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Submitted by damien on

When was the last time you walked in the rain? Soaking wet? For a couple of hours? In the bush? Without wearing shoes? Without a warm, dry home to return to? On purpose? For us, it was last weekend. Are we hard-core? Perhaps, but I think that there are actually good reasons one might want to do this.

For the record, I just want to say that the situation described above was not enjoyed by all. Despite a drop in team morale, something interesting happened through all of this that I think merits a "philosophical analysis".

We as a North-American culture are very disconnected from the world, we are un-plugging ourselves from our physical body and its relationship with the world we live in. We live in climate-controlled homes, work in climate-controlled buildings and transport ourselves in climate-controlled boxes (yet still somehow manage to complain about the weather). We wear thick, padded shoes. We sleep on thick, padded beds. We bathe in hot water any time we like. When it gets dark, we turn on the lights. When we get tired we eat sugar or drink caffeine. I could probably go on and on, but hopefully by now you are getting the point. We continually try to shelter ourselves from anything we perceive as uncomfortable. We do everything on our terms which gives us the perception that we are in control.

Our bodies, on the other hand, are wired for full-contact living in an environment that is completely out of our control. We have a pile of nerve-endings connected to a large lump of gray matter that is designed for the high performance processing of vast quantities of sensory input. When we remove the sensory input, the gray matter spends a lot of time sitting idle: we start to get bored, restless, worried, stressed, depressed, and sick; slowly deteriorating from the inside out. To combat these problems we attempt to distract ourselves through entertainment, video games, iPods, the Internet, shopping, etc. We try to cheer ourselves up by (over)stimulating our pleasure sensors through things like food and drugs.

When we pull-out of our protected environment something interesting happens: we begin to feel things again. We feel wet, we feel cold, we feel thirsty, we feel hungry, we feel the wind, we feel tired, we feel the dirt between our toes. We feel, with a heightened sensitivity, all of the things that we have tried to protect ourselves from. Our brain begins to awaken and we are abruptly snapped into the present moment. We begin to process at a different level and view the world through a different set of eyes. Our brain no longer requires distraction because it is fully turned-on. We forget about the past, and forget about the future because the present demands our attention.

Many of those feelings are healthy and good, but we have been sheltered from them for so long that we don't know how to respond to them. Because we don't know how to respond to them and we cannot shut them off (or control our environment), we become scared. We feel totally out of control which is, for the most part, the reality of the world we live in. That is one of the reasons I think being in the outdoors is so important. It helps pull us back to reality.

Whenever the situation arises for our family, I like to push the physical boundaries a little (always well within safe limits). I like to use this as both a learning tool for testing what works (and what doesn't) for clothing and equipment, and for learning how to be more comfortable in conditions that may be less than ideal. I am already beginning to see the fruit, as my children are learning to accept, adapt to, and be content in wider variety of weather conditions. And how they are appreciating that sweat is not something to be avoided, but plays a very important role in our bodies natural ability to cool itself.

So while this weekend's hike in the rain (our first major foray) was not ideal (a few clothing/gear modifications are in order), my wife had an unexpected thing happen. She started out the weekend in a foul mood, wondering if she would ever want to camp again. She ended the weekend wishing it wasn't over yet. Why? Because she realized as the weekend progressed that the time spent out in the natural world (both good, and bad) awakend her senses and immersed her in the present, removing all concerns of our modern lifestyle... until we were back in our climate-controlled box driving home.



In 1996 I thruhiked the AT.

In 1996 I thruhiked the AT. In the middle of those gloriously miserable times, a friend and I would often remark to one another, "It's a good thing we are not doing this for fun." Your comment about how this excursion was not enjoyed by all reminded me of this. ;-)
Another way of expressing your main theme here might be "Comfort is not the point." What is the point? Being fully present, fully engaged, mindful and aware and taking what comes without judgement. Your trip is full of small lessons on how to handle big trials. Good training for the sticks and stones and rain in the path of life, eh?


Damien, your comments are so inspirational for me to read. Being a dad, I want my kids to experience the back-country. Being a backpacker in Canada, as you know, I'm blessed with the wilderness and weather conditions that can kill you if you're not prepared... and being in the military, I like the idea of minimizing the kit you carry and going farther than before.

Keep pushing on.

This sounds ideal.

Well, it sounds ideal in a certain way. I don't think I would volunteer to go camping in a downpour, but I think I would enjoy it in the end. Connecting with nature? I hope most people would come to the same conclusion.

Anyway, I love reading about the adventures you have with your family -- maybe because I am so far removed from anything even resembling your situation. We're moving to the seacoast, NH in 2-3 weeks. Maybe we can meet up after!


[...] can't say enough how much I appreciate the values Damien is teaching our children (and helping me learn) with these adventures. And I'm not just talking about outdoors awareness and [...]