The Joy of Backpacking

Tracy backpacking in Kahurangi National Park in New Zealand in 2005

Backpacking is miserable, but I can’t get enough of it. If I could spend the whole summer out in nature on the trail, I would. It’s mentally and physically challenging, every day facing:

  • blisters, aches, and pains from your feet to your back;
  • long slogs up steep slopes that demand your mental fortitude to persevere;
  • flavorless food in various textures of mush;
  • cold fingers and cold feet;
  • heavy loads that never seem to lighten;
  • chafing straps and the constant battle to settle your pack comfortably, switching the weight from shoulders to hips to shoulders;
  • the risk of injury or getting lost without anyone to help you, demanding your constant focus;
  • finding and hand-pumping your water (I know, this doesn’t sound like much, but I find it’s a total pain in the ass).

So why take on the misery of backpacking? The challenges are worthwhile for the perception switch to the rhythm of the trail, the simplicity of trail life, the satisfaction of self-sufficiency, the beauty of the landscape.

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Personal Bests: Pride without Need for Recognition

My very first day of pole vaulting…and I didn’t get much better from here! (Though I did hold the pole at the tape :D)

I competed in track and field in high school, an unmemorable athlete. I pole vaulted, practicing just enough to clear opening height half the time, and stuttered through hurdles with laughable form. I might earn the team a point a meet.

But, senior year, I found my event: 400 meters. One lap around a track. A quarter mile. You need endurance; the race requires a near sprint for a full minute or more.

I pushed myself through repeat 200’s. I improved. Sometimes I wasn’t the slowest leg on our 400m relay team. And our relay team was good.

County finals rolled around and I thought, “This will be my last 400m ever.” I ran faster than I ever had before. My legs were numb as I rounded the final curve. I couldn’t believe my legs were still responding to commands. I matched the girl beside me. I couldn’t hear the Incomprehensibly to me, I qualified for county finals. I never imagined that I could be one of the nine fastest 400m runners in the county. But my hard work was rewarded with a Personal Record (PR)…and another race?!

I didn’t place in the county finals (unless you count last), but I surpassed my own expectations of my ability. I was a runner of no note, except to myself. I still remember my PR, nine years later, without looking it up. I remember how hard I worked for it. It’s a landmark on my personal map of achievements.

In my writing, I have no notions or visions of being immortalized as the next Thoreau or Abbey; I hope to inspire thought, appreciation, and creation in others while honing my craft. I want to create to the best of my own abilities, to create something that I am proud of.

In your work, or if you race non-competitively, aim to achieve the most you can, yourself. Set the bar against your own PR, not the world record. Don’t get caught up in trying to be the best; enjoy the competition with yourself as you push for your best. But leave yourself open to new goals and achievements – you just might surprise yourself.

Group Activity Inspiration: Connecting Art and Place

Art created at a Cabin Time retreat. Image from Cabin Time website.

Beyond individually creating art connected to our wild homes, we can work as a group to enhance our understanding of place. Draw inspiration for activities connecting art and place from other groups across the U.S.

  • The group Cabin Time runs a roaming creative residency, with artists spending a week in a remote location making art inspired by the natural area
  • Artists recently sailed up the British Columbia coast creating artwork inspired by that area, which will be compiled into a book encouraging conservation of British Columbia’s Raincoast
  • The organization Elastic City stages “Island Night”, walks of small groups that combine philosophical discussion, poetry, and nature
  • In the Seattle area, the group The Long Walk leads an annual four day walk from Seattle up into the Cascades incorporating local performers, chefs, and activists