Jessi Loerch backpacked once a month for a year. Here, seen with James the dog, she is on a trip to Baker Lake. (Washington Trails Association)

Jessi Loerch backpacked once a month for a year. Here, seen with James the dog, she is on a trip to Baker Lake. (Washington Trails Association)

A working mom goes on 12 backpacking trips in as many months

Jessi Loerch set a goal to go backpacking once a month. This is what she learned in a year of adventures.

  • Sunday, December 29, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

By Jessi Loerch / Washington Trails Association

I love setting goals for the new year, but I’m particular about the type of goals I set. I want goals that encourage me to do the things I love even more. So, in the past, I’ve set goals such as hiking once a month and camping once a month. Both of those goals totally changed how I thought about getting outside. So, for my next goal, I wanted to backpack every month of the year — it built nicely on what I’d already learned.

I’ll give away the ending. I made it on all 12 trips. I’m a seasoned backpacker, but I still learned a lot trying to complete this goal.

One (growth) step at a time

Making this a monthly occurrence meant I had to get creative in the winter. A lot of my close-to-home backpacking destinations are under snow most of the year, and simply doing a backpacking trip once a month was challenge enough. I didn’t want to make my first snow camping attempts at the same time.

Finding snow-free trails year-round meant I got to visit a wide variety of landscapes. Sometimes I had to drive a ways to get somewhere I was comfortable backpacking in and setting up camp. But that meant I got to hike on beaches and in the desert as well as in the mountains.

I also didn’t set any huge mileage goals. Especially when the days were shorter, it was fine if I hiked just a few flat miles to my campsite for the night. My shortest hike was just a couple miles, but was still so fulfilling. That day, I wandered quietly and had time to just be alone. I enjoyed five hours in my tent with nothing to do but relax and, at some point, boil some water to make a hot water bottle for my sleeping bag.

Self-care is important

As a mom with a full-time job, I rarely feel like I can relax for five hours at home. There are always chores to do, or simply the vague feeling I ought to be using my time better — not a particularly relaxing mindset. Backpacking lets me remove myself from the to-do list at home and focus on being present.

It’s all a balance, or an attempt at balance. Weekends are when I get the best quality time with my family, since my husband and I both work. I give that up when I go backpacking alone. But getting to recharge alone in nature is important to me, and I think it’s important for my daughter, Hazel, to see me make time for the things I love.

So I set the example of self-care. I went alone for several of my trips, a few more I took with good friends. I shared Second Beach with my one of my closest friends, who I have been backpacking with for a decade. It’s something we both work hard to make time for in our lives. Our trips together are good for my heart. We tell stories and laugh, and catch up on each others’ lives while basking in whatever bit of nature we’ve made our home for the weekend.

Shared experiences are priceless

Those shared experiences are so important to me. And as a mom, I want to share the joy of being outside with my daughter. But I also know not everyone is quite as enthusiastic about hiking and camping in the rain as I am.

My husband (who would happily play a full round of disc golf in a downpour) prefers hiking on a dry trail. And Hazel’s much more likely to continue to hang outside with me if I don’t make her sit through a wet and cold winter night in a tent. So I saved our family trips for sunny weather.

Of course, the more people you add to a trip, the more planning you have to do. So these trips do take a fair amount of planning. But they’re totally worth it. I even managed to get a group of family friends out for one of my backpacking weekends.

This year, I learned that the more often you make yourself get outside, the less planning you have to do and the easier it gets. You start to learn where you can go and what you need to do to get out the door quickly. Making myself to go every month made me a better backpacker. Though, I do still always bring too much food.

Having Washington Trail Association’s Hiking Guide and trip reports to plan and research with is a huge help. And I always write my own reports when I’m back from my trips, to help others plan their trips. (And it’s a nice reminder for me, too.)

I’m a better parent, a better employee and an all-around better person when I have time to recharge in nature. My year of backpacking taught me how important getting outside is to my all-around health.

I ended the year with one final trip, right before Christmas. My husband and I headed out for a backpack on the Olympic Peninsula. I’m less of a backpacker than he is, but my year of backpacking must have inspired him to brave the cold. (I promised to bring mulled wine.) With short days, it was a very quick trip, but we loved it. We played games in the tent and then fell asleep early.

It was exciting to finish the year with one last backpack — and dream about new goals.

Washington Trails Association promotes hiking as a way to inspire a people to protect Washington’s natural places. Get inspired to go hiking and learn how you can help protect trails at www.wta.org.

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