I’ve been asked why I regularly go on backpacking trips instead of just enjoying nature by simply camping—the whole point is to relax and unwind right? I do enjoy simple camping, but the routine required while backpacking is an experience that helps me contrast journeying through wilderness with that of societal living. Removing myself physically and detaching mentally from the constructs of society allows for a gradual decompression from their constraints. The experience becomes communal—participatory rather than just observational. As I soak in the hours and days, heightened senses and a clearer mind emerge, restoring my personal equilibrium and becoming more intimately attuned with the processes of pristine wilderness.
Waking before dawn and watching the densely starred sky slowly morph from an indigo hue to lighter blues provides a long, calm opportunity to contemplate the upcoming day. As I lie in my sleeping bag breathing in cold mountain morning air, wildlife emerge to feed and play. Squirrels dart across the ground and up and down trees. Deer amble by slowly, rummaging in the brush, intermittently pausing to stare at me. Steller’s Jays call out irregularly in a pleasant disharmony. Ripple rings appear sporadically in a nearby lake made when fish eat insects on its surface; now and then a trout jumps entirely out of the water. After watching their lives of leisure interspersed with basic nourishment, I rise to likewise resume my simple existence, aided by the sun’s rays peering between snowcapped mountains and warming me directly.
The most vital elements of life are elevated to the forefront of concern due to their scarcity: obtaining water, protecting my food and creating sufficient shelter at night. Broadening consideration beyond sustenance is like passing through a metaphysical portal offering limitless perspectives of my choosing. Rooted in this raw reality, I meditate on the possibilities. Just as social tools and physical implements aid one in survival and comfort within society, my backpack carries all the gear I need to aid in my survival and comfort in wilderness. The contents are far more minimal, prioritized by their practical use and weight, the main items being a bear can containing food, backpacking stove, sleeping bag, warm clothing, and a first aid kit. Living with only bare necessities magnifies their foundation upon which my existence depends, consequently reducing societal concerns to the artificial and arbitrary whims they merely are.
This biological and material grounding frees my mind and body, my being, and I’m left with physically carrying life’s true essentials on my back. After eating breakfast and packing up camp, I set off on the trail again, settling into a comfortable rhythm dependent on the altitude and terrain. Introspection intertwines with awe walking amidst such immense natural beauty; the humbling solitude and scenic wonderment combine majestically while meandering for miles along creeks, rivers and lakes, over alpine rock, under dense trees and through sparse meadows and expansive plateaus. In this tranquil state, I evaluate the self I inhabit outside of here—my thinking, beliefs and conduct, their influences, and what transpires as a result.
So backpacking outings are not just an escape from the daily grind of modern society, but rejuvenating experiences allowing me to take inventory of my position and course there. Just as the tools necessary for survival and comfort are prioritized for backcountry travel, societal influences and conduct are explored for readjustments and goals are reprioritized where needed. It’s an opportunity to drain stress and recharge my vitality, to cleanse my proverbial lens and refocus my attention and pursuits.
After a long day of trudging up and down switchbacks and mountain passes under the blazing sun, cool evening alpine air prompts me to search out an ideal spot to camp. Worn and weathered, I set up, wash up, and eat dinner while watching alpenglow fade off surrounding granite walls. As the reverberating symphony of Steller’s Jay shrilling diminishes with the remnants of twilight, I too nestle in my sleeping bag and wait to stargaze in the quietude of night as a final phase of relaxation and reflection.