I was the first one up after a full 8 hours of sleep. A parent of two children, I rarely get a full night’s sleep. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I waited for my tent-mates and the rest of our crew to wake, and looked up at the mountains that would be our home for the next 10 days, reveling in the peaceful tranquility of the forest.
On Being “The Best”
Reflecting on the lessons of the past 48 hours, I realized that none of us needs to be the best. Rather, it’s good enough to find something that I really like to do, and become as good as I can be at it. No more; no less. And that’s ok. I was thinking about Kat – the rock-climbing-rations lady. A great climber in her own right, I’m sure. But it seems like she doesn’t need to be the best. She seemed perfectly content – and confident – living life on her terms. She liked to climb, and climbs as well as she can. And I respect her for that. She seems to know who she is, and is comfortable in her skin. And that’s very attractive.
Entering the Pasayten
Once the rest of the group began to stir, we broke down our tents, packed our packs using the ABC model, had a cold breakfast, and made our way to the entrance to the Pasayten Wilderness.
The hike began with a hundred foot climb to Slate Pass, the entrance to the Pasayten. Then we descended about 400 feet into a valley just east of Slate Peak and Haystack Mountain. In a meadow just past the boulder field, we met a couple who was just coming back from 3 days in the wilderness. Avid bird-watchers, they had lived in the PNW for years. He enjoyed photography and she had a keen eye for plant identification.
Our 4 1/2 mile trek took us up and down boulder fields, through woods, towards Silver Lake. That first day was hard as my body was still getting used to the rigors of walking up and down mountains for hours on end. But my mind was getting clearer with every change in elevation.
Philosophy and Hiking
It’s funny how backpacking and hiking forces people to bond. Out in the wilderness, there’s not a whole lot to do other than talk. So we end up talking about all kinds of things. It starts with the basics – where’re you from? what did you study? married? kids? But then it quickly moves to deep, existential questions, especially when two philosophy students are hiking together. That first day, John and I talked about philosophers ranging from the Ancient Greeks to John Rawls, Jurgen Habermas, existentialists, and Eastern philosophy. That evening, my tent-mates and I discussed our plans for the future. Professional goals and aspirations, working in outdoor education, and how to improve ourselves.
Circles and Boxes
At the end of our daily debrief, Dooley read an excerpt from The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert, about Eustance Conway who for 20 years lived off the land in the Appalachian Mountains:
I live in nature where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is the planet around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular teepee and build my fire in a circle. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings because buildings are dead places where nothing grows, where water doesn’t flow, and where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place. People say that I don’t live in a real world, but it’s modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they have stepped outside the natural circle of life.
Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in a box of their bedrooms because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into another box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken into little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to the house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box.
Break out of the box! This not the way humanity lived for thousands of years.
Circles and boxes. Powerful stuff.
As I watched the sun go down through the screen in our tent, my head was full of plans for the future. I was gaining a sense of clarity.