Sunday, August 22, 2010
Backpacking-- do I really need this?
I love backpacking, even when I am climbing up a pass at 7500 feet, leaning into the hill and the work, right on the edge of panting, but not quite. It’s a balancing act to keep going, not to pause, but to move into deep breathing and slow plodding, steady uphill. My pack fits as perfectly into the curve of my back as it did the day I found it, almost twenty five years ago. It creaks softly in my ears as I shift the weight forward, pulling in the shoulder straps, for the climb at the base of the pass. My left hand grasps the same walking stick Noel made for me on one of our first hikes—I nearly lost it on the Wonderland Trail, but the park rangers sent it to me at the end of the summer. I use it to haul myself up some of the steeper slopes. We are almost to the campsite and I’m ready.
As I climb, I’m considering the weight of the load—mine and Mark’s, as he is falling further behind as we climb higher. I am intrigued by the ultra light hikers, but have never come close to achieving their weights. Do I really need everything in here? Raingear—yes, even if there is not a cloud in the sky, there are no clouds because I have my rainpants. Leave them behind and it will pour. Long underwear? One clean shirt? One extra pair of socks? Fuzzy? All needed. I’m not carrying extra clothing. Sleeping bag and mat—oh yeah. My sleeping bag may be old, but it’s down and light. And yes, I do need to pack it in the garbage bag—warding off the rain spirits once again. Stove—it’s tiny. Pots, folding bowl—all needed. Rope and a few other basic tools. Water bottles. So that leaves food…do we really need those fresh green beans that I picked right before we left Corvallis and threw in because we had not eaten them yet? Do we really need that extra bag of peanuts that Mark insisted on, because he does not want to starve at the peak? Did I pack too much dried fruit again? Will I ever give in and eat those freeze-dried meals rather than couscous and pasta? I think we can do something about the food, I vow.
And then I remember what is in the bottom of the pack—two books. Not just Walden, the battered paperback version that I read in high school and read to Mark on the trail at night, but a novel, too. A trade paperback—not a penguin, which are small, with tiny print, but a larger paperback. I threw it in, as I always do, thinking that there would be time to read on the trail. There never is. I haul a novel with me every time and I never read it. I think I see the problem here… printed matter. And Mark is carrying last week’s Economist, which is lighter, but still…Next time, the books stays home, I vow, as I wait for Mark at the crest of the pass.
We stand at the top of the world for a moment, backs arched against the packs, letting the breeze blow through, drying the sweat. There is no one else around. All we hear is the wind, maybe the quiet rustle of the wilderness permit attached to my pack. Everything we need for three days is there with us. I love backpacking.