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Backpacking and Life

September 15, 2009


(Not my picture)

(Not my picture)

I know I’m long overdue for a travel blog on my Northwest adventures. But time for writing has been brief on the road. Between seeing friends, hiking, climbing, photographing, listening to music, reading, reflecting, canoeing, driving, and meeting interesting strangers, there hasn’t been much time for me to really sit down and log my journeys. And I still need some time. But today I wanted to share an epiphany that I had while I was backpacking in Banff National Park.

Today I hiked down from Fish Lakes camp site- 16km away and 760m up, tucked in a valley surrounded by sentinel like mountains. I’ve always found the energy of the mountains to be rejuvenating. Standing like a speck amongst a legion of spruce trees, sprawling azure lakes, and towering mountains it’s hard not to reflect on oneself- to soul search a bit. Aside from visiting the Northwest and scouting a new possible home, a large reason for my travels was to soul search, to try to find some semblance of where my life is heading. I thought the mountains might help. So would traveling solo, spending time inside my own head. Good medicine the Native Americans would call it. Well, I can’t say I’ve encountered an epiphany as to where my life is leading, but I can say it has helped. I won’t bother you with my tangle of thoughts, but one thing I wanted to do was share this realization I had whilst backpacking. 

I think you can find a wonderful analogy to life in backpacking (as you can with most things if you really look hard enough I suppose). When backpacking one is missing the point if they’re focused just on the destination, it’s the journey that is the reward. It’s listening to the unseen birds chirp away in the forest, noticing the way the crystalline river hugs the trail, or marveling at the multi-colored foliage of the alpine meadows. Even if you try to look up over that hill, you’re most likely just going to find another hill to climb. By looking ahead on the trail and trying to spot your far off destination you’re only going to beat yourself up mentally and weaken your spirit. The best the backpacker can do is keep their head down and focus on each individual step at a time, making sure each one is secure until they place the next. And before you know it you’ll be on top of that pass, and when you turn around to see the great lengths you’ve covered you’ll be amazed at what you’ve achieved. 

I found that realization a great help for me and my life right now. I need to stop stressing about where I will be ten years from now, who will be holding me at night, and where I’ll be living next year. I need to slow down and figure out my life one step at a time. One goal at a time. All while living life to the fullest. I’ll leave you with this quote by a much smarter man than I.

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These things you should notice anyway. To live life only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountains which sustain life, not the top. 

~Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair”

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