What does it mean to hike your own hike?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Barn - Coop View

Grab a cool drink and settle in someplace comfy folks, this is gonna be a long one.


I rarely, if ever, write about something I’ve read on another homestead blog, but a recent post about homesteading myths bothered me so much that after days of tossing and turning it around in my mind I had to say something.

First off, I want to say…I don’t know the blogger personally; we have never met, never communicated with each other. I drop by her blog once in a while and am impressed with the life she has carved out for herself and her young family. I’m also not here to defend her; she seems strong enough to do that herself.

So…what’s my beef? People who bash homesteaders because, in their view, we have not gone far enough, have not been authentic enough, have not been purist enough.

Like many most homestead bloggers, we love encouraging people young and old; city dweller or country newbie to find their way in the homesteading world regardless of how that looks. Pursuing a more self-sufficient life in a modern world is a very personal thing. No two lives, or homestead, will look the same. That’s the beauty of the community we are all trying to build. Variety is the spice of life and we can all encourage and support one another with our words, experiences and encouragement.


So, why was I bothered by her recent post?


It wasn’t her…honestly. Let me explain…

…I popped into her blog on the 4th of July weekend, just to see what she was up to. She had posted an article responding to emails she had gotten complaining that she was not a REAL homesteader, that she was not living a true homesteader lifestyle.  Like many of us, she sometimes dines out with friends or family, watches movies and eats not-so-homemade meals. In essence the commenter was telling her she was not authentic in her journey as a modern homesteader.

In reality, none of us are living the same life as our homesteading forbearers lived, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to. Homesteading in the 1800’s was fraught with injury, disease, starvation, crop failure, bankruptcy and depravation. If you study that era just a bit you’ll see that children died of all kinds of illnesses and it was not uncommon for women to die in child birth.

Is this the kind of authenticity the commenter was referring to? I sincerely hope not.

Comments like this are not unusual for bloggers who open their lives up to the blogosphere. Many of us, me included, have been on the receiving end of less than pleasant comments by people who think we are not doing things right because we are not doing things the way THEY think we should. You have to be pretty thick skinned to lay your life open on the internet, and I have learned over the years to just let these kinds of comments roll off and chalk them up to people who are looking for something I am not providing.

But, this post bothered me…a lot. It was not the bloggers response…that she handled beautifully. It was the idea of what we are all trying to do, what we are trying to accomplish was not good enough, at least not by the commenters standards.


Meat Chicks Brooding


As I went about my day, getting ready for family celebrations, I couldn’t get the post out of my mind.

As I fed the chickens and collected eggs murmurs crept into my mind, “am I not a real homesteader because I don’t have hundreds of chickens?”

When I was making everyone’s favorite baked beans I thought, “am I not a real homesteader because I didn’t grow, harvest, clean, cull, and cook those beans before they were used to create a family favorite?”

And, when I was pulling weeds, in what will be my new kitchen herb garden, watching my crazy little hen fluff herself in a cloud of dust, was I not a homesteader because I didn’t hatch her from an egg fertilized on my land.

I sat in the dirt thinking about that post, wondering how anyone can call themselves anything if they do not do it to the level of an anonymous audience.

Is a person who creates a few quilts a year, not considered a quilter because they don’t produce dozens a year?

Are the members of my church choir, not singers because they don’t sing professionally, have a record label or sing in a famous theater?

Is the painter who puts color to canvass for the joy of it not considered an artist because their works hang in a loving home rather than a gallery?

Are people who journal (or blog) not writers because they have not worked with big publishing houses?

Is the small land owner who sells at the Farmers Market not a farmer?

And, does my 40 years of raising livestock, gardening and pursuing a simpler way of life make me an unknowledgable fake rather than an experienced veteran?


Washtub of Greens

I thought about this commenter’s line of thinking all weekend and into the following weeks. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of people the commenter might take issue with because they were not doing their craft, living their life at a level the commenter would think sufficient.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, after finishing a full day’s work at my 9 to 5 job, making dinner from scratch, and doing evening chores around my suburban homestead that I finally sat down to relax. A cool breeze was coming in off the ocean, the soft wind pushing the day’s heat out of our valley. I sat on my patio watching my hens cluck and scratch around the yard as they do every evening. Fragments of that post still lingering in my mind. In that quiet, serene moment when I looked around and saw the life I had made, the projects that DD and I had worked on, and the food and animals that we had raised on a small suburban homestead at the edge of town, it came to me, something I was told many years ago, that has stuck with me all this time—hike your own hike.


What the heck does it mean to hike your own hike?


Hiking Boots


Bear with me while I explain.

It was back in 2011.

DD (aka Showie) was about to age out of two livestock programs that had taken us to fairs and expos and auctions all over California showing and selling sheep and chickens. Showing had been a huge part of our lives for 15 years. Prior to moving to our small lot at the edge of town, my sister and I had raised and shown sheep all over the western US for more than 30 years. DD went to her first ram sale at just 4 months old. Raising livestock was in our blood. It defined us, made us who we had become, and it was all going to stop in a matter of months.

