Wednesday, December 03, 2003

OK, 100 days to go now. I guess this could be a big milestone if you like milestones. Me? I’ve been looking forward to this hike forever now, so 100 days still feels like a big chunk of forever! Definitely a good time to probe into the good ‘ol question of “Why?”

If you’re a serious backpacker, you don’t need me to answer this question for you – you already have your own reasons. But if you’ve never been hiking in the woods, or if you’ve hiked but never camped out anywhere, or even if you’ve camped but never carried your shelter with you instead of returning to a tent next to your car, then perhaps my reasons will strike a new chord within you.

Bear with me—this is no little question I’m trying to answer!

I backpack to experience beauty in every moment. What do I find beautiful? It can be a sight or sound that brings you joy. It can be setting a comfortable pace and finding you’ve reached your objective without realizing it. Perhaps enjoying a conversation with a stranger, feeling no fear or distrust. Getting away is key for me—because as you well know, life is busy. It’s as busy as you let it be, then slightly busier than that most of the time.

When I go hiking, much of the noise, confusion and uncertainty of my daily life falls away. Not to say that I don’t find beauty in everyday life: listening to Heather quietly preparing to leave for school; stepping outside with Tally and sharing the new morning chill with her; writing a piece of software that just flat-out works. But things are simpler in the woods and it’s much easier for me to achieve a state of contentedness out there.

So, you go for a walk. We’ve all done that in some form or other. Imagine walking through a grove of silver birch trees and finding a rock to settle into looking out over a quiet pond. When you’re hiking, you often find places where there are no other people and there’s both a silence and a special sense that everything you see exists only for your eyes. If you’re out for a day hike – you enjoy the beauty of the place, then you pack it in and head for your tent before it gets dark out.

Therein lies the beauty of backpacking—you are always home. You can have a bite to eat, put on some comfortable clothing, and watch the changes around you. The light around dusk is beautiful. Groves of birch echo the pastels of sunset and seem to open up around you. Wind dies down most evenings and the quiet pond becomes a mirror, highlighting the activities of the fish, birds, insects and animals around you. And bedtime comes as early as you want (note: I’m writing this by my own choice at 1am )

OK, that’s all well and good. But what about the cold, the wet, the dirty, the buggy and the “I want to go home now!?” Well, I’ve never quite gotten there. I’ve watched every person with whom I’ve ever backpacked reach that point. After 3 days of rain at 37*F, I’m pretty anxious for a warm shower too! But I’ve never quite had enough. Let’s see how long it takes to get there on the AT! Then let’s see if I have the strength to take that warm shower, wash my clothes, put ‘em back on and hit the trail again. I hope so.

Incidentally, my favorite line from The Shawshank Redemption? “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Oh—and my book review for ‘Up Sh*t Creek’? It’d be funnier if I spent a summer as a rafting guide. I’ll have to compile a few horror stories from the AT and convince Heather to transcribe them into this journal…