North Manitou Island from Pyramid Point
Q: "Why do you beat yourself like that?"
A: "Because it feels so good when I stop."
Backpacking is rarely about destination. If it were, we might spare ourselves the intermediate agonies and simply helicopter in to our sites. It is not about transportation. For recreational backpackers are at best dilettantes when it comes to stevedoring. There are always others who can do it better-for whom it makes sense to transport loads that way. Backpacking is, and always will be, about process; an internal dialog whose rewards are not at first obvious. Backpacking is a head trip-all of it really happens between the ears. It is not about where the rubber meets the road.
Trips are remembered for different reasons; the scene so stunning it makes your teeth ache; the flash of insight into your self, or your life, or the world at large; or simply the survival of a nightmare of weather and circumstance. A few trips are memorable for the restaurant we ate at When It Was All Over. These experiences, including the possibility of disaster, are reasons to go, but they are most decidedly not destinations planned for. At the very best, backpacking creates circumstances which make you receptive to these things.
One year we coined the phrase "backpacking is housekeeping without the benefit of a house." Your really must ask yourself why you would willingly engage in housekeeping under conditions you might more readily find in a developing nation-why volunteer for that? Hasn't much of the last 11,000 years been about getting away from that sort of life?
Solo backpacking is something I have to do at least once a year. Backpacking in groups is a lot of fun, but it almost always brings out the latent scoutmaster in me-the part that wants to be sure that everything goes off well. This is fine when you are working with those less prepared. But it adds a level of stress that I'd rather escape from. Even family, close family, is a bit of a burden. Where else is self reliance and freedom joined so closely? I almost always realize I've relaxed (about three days into a vacation) when I find myself laughing at something I do or think.
Backpacking is really the only opportunity I have to get completely outside the requirements of my day-to-day existence. No phone, no fax, no computer monitor to stare at all day. A very simple existence. Time to spend with your own head. I think you'll find that your head is more interesting than you thought-certainly more interesting than your boss thought.
Dale Austin 1995
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008