Epic is in the eye of the beholder
July 15, 2011
I reckon there are as many different forms of camping as words for snow in the Inuit language.
There’s extreme summit camping, light-pack camping, winter camping, beach camping, canyon camping, volcano camping, sea kayak camping, raft camping, hut camping, yurt camping and roasting marshmallows by a lake with my kids camping, to name a few that I’ve tried.
Three of my past five camping trips have been with a 3- and 4-year-old. Flat Tops, Pumphouse, Lake Granby. Marshmallows were always involved.
My other two trips made my feet bleed. My back hurt. My legs ache. Which makes me nostalgic.
Before those two marshmallow-adoring small humans entered my life, I spent more than 275 days in a single year entombed in a sleeping bag at night. I summited nine of the Ten Mile Range’s 10 peaks in a single day before being chased off the ridge by a lightening storm. I once went 10 days without real food, lost on an expedition in Patagonia. (Does one chicken bullion cube in a pot of water split between 10 people count as dinner?) True story.
My idea of extreme has changed in the past few years. Extreme to me now is watching the 3- and 4-year-old circumnavigate Monarch Lake on foot. Extreme is following them up the steps to Adams Falls without them shedding a single tear. Extreme is picnicking with them by the falls at the YMCA.
My idea of an “epic” moment is showing the 4-year-old, for the first time, what starry night over the wilderness looks like. Epic is picking up the 4-year-old so he can see a nest of snakes off the side of the trail (and remaining totally calm about it despite my mortal fear of snakes). Epic is the amount of toasted marshmallow goo that a 3-year-old can eat.
But, I still have friends in the world who jog up to the Continental Divide just to give the dogs some exercise, and from time-to-time, when I feel like torturing myself with a little 20-mile hike through rugged terrain – off the couch, I call up one of these friends.
Perhaps we, say, ski 20 miles in my brand new telemark boots, tear my feet to shreds and then sleep in the snow for three nights.
Or maybe we hike 20 miles instead, across rocky, snow-patched terrain wearing heavy, soaking wet leather boots.
Oh, and maybe we could be swarmed incessantly by mosquitos for the length of our journey. Mmmm. Fun.
I subject myself to this type of adventure willingly. For one, it builds character. Second, it generates great stories. Third, it pushes me into a mental space where I have to set aside physical pain and fatigue.
Somewhere around Mile 7, I start counting my steps until I no longer am thinking about what was said … no longer pondering life’s mundane details or imagining moments and conversations that will never happen. My mind quiets. On the side of the trail – look – fresh bear scat. Over here, is that an orchid? And listen, what’s that bird?
Around Mile 19 on Sunday afternoon, turned back from the intended summit, rattled by lightning, hailed on, mosquito ridden, shoes soaking, toes bloodied and my back in desperate need of a good crack, I stopped to take a photograph of a field of wildflowers. Columbine. Sunflowers. Indian Paintbrush. I had walked by this spot too fast before.
The pain in my feet suddenly seemed insignificant. The annoyance of the mosquitos forgotten. A smile returned to my face.
I don’t mind the cliche – the whole tuning-out-the-noise-of-everyday-life-and-letting-nature’s-beauty-overwhelm thing. It’s something most people who have climbed summits or taken multi-day backpacking trips know well.
There are as many kinds of camping as there are different kinds of snowflakes. The trick is to find the kind that makes you smile.