It’s sunset, and you are watching the last of our star’s orange glow fluoresce against the horizon before it dips out of view. You’re sitting on the stoop of a 400-year-old stucco building in Cinque Terre, Italy, swigging Chianti straight out of the bottle like a college sophomore. A light breeze blows past. Giggling couples begin returning from the rocky shore towards restaurants lit with dancing flickers of candlelight, ready to gorge themselves on fresh seafood. You take a deep breath and exhale proudly, “Now this is living!”
I’m going to level with you for a moment. Sometimes, the ordinariness of day-to-day existence can feel like a big pile of dog poo wrapped up in a sparkly anxiety bow, especially in this current news cycle. When things get overwhelming and you find yourself wanting to quit, sob, or perhaps yell at the next stranger who cuts you off in the grocery store, take a moment to pause, take a deep breath, and try out one of these age-old solutions instead.
I’m limping again. I can barely walk downstairs. Bruised knee and bloodshot eyes. My life in boxes. My heart in a tourniquet. Used up. Washed out. Pale moon shadow of the girl I wanted to be.
This is a love song to sing to ourselves at the bottom of the blackest pits (the ones we too often choose to leap into willingly).
Let’s face it. Modern life can be overwhelming, and sometimes you just want to get away from it all. Like, really far away. Like, so far away that the government can’t track you remotely via your mobile device, and the screams of potential, innocent victims can’t be heard amidst the towering pines and mountain spires of the hinterlands. If you’re on the hunt for some true wilderness R&R, my ultimate packing checklist for backpackers will set you off on the right foot.
Last Thursday afternoon, I bit into a bright pink apple, feeling the familiar crunch as my teeth sliced through its delicate skin. The texture was waxen at first with a cool grit the color of eggshell hiding underneath, and I paused as each flