Recovering from a lack of focus

Piece by piece, I began to sell and/or give away my camera equipment.  My Canon 30D and all the lenses that I had acquired over the years, I found myself letting go of.  I had even acquired multiple compact point-and-shoot cameras over the years that I sold or gave away. It felt so freeing.

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How I ended up selling all my camera gear

I have to admit, there’s a level of irony involved with my story.

Photography (and what I learned as a result) led me into nature, but nature (and my time spent outdoors) took me on a different path.

That path led me to selling off all my camera gear.

Intrigued?  Here’s my story:

I never really found interest in photography until a family road trip out to western Canada.  At the time, I didn’t have a camera but my sister had this pretty nifty waterproof camera so I made the most of it during that trip.  Learned an appreciation for the beauty of the mountains thanks to the above friendly chipmunk.

My sister's Minolta Vectis GX-4. My sister’s Minolta Vectis GX-4.

The photos I took captivated an audience back home and eventually led me to purchasing my first digital camera.  This eventually led me to what I refer to as the camera rat race.  As I’d discuss with friends the latest of camera equipment, I’d keep purchasing new camera gear (lenses, camera bodies, tripods, etc.) with the thinking that it would help me capture better photographs.  They did, but the money that I probably invested into camera gear brought me nowhere closer to a satisfactory result, and I was lugging around way too much gear.  My backpack was too heavy for me.  I was unhappy and tired.

Options and More Options:

Hiking mountains with so much camera gear really began to provide perspective. Do I want to enjoy the mountains?  Or was I just there to take a photograph to share with people?  The camera would weigh down my neck and back and my backpack containing all my lenses and the tripod would bear down on my shoulders.

Eventually, as I was travelling from place to place that everyone was essentially taking the same photograph (and posting it on Instagram), I found myself reflecting upon what I really wanted out of photography.  Was it recognition?  Was it to share with others what I had the good fortune to see?  Maybe a bit of both?  Did I even care?

Not only was it the weight that mattered but as a result of all the options I had to work with to capture a photograph — all that gear I carried around — I discovered I lost my freedom and creativity.  I essentially was a slave to my camera and its family of gear and I needed to shed all of it.

So I began to pick up sketching again.  I wasn’t any good but it didn’t matter to me — I felt like I was actually focusing on art again — something that was really unique coming from the coordination of my eyes, mind, heart, and hands.

The Cameraletting:

Piece by piece, I began to sell and/or give away my camera equipment.  My Canon 30D and all the lenses that I had acquired over the years, I found myself letting go of.  I had even acquired multiple compact point-and-shoot cameras over the years that I sold or gave away. It felt so freeing.

With some of the money that I earned back from the sale of all that gear — I picked up two cameras (Fuji X100 and Fuji X-Pro1 with a 18-55mm) — focusing on a balance between quality and weight (at the time).  That’s it (Okay fine, I picked up a GoPro since then too).

No extra zoom lenses. No additional camera bodies. No more extra gear.

Life with less:

My choice to limit and establish a constraint for myself has led to a greater satisfaction and appreciation for living in the present moment, rather than thinking about a cool photograph I will be able to share.

I don’t debate with myself anymore about whether I should use one lens or another — I will simply make do with what I have.  With the Fuji X100, there is no zoom to even think about.

I take fewer but better photographs.

I stop thinking about the next great camera that I’ll acquire. No more money getting sucked into the abyss by photography gear.

The most brilliant thing about this is that, I no longer have to worry about my back and the crazy gear that I have to lug around.  I was no longer tired from lugging around such heavy gear.  I worried less about gear being stolen or damaged.

More importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with a form of art that I hadn’t explored since I was young. For me, the fact that I can express myself with just a pen(or some pencil crayons) and piece of paperin order to describe what I saw is precisely what I may have been striving towards.

A watercolour ink sketch in the Grand Tetons from Inspiration Point A watercolour ink sketch in the Grand Tetons from Inspiration Point

An Attempt to Plan for the Greenbelt

Aside from doing some regular uphill training, I’ve been playing catch up since a recent one-week long road trip out to Maine.  As much as the Greenbelt Route is well promoted, the documentation to actually plan out your own trip is a little more difficult than I thought.

Planning each Day of the Route

The tricky thing is that some sections of the Greenbelt Route have more access to accommodation than others so attempting to plan out certain days cycling the route is difficult.  In addition, the GO Trains and Via Rail trains bike racks are not always readily available.  It’s good to read up on this earlier so I’ll incorporate this into my planning for next year.

It appears that these bicycle rack-equipped trains are only available until September 5th which is unfortunately because I’d prefer to be cycling in mid to late September rather than in August.

What to take along and how to pack

Bikepacking example
Bikepacking example via GearJunkie.com

I’ve also been trying to figure out what to bring along and how I should pack.  It’s actually quite fun and interesting because I’ve been pursuing a more lightweight and minimalist approach to hiking, so to only have everything with me on a bike is an added twist on the approach.  Fortunately, there have been some great information online on bikepacking … sometimes too much.

I do have to do some maintenance on my single-person tent and re-waterproof some of my gear from hiking.  Unfortunately, I still have to modify some more of my bike which means possibly adding a front pannier rack, and a couple of bike packs for easy storage.  I’m also considering replacing my bike saddle/seat — which is a little tricky because it’s a mountain bike which I’m technically using for bike touring.

More training to come so we’ll see what’s next in coming weeks…!

Additional Links of Interest

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What to Bring on a Day Hike

Okay so you’re new to hiking and you want to make sure you’re equipped, let’s first do a reality check.  We’ll also start off by assuming that this is only a day hike.  I’ll cover multi-day hikes or backpacking in another post.  I’ve learned a lot the hard way so hopefully I can impart some easy advice to you.

Ehren’s note:  In response to quite a few requests, this is part of a new series of posts that I’m writing to help those who want to hike but are overwhelmed by the information out there on the Internet and are a little reluctant or hesitant due to a level of discomfort and fear.  Let me know how I may be of better help.

Okay so you’re new to hiking and you want to make sure you’re equipped, let’s first do a reality check.  We’ll also start off by assuming that this is only a day hike.  I’ll cover multi-day hikes or backpacking in another post.  I’ve learned a lot the hard way so hopefully I can impart some easy advice to you.

Before we even decide on what to bring, there are 3 things that must be taken into consideration:

  • Terrain
  • Weather
  • Duration/Time

The Terrain: Perception vs. Reality

Groomed trails or nature paths Groomed trails or nature paths A pretty typical hiking trail A pretty typical hiking trail

Take a look at the difference between what most people I speak with think of as hiking vs. what is really hiking.  Maybe this is just a Torontonian thing because we don’t really have mountains – any so-called mountain is really just a large hill.  I often have people telling me they are hiking but then I realize they are just taking a stroll through a place like High Park in the city.

Another problem is that hiking in general is a pretty broad term and I won’t argue that the common and popular thought is incorrect – but there is definitely room for improvement with regards to how we inform one another of what we’re actually doing.

Types of trails:

  1. Groomed nature trail or path — often very accessible to almost all ages and can be used by anyone with disabilities.  Lots of signs and often well marked.
  2. Typical wilderness hiking trail — with the exception of some trail maintenance (i.e. clearing overgrowth, fixing bridges, etc.), these type of trails are often not managed or groomed.  The terrain may be very rugged and diverse and often contain tree roots or jagged rocks that partially stick out from the ground.  There is also little to no signage but most of the time, these trails are well marked.  Sometimes but one has to be aware that markers can fade off of trees.

Think of this as the where are you going?  part of the plan.

>> What to bring:  You can probably get away with running shoes or sandals if you are on a groomed nature trail or path, but if you are on a typical hiking trail — you need to be wearing a pair of hiking boots with ankle protection and better traction for rugged and slippery surfaces.  This is especially true if you are new to hiking.

Weather:  Expect everything and anything

Wet wet wet weather Wet wet wet weather Some ominous-looking clouds on the trail Some ominous-looking clouds on the trail

I realize a day hike isn’t considered too much of a big deal but it can be depending on how the weather turns out — and it can change unexpectedly.  Check the weather forecast days ahead as well as when you are about to leave for the day hike.

>> What to bring:   Sunscreen, a hat, and rain gear.  At least a rain jacket.  I’ll get deeper into what to wear in another post but anyone going on a wilderness hiking trail should not wear cotton and jeans.  This type of clothing can’t handle getting wet and will not be able to keep you warm.  Yes, this is accounting for summer days too and it can get cool in the summer depending on where you are.

Duration and Time:  How long will you be out there?

Think about the distance you’ll be tackling and the speed at which you will and can hike at.  Whether it is easy or not, this is important because it will help inform you of how much time you will need to account for.

Maybe you’re hiking to a lookout point for a sunset?  Or perhaps on a 10km loop?

Daylight is important to keep track of when on the trail Daylight is important to keep track of when on the trail

>> What to bring:  If you are starting the hike later in the day or anticipate that it will be a longer than anticipated trek — bring a headlamp or at least a flashlight.

Wait, there’s more…

So we’ve covered the three key considerations when going on a day hike but now here is the full list of real essentials that those considerations will influence including what I mentioned earlier in italics:

The Full List

  • Footwear (hiking boots recommended)
  • Rain gear (a lightweight rain jacket at a minimum)
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Headlamp
  • Compass
  • Map
  • Handheld GPS, not a cell phone (in addition to the map if you have one)
  • Water (a minimum of 3 litres)
  • Insect repellent
  • First aid kit
  • Firestarter
  • Matches (waterproof ones if possible)
  • Knife
  • Snacks and extra food just in case

Obviously not all of these will be necessary on a groomed nature path but you’d be surprised how often I encounter people who are hiking wilderness trails with practically none of these items.  Not even water.

Even when hiking wilderness trails that are a loop, it is crucial to ensure the safety and survival of yourself and those around you in situations that are unanticipated.

Did I miss anything?  Let me know.

Some additional helpful resources:

The Ten Essentials (via Wikipedia)

Top 10 Beginner Hiker Blunders (via Backpacker Magazine)

Tips and Hints – Beginner’s Guide to Hiking (via Mountain Designs)