My partner got me into
preparing for the zombie apocalypse backpacking a few years ago. So far I have rocked some hardcore mountains stumbled around some very big rocks 5 times now, the most recent excursion ending just this past Sunday.
We started at Huntington Lake (east of Fresno, CA in the Sierras) and hiked the Dinkey Lakes, camping at both First Dinkey and Rock Lake.
This trip was pretty awesome. More awesome than usual, actually. First of all, my partner put a lot of work into planning this big trip with as many of our friends as possible. Six people and a dog ended up making the trek, and we couldn’t have had a finer, more hilarious group (think of incredibly nerdy people randomly breaking out into choruses of show tunes, discussions of the tragic K-Stew/Rpatz breakup, and whistling Call Me Maybe).
This was also the longest backpacking trip I had ever been on. We spent one night at a friend’s cabin and then three nights out backpacking. That’s four whole nights without showering. Yummy.
To be clear, I am an amateur draped and strapped to really expensive and pretty gear. I like to think I look like a badass when I am not tripping over my own two feet or running away from a bee trying to land on my lunchmeat.
When I tell people about backpacking and my trips, I often get asked, “Why do you put yourself through all that?” And, you know, when I am carrying a pack weighing roughly the same as a year’s worth of frappuccinos (and believe me, I wish that was actually what I was carrying) up a mountain for thousands of feet of elevation gain, I often ask myself the same damn question.
The thing is, I have a love/hate relationship with backpacking. It’s fucking torture. But it’s also fucking glorious. Often those two things are hard to separate.
The torture: Mosquitoes seem to find me delicious. I’d rather find them squashed to death on the bottom of my shoe. Usually they are attacking in swarms since backpacking means needing to be near a water source.
The glory: On this entire trip, I got a grand total of only three bites. I must have done something amazing to deserve such a reprieve.
The torture: Usually, the dry mountain air and high elevations make head-pounding, suicide-inducing migraines inevitable.
The glory: On this trip I decided to put up my best fight and just take drugs (‘mkay). No regrets.
3. Pooping in the woods
The torture: Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it. Digging the hole, squatting, balancing each butt cheek on a rock like you’re performing a circus trick. There’s mosquitoes. There’s flies. The process brings a whole new meaning to “falling in.”
The glory: Never have I had such a peaceful crap in my entire life. The view was unbeatable. No wonder pregnant ladies go through labor with a picture of some soothing scene in front of them; I had the real thing, live and in color.
4. Freeze-dried backpacking meals
The torture: Anyone eaten these food sacks for several nights in a row? The molten bags of sodium-infused goo escape the body in the form of putrid gaseous evil, that when released inside an enclosed tent has been known to kill a full grown horse. I am lucky that all my nose hairs haven’t been completely singed off.
The glory: Anyone who has been backpacking knows that the food you eat after climbing a mountain tastes fucking amazing, no matter what it is. This hot, salty bag of carbs and almost-meat tastes better than if I was on death row.
5. Climbing a mountain and everything that goes with it
The torture: While you’re doing it, the hiking sucks. The out-of-breathness, the physical exertion, the soreness and pain for days afterwards. You have flashbacks from watching 127 Hours and wish you had never, ever seen a guy be forced to cut his own arm off from underneath a fallen boulder. You wonder if you’d be able to do that if you had to. And then, paralyzed by fear and pain, you find yourself wishing for death. Just leave me here, you say. Pick up my body on the way back. Tell my mom I love her.
The glory: When you get to the top, limbs and all, it’s completely worth it. I DID THIS! The view, the clean air, the oxygen-deprivation-induced-euphoria, being one with nature, and the bragging rights. I absolutely love the feeling of accomplishment I get from
being forced to hike voluntarily setting out like Louis and Clark to go conquer the world. It’s pretty amazing, and it sure does help to put the rest of my life in perspective sometimes. Indeed, when I asked Brian in a sweaty huff somewhere far, far away from air conditioning and frappuccinos, exactly why we were doing this, his response was simple: perspective.
These trips are why I have seriously considered combining therapy with the outdoors as part of my career – simply because they go hand in hand anyway; nature is so therapeutic. I absolutely love the quietness, the stillness. Oftentimes I just sit and count how many sounds I hear, and the number of sources rarely exceed two or three in the wild. This stillness strips away all other distractions from ourselves that we’re trying to strip away in a therapy session anyway.
Who likes to backpack? Who hates it? Has anyone out there ever done therapeutic wilderness trips, either as a counselor or as a client?
I leave you with this (you won’t be disappointed):