“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

The Second Roll Call

It’s that coffee time in the field where cops meet up unofficially.  

They trash-talk.  

They Vent.

They catch up.  

They share daydreams of retirement.  

They share what they did on their days off.

The Sacred “Days Off”

Sacred days away from the madness of controlled chaos cops love (and love to hate) so much.

Days off are spent doing hobbies.

Days off are spent relaxing.   

Days off are spent practicing the much needed art of: doing nothing.  

Days off are spent on DIY projects for the family or even for oneself.

Interestingly enough, sometimes days off are spent talking about the crazy things that happened at work.  And on the other side of it, work days are spent talking about all the stuff we did (or did not do) on those sacred days off.  

Realizations & Acceptance

It was during one of those second roll call sessions, while the group of cops around me spoke of those mandatory topics about our days off, when I had a moment of self realization.  

Everyone around me seemed to be experts at something.  They would compare notes on rebuilding carburetors or replacing the drywall in their homes.  They would talk about their fishing trips and hunting excursionos.  

I thought to myself, “I don’t know the first thing about any of that.”  And why should I?  I was a kid from the hood raised by a single mother.  I knew how to be street smart and not get my watch stolen.  I knew how to interact with riffraff on the streets to avoid becoming a victim.  There was no time for learning these skills as a kid.  

An important part of my realization was being ok with why I did not possess these seemingly “normal” skills. Skills which seemed like all of my counterparts all had in common except me.  I got over that fairly quickly.  I allowed myself to get angry for the purposes of motivation.  

So then I made a decision.

I, Tom Ludlow, would become a backpacker.

Side Story: Joey “Barehands” Seymoure

I voiced my realization during that particular second roll call.  I told the group of cops around me that I lacked the “man-skills” they spoke about.  It was a moment of laughter at my expense.  

After our second roll call, a probationer came up to me and said with a slight Texan accent “Sir.  With all do respect, If I make probation I would like to teach you how to fish.”

He made probation.  

We fished.

And that’s when this friend became legend in my eyes.

It was a slow day of fishing.  No bites for hours.  The little raft engine was no match for the winds that swept over the lake that day.  He had to patch a hole in the raft while I bucketed water out as fast as I could.  

As we headed back to the lake shore, the fishing line began tugging.  

In under a second, this former probationer shut off the engine, put down his red Solo Cup, hopped over to the other side of the little boat and grabbed hold of the fishing rod.  

He reeled aggressively.  Overly excited after a long day without a bite, his reeling caused the line to snap. 

The fish was gone.  

“You’re not getting away.” he said then launched himself into the cold water head first.  

I was new at this.  I did not know how to help.  So I just stared.  

The waters calmed.  I continued to stare.  I didn’t see bubbles. I didn’t see any movement in the water for that matter.  I wasn’t worried or anything.  I was more in shock.  Did this guy really think he was simply going to jump into the water and-

“YEEE-HAWWW!!!!”

About 30-feet from the boat, he splashed out of the water with the loudest celebratory “yee-haw” I’ve ever heard in my life.  To be quite honest, I didn’t even know people actually said that except in movies!  

When he finally appeared, he held a fishing line up in the air with the a humungous Rainbow Trout attached to the end of it!  The fish tried to shake itself back into the water but it was over for that fish.  

He then placed the line in his mouth and swam back to the boat.  

From that point on Joey Seymour was officially given the title, Joey “Barehands” Seymour. 

Timing is Everything

Now…

Back to backpacking.

I have to admit, during my days off I often found myself extremely frustrated and agitated with the small  and simple mishaps in everyday life. I did not know or even realize I was so pent up with emotions.  

This is the ugly side of PTSD.

All of the realizations are retrospective.  After damage has been done.  

I wouldn’t know why, but I found myself burying my face in my hands while I took deep, deep breaths.  Or sometimes, perhaps many times, I didn’t realize my frustrations until I yelled at someone.  

Someone seemingly in the way. 

Someone completely innocent.    

Someone I deeply cared for.    

I also have to admit that I’m not the best person at expressing these feelings.  But to my defense, I don’t think I knew what it was I was even feeling.  So how could I be remotely responsible express it?  I’ve caught myself many times, before my frustrations spiraled onto others.  As of late, I’ve done a good job of not putting that energy onto those around me.  And as great as that acknowledgement has been, those feelings and frustrations remained inside of me.

If the police culture was one that knew this reality about police work, it would be more apt to break down the cultural taboos that go along with it.  If we can just shamelessly allow ourselves to accept PTSD as an interwoven reality of our world, we would be allowed to be  sensitive about it and  therefore supportive of each other.

I see a future world in police work where the person who denies or refuses to be vulnerable to the stressors of the profession is the odd one.  Not the other way around.  

In my blog entitled, “Hero?”, I discuss the reality of how much modern day police work still ostracizes the idea of patrol officers being human and asking for help.  

It would have been nice to have this type of training and mentorship early on in my career, but as luck would have it, I found the past time of backpacking, or better said…

Backpacking found me.

My go-to place, The Sequoias.

Backpacking vs Patrol

Backpacking forced me to slow down.  It took the expert skills I possessed as a cop and slowed them down to a manageable process.  The slow down was empowering because it gave me back control.

Let me explain.

In police work, the nature of the wild on the streets throws chaotic and violent scenarios at you.  Your ability to control your fear and anger is the expert skill that ultimately controls the outcome of each incident.  

It’s a control of yourself due to absolute NON control of your environment, which is the factor. 

Similarly, backpacking comes with the fact that you are putting yourself in mother natures unpredictable elements.  Those elements can be dangerous.  I limit the danger by pre planning.  Just as I would at work by practicing shooting, working out, drilling mock scenarios, or personal mental practices of deadly situations, I would do exactly the same for backpacking. 

How?

Preparation for backpacking includes studying the potential dangers of the trail I was going to backpack. Then I learn the skills to offset any dangers I might face.  Purchasing the correct equipment is vital to a safe trip as well.  

I had to plan and execute just as I did at work everyday.  Being out in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help you but yourself, preparation and execution was on the same level of importance as mental preparedness on patrol.  

The similarities between backpacking and patrol allow me to apply what I’m good at, self control, in environments that I choose rather that environments that choose me. 

Taking the power back.  Owning the self control because you want to not because you have to.  

And that is all the difference.  

Mt. Whitney beat me. But I’ll be back.

Values of Backpacking

Backpacking has helped calm me in tremendous ways.  It’s funny how digression to simplicity in life can be the epicenter for focus.  With focus, one can use that as a jumping off point for whatever he or she is excited about in life, which can lead to great fulfillment your personal journey.  

The obvious value of being around nature was huge.  Peaceful meadows, tranquil lakes, calming streams.  When you’re out there you have no choice but to give in to the majestic beauty around you.  This is a beauty that cannot be reached via a car ride or airplane.  Some of these places can’t even be reached by helicopter.    

Reaching some of these beautiful places can only be done so by the sweat and pain of a well earned backpacking hike.  

Accomplishment within yourself.

Amazement of the beauty of Mother Nature.

Peace.

These are the values I get from backpacking.  

Backpacking Central America

And She passed through Like a butterfly bouncing on the wind Like a floating wrinkle on the river’s surface And She Passed through She passed through a moment, eternal. -Tom Ludlow

How to Start Backpacking

Maybe you’ve thought about it but don’t know where to start.  I am by no means an expert in backpacking.  In fact, two places have beat me.  Mt. Whitney in California and The Red River Gorge in Kentucky. 

Mt. Whitney had elevation as a main obstacle.  Melting snow needed more preparation than I anticipated and wind storms made me understand how tiny I really was.  I did not make it to the peak.  But I’ll be back.

The Red River Gorge proved to be impossible to hike after it was hit by a lighting storm.  World famous fishing lakes inside of the gorge was my destination.  The signs warned potential backpackers not to trek the trails after one of these storms.  Instead of taking heed to the warning, I saw it as an opportunity for maximum isolation.  Unfortunately, deadfall made for missed trails and water supply was impossible to reach.  After a flash storm trapped me in my tent, I never made it to the fishing hole.  But I’ll be back.  

So, if you ever thought of backpacking or don’t know what it entails, allow me to give you a crash course of what is needed to prepare for one.  No need to take notes here.  These ideas are meant to give you a visualization of what it takes.  It is not a course on backpacking.  

That blog post will come soon.  I will post websites I use, suggested gear and equipment and all A-Z resources I use to plan a trip!

So with that being said, allow me to take you through a backpacking trip from beginning to end.  

  1. Choosing a Location: What are you looking for? Mountain tops?  Waterfalls?  Lakes?  Meadows?  Rivers?  Rock formations?  Maybe you don’t know.  Get on Google and image search them all to see what tugs at your inner outdoors need.  Once you decide on what kind of outdoor scene you want, then you can begin Google searching specific trails.  
  2. Weather:  After you narrow down a few trails, then you need to research when is the best time to go for what you want to do.  Whether it’s a summer trip you want or a winter trip with snow, each trail recommends the best travel dates.  Juxtapose those with your days off or vacation and put it in your calendar!  
  3. Permit Process:  Some places require reservations.  Others are first come first serve.  Yet other more isolated places have a permit process.  This limits the amount of people who visit it each year therefore minimizing the footprint we leave on Mother Nature.  Some places are as easy as sending an email, getting confirmation and printing the permits.  Other places require you pick up the permits before your hike, which can dictate your arrival date since offices may open later that the time you wish to begin.  Usually the trails website gives specific instructions on their process.  It is important to know this in your pre planning.   
  4. Buying/renting the right equipment:  If you are experimenting with backpacking, renting and borrowing is an awesome way to save from spending hundreds on equipment you might only use once in your life.  An equipment checklist will be on my future blog with specifics on backpacking.  But know that you do not have to spend a ton of money on purchasing equipment it you are not committed to backpacking.  Many renting options are available.  
  5. Food: Freeze-dried food is the most convenient way to prep.  Simply go to the camping store and stock up on the small bags.  There are also other creative ways to pack food.  The biggest thing is keeping it light.  At first I struggled with eating freeze dried food for multiple days.  I slowly began learning how to make delicious meals that did not weigh a thing!  Perhaps for your first trip you can have a few freeze dried meals from the store and a few self made meals.  An example of a self made meal would be my world famous Thai Tohm Yam Shrimp Soup!  Everything is dry, extremely light, and crazy delicious! Especially after a 10-20 mile trek up a mountain.  This topic requires a ton of information.  Again, this will will be on a future blog about backpacking.  
  6. Planning the road trip:  I like to start my backpacking before the sun is up.  This minimizes my time in the heat.  It also maximizes down time at camp. You need to know the general time it will take to arrive at your final destination.  Those times are usually on the trail websites.  Once you know that, you can plan your start time.  Planning in reverse order helps me.  So when I decide on what time to start, I have to know how long my drive to arrive there is.  Do you want to get a hotel the night before nearby?  Or do you want to begin your drive at midnight for a 5 AM start time?  All the while factoring in possible permit pickups times.  Don’t forget to search for open breakfast  places near the trail head (beginning of trail) or pack a breakfast if you are going to start the hike on an empty stomach.  
  7. Activities:  You don’t need much once you are out in the wilderness.  Nature usually has it’s own music playing for you.  Writing material, a thin book, cards or a harmonica are options that are not too heavy.  Day hikes and lake swimming are usually enough for me.  Also keep in mind that a backpackers day at camp is filled with chores.  Cooking and cleaning in a backpacking environment is far different from car-camping.  So you have to slow down and enjoy the process of it all.
  8. Post Hike: Always keep in mind that you will be very tired when you hike back to your car.  I always have an extra set of clothes waiting for me.  Changing socks and putting on a new shirt after a long hot hike is super refreshing.  Driving 6-hours+ home after a long backpacking trip can be dangerous if you are falling asleep.  Sometimes it’s nice to get a hotel and reward yourself with some R&R after a backpacking trip.

As I mentioned, I plan to write a detailed series on how to start backpacking.  There are many other topics you need to know in order to make your backpacking trip a reality.  I hope the 8 things I’ve listed can give you a general idea of what it takes to plan a backpacking trip.  

It’s OK to be a Hippy

There are tons of studies about how being in Mother Nature promotes healing.  In a study by The University of Minnesota, nature impacts our well being by healing, soothing, restoring and connecting us back reality.

For me personally, backpacking has grounded my frenzied mind.  It requires methodical planning which leads to focus.  Being in nature has the ability to slow the police officer’s mind, which as I mentioned in my blog titled Slumber Me This, is always on high alert.  It’s a de-stressor by way of introducing calmness in the heart by natural means in order to off set the burden beyond the badge.  

Humility is a natural state of being for most of us in law enforcement.  Enjoying Mother Nature by way of backpacking has been life-saving for my own personal journey. It is the fastest way to humbleness.  

By sharing my love of backpacking, which I discovered later in life, I hope I can help some of my fellow cops who may be struggling with the stressors in their own life. 

Until my next blog, see you you on the trail.

-Tom Ludlow