Realizing that I would have a lot more time on my hands, I set out to think about the next phase in my life—the life of an empty nester. I thought about all the things I had not done, places I had not gone because buying, raising and showing livestock had always come first. I began making lists of places, activities, things I wanted to do.

One item on my list was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that extends from Baja California to the south, through 3 states, ending at the Washington/Canadian border to the north; 2,650 miles through the California desert, the glacial expanses of the Sierras Nevada mountains; through the deep forests Oregon and over the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountain range.

A hiking venture like this is a huge undertaking. People spend years planning and training for this hike, it’s not something to be taken lightly, but was something I wanted to do.

As I researched the trial, spoke with outfitters who advised hikers, and read the trail journals of people who had, and were, hiking the trail, I came to understand what a feat this really was. I also realized that there were parts of the trail I had absolutely zero interest in hiking—the California desert for one. Several hundred miles of searing heat and freezing cold, the desolate surroundings were less than appealing as well. The other areas I had no interest in were the high snowcapped peaks of the Sierras and Cascade mountain ranges; the potential for sliding off a cliff or down the side of a mountain was equally unappealing.

Thinking about these revelations and the kind of hiking I really wanted to do, I set out to create “my own” hike, a condensed version of the original that I could hike in sections over many years. (Hikers refer to this as section hiking rather than thru hiking where you go from one end of the trail to the other in one trip)

A year later sis and I set out on a long weekend for the first leg of our hike, a 20 mile section near Mammoth Lakes. Over the course of two days we hiked past rivers, waterfalls, lakes, ponds, woodlands and jagged rock formations. We saw a variety of birds and wildlife we would have never encountered had we not gotten off the beaten path. It was fantastic, the beginning of a life-long dream, we were hooked.

As we came off the trail, covered in dust, sweat dripping from everywhere, our hair all askew we couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment through the exhaustion. We made our way to the truck and pulled out our cooler. It was late in the afternoon and most of the picnic area was deserted. We set up our lunch at the edge of the trail—homemade chicken salad, fruit, cheese, nuts and a gallon of ice cold water. Food never tasted so good as it did that day. We sat in the shade eating, watching as hiker after hiker come off the trail and greeted us with the same dusty tired smiles we had an hour before.

I felt like part of a group that day, a group of people who were like me, just wanting an adventure, a challenge, and to be out in nature.

We must have sat there for hours when two young, spry men bounded off the trail like they had enough energy to hike another 20 miles. They greeted us, asked how we were doing, what we saw, where we had hiked. One thing led to another and they joined us at our table, pulling out a few bags of their trail food and bottles of water. They were pleasant and chatty, telling us all about their many hiking excursions. These were serious hiker, I thought.

During our conversations I found myself almost apologizing that we had not started our hike at the beginning of the trail. I made excuses about why we weren’t hiking the entire trail, that we had selected only certain sections. And, it must have seemed like I was asking permission to hike the trail over the course of years instead of the normal 5-months. When I realized what I was doing I felt almost sick. I didn’t need their permission or approval to hike where I wanted or to by-pass the areas I wasn’t interested in. Why was I rationalizing any of this to a perfect stranger!!!???

The guys were sweet and must have sensed that what I was really saying was…I. Am. Not. A. Real. Hiker.

We continued talking. They told us where they had hiked and where they were hiking on this trip. They told us about their lives and plans and how much they loved to hit the trails almost every weekend. Sitting there listening to these two young men I felt even more like a fraud. I hiked local trails; they hiked major sections of the US. Even though I had a wonderful hike, felt very proud of my accomplishment and was looking forward to our next trek onto the trails, I also felt slightly diminished, like what I had done was nothing compared to what these two young men had done, were doing.

I sat silently listening to them talk. I was in awe of what they were doing. I wondered why I waited so long. I felt like I had missed out on so much, wasted so much time not starting earlier in my life. I gazed off into the distance, their voices fading to a murmur, reflecting on what the hell I was doing. I was mid-life, I had a grown daughter, and I had not trained to hike a trail like this.

When the sun sank below the treetops and the air turned chilly, sis and I were ready for a long hot bath, a warm meal and a soft bed. We were spent. The young men decided to continue their hike to the next point on their map. I wished them well and safe trails. They hugged us and told us how awesome it was that we were out here doing our own thing. As they walked towards the trail, one of the young men turned back towards us and said something I will never, ever forget.

He said, “We all hike our own hike. Just because we do it differently than anyone else doesn’t make us any less of a hiker”. I smiled and thanked him, but what I really wanted to do was run up and hug him again because in those four words, a person who had hiked hundreds of miles in dozens of places around the country had just affirmed that I WAS A REAL HIKER TOO!!!

Why the long story?


Just this…

…homesteading, like hiking, is a personal decision, a personal challenge. We decide what and how we want our homesteading journey to look. Mine may not look like yours or the blogger in my story, but it’s not supposed to. We all have different interests we want to pursue, different skills we want to learn, different goals we want to reach.

No one homesteading venture is better than another, they all have meaning and value to the person who matters most—YOU!!

Throw off the shackles of convention, folks. Ignore what people think you should do or how you should do it.

In essence…HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE, folks, but always on your own terms.

Peat Pots Sprouting

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