• Mary Anderson

The Incredible Lightness of Backpacking

By Mary Anderson

As I packed for my hike I thought about the spin it put on my concepts of resources. I was surrounded by all the stuff I would use in the next four months. It looked like a lot. Yet it all fits inside my pack, and except for the food, it weighs less than 20 pounds. I won’t even have a change of clothes with me. Yet it will be plenty. Why don’t I live this way when I am not hiking?

Ultra-light hiking pioneer Emma Rowena (Caldwell) Gatewood. Known as Grandma Gatewood, Emma became the first solo female thru-hiker of the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in 1955 at the age of 67. She wore Keds sneakers and carried a small notebook, food, and clothing in a denim bag. No tent, no sleeping bag.

My boxes full of food, waiting to be mailed, also looked like a lot. Indeed, for many in the world, these ten boxes of dried spaghetti, instant potatoes, granola, tuna, beef jerky and power bars would be gourmet meals. And once on trail I will view them that way as well. But at home, eating instant potatoes is not all that appealing.

I am aware that in the Wyoming desert, water will be scarce and polluted by cows. Yet in the mountains I will have rivers to cross that may be up to my armpits. Having the right amount of water is dependent upon where I will be at any given time. I am lucky to live in Vermont, where even though I sometimes have to haul water to my house, there is plenty to be found, and not so much that I worry about being flooded by rising sea levels.

While on trail I will miss the resources Korongo offers to us writers. Yet I am grateful for the resources it is providing me, which will make this hike so much more enjoyable than my last. Knowing I will be able to stay in towns is a huge gift for me. It reminds me of how much I appreciated a roof over my head after being homeless with a two-year-old child.

Food, water, clothing, shelter: The basics become so much more meaningful when we hike.


Mary Anderson is writing a book about her trek along the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail, a journey of healing that she began in her sixties. Mary hiked the southern half of the trail, from the Mexican border to Wyoming, in 2020 and is undertaking the northern half in 2021. Read more of Mary's story and follow her blog.

Photo of Grandma Gatewood by Stratness, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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