am accompanied by my Blackberry (yep, an actual Blackberry), so it is hard to say when my workday actually ends. At work, I am a gladiator.

I am also a mother and wife, with one child in elementary school, one child in middle school, one child in high school, a husband with a full-time job, and 3 dogs. I am pretty good at managing the menagerie. Most of the time I can juggle the logistics of 3 kids in 3 schools, the demands of my job, miscellaneous doctor’s appointments/teacher conferences, feeding everyone (everyday), buying poster board at 9pm the night before a project is due and keeping the house clean enough to fend off a visit from Health and Human Services. I am no Martha Stewart, but ask the kids and they will tell you, if you need something done, ask Mom.

I am not always great at managing stress, though. I generally don’t see that I am over tired, overworked or overwhelmed until I snap at someone or overreact to a situation. I generally do not see the tension building over time, as I am so focused on getting things done and managing all the bits and pieces day to day. I don’t know that I need to reboot until the computer crashes. Recently though, I stumbled across an unlikely and unusual solution. It is helping me stay in better balance and proactively reduce my reaction to stress and recalibrate before reaching Vesuvius territory. In looking for a New Years weight loss /health strategy, I stumbled across a company that organizes week-long guided backpacking trips for middle-aged, semi-out-of-shape folks, as a method for improving fitness and reducing stress. I decided to give it a try.

I bought my gear, “trained” and embarked on my first week-long backpacking trip to Cumberland Island, GA about 6 weeks later. The trip included 5 nights of camping and 6 days of hiking (roughly 50 miles total). I was the slowest one in the group and the only one who had never before camped in the back country (i.e. without a toilet). I was the opposite of a gladiator on that trip. It was difficult. By the end of the week I was filthy, tired, hungry and ready to go home. Magically, however, I was also completely refreshed. When I got home, I was more patient with my kids and less annoyed by the laundry and messy rooms. When I returned to work, I noticed a renewed sense of cooperation with co-workers. I had a greater ability to focus, problem solve and better manage day-to-day stressors.

I kept hiking on the weekends, and walking with my backpack during the week to improve my stamina, with a plan to take a backpacking trip with my husband at some point in the future. About 6 weeks later though, I started feeling the pull to go backpacking again--soon. I cannot really describe it, but I knew that I needed to go. Despite all of the craziness at work and my responsibilities at home, I juggled my schedule and made the time for a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains the following month. Once again, I returned an improved version of myself—destressed, rebalanced, and more productive. I also realized why this physically difficult, filthy, out-of-my-comfort-zone activity clicked with me. In my everyday life I am always “ON”—responsible for ensuring things runs smoothly at work and at home, which requires constant judgment calls and decision making. Even while taking normal family vacations, I am still “ON,” managing schedules and activities, and do not really feel a sense of renewal. In the backcountry, there is no cell service, electricity, or expectation that I am the “subject matter expert”. I do not have to manage anyone or anything else except myself. On these trips the only decision I need to make each day is where to put my foot as I take the next step and where to situate my tent each night. I don’t need to chart the course, set the pace, decide the menu or make sure that everything runs smoothly.

I am fortunate to have generous vacation benefits and a gracious husband/helpful parents, so I now schedule routine backpacking trips throughout the year. Day to day, life remains busy and stressful, but now I strap on a pack and lace up my hiking boots when I need to reboot my mind and spirit.

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