There’s something about working hard to enjoy rarely seen areas that’s irresistibly inviting. Sometimes a different mindset is needed; a mindset that allows your whole being to enter a state of rhythm and relaxation, a mindset that eliminates the need to analyze, but only promotes the next step of the adventure. This past summer my brother Ben and I made a trip to Zion National Park in southern Utah. We spent two nights backpacking Coal Pitts Wash and the West Rim Trail. Besides a change of scenery nothing was out-of-the-norm, with limitless beauty. Upon our departure we made one last pass through the park to drink a beer, soak up the waning reality of hitting the road, and promise each other the surrounding wilderness would be our main focus of the summer.
For those of you that don’t know, Colorado is home to almost 30 wilderness areas. From the Cache La Poudre Wilderness, to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado, these wilderness areas are distinctly unique and nothing less than beautiful. Over the course of the summer my brother and I made a number of trips including: Dinosaur National Monument, Zirkels, Flat Tops, Rawah, Eagles Nest, and the Holy Cross Wilderness.
It always amazes me how comfortable you can make a backcountry experience. Everything is being made smaller and lighter. However, this still doesn’t hold a flame to the amenities of your home. We take many things for granted, whether it is running water, the ability to easily prepare and cook a delicious meal, a comfy leather couch, or a hot cup-of-jo in the morning. While some trips are flawless and you’re able to find a great sheltered campsite with nearby water and dry wood, other trips are close to disastrous. Whether battling cold rain, mosquitos, wind, water logged wood, confusing trail signs and contradicting maps…these trips truly make me appreciate the smaller things that make life such a blessing.
On the trail our senses awaken, and we are forced to make decisions in a vigilant state. Even a bad experience in these situations is better than a normal day. Why...It’s most certainly because a bad experience will make you feel alive, and for me that’s when everything in my life is vividly clear. Life is about experiences, memorable ones good or bad, because how good was your day if you can’t remember it? I can tell you one thing, you certainly won’t forget the time you broke down 200 miles from home, or the time you huddled underneath a thin scrub oak while shivering in a near hypothermic state from an unexpected rain storm. Although it may be tough in the moment, you certainly will have a story to tell, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
When I was growing up in Wisconsin, I can clearly remember being immediately drawn to my curiosity with storms and their power. I remember how eerily silent and calm things became when a tornado was near. I still enjoy the wind whipping upon my face, and the cold rain as it penetrates every layer. It’s a feeling similar to hunkering down in a tent; apprehensive to sleep because you’re certain you will be blown off the mountain. In that moment there’s no spare energy to concentrate on anything besides the task at hand. Being exposed…that’s what gets me fired up about backpacking. It’s exhausting, absolutely, but that’s when I function the best.
Of all the adventures, none stand apart from each other. However, there were many memorable moments. These moments are the feelings we received standing atop Ruple Point in Dinosaur National Monument. It’s the feeling of cooking dinner underneath the night sky, or watching the sunrise over Island Lake in the Flat Tops Wilderness… wandering, a camera on my shoulder accompanied by the sound of the wind sweeping across the tundra. These feelings often crawl in your mind and underneath your skin. You’re hair stands on end, and you’re being watched. Instinctively I pause, locking eyes with a 1,200lb moose a few yards away in the fleeting light of dusk. Standoff… stay calm, think clearly; 20 minutes later and I’m back on the trail with only the tunnel vision of three AAA batteries to guide me through a thick corridor of pines in search for shelter. It’s the feeling when you finally set up your tent with barely enough time to zip-up your vestibule before the storm engulfs the high alpine.
Your body is exhausted, and your mind is turned off. Yet you are able to communicate with your backpacking partner silently for hours, working together as one to accomplish comfort. The darkness slowly gives way to the rise of a Super Moon. The steep ridges and peaks display the shadows cast. The brisk wind dances across the surface of the water, reminding us old man winter is slowly regaining his despairing grip. Each step becomes mentally fatiguing, our thoughts wander to future calorie indulgence, why do I put myself through this?
The trail widens and darkness encroaches once again. The pace of our eager steps increase and we can almost smell the parking lot. Within sight, your shoulders can already feel the release of your pack and the feeling of returning home overwhelms you with joy! Whether leaving a good campsite or a wilderness area, I always feel obligated to bid farewell to it…almost as a thank you for providing the good times. Sometimes the gesture is one of joy, and other times it’s based upon respect; thankful nature allowed you to pass through while barely escaping its powerful forces. Weary and warm, alive and cognizant, it’s good to be home. I love my family, I love my friends. Intimidation and confidence, fear and joy, it’s the unknown that draws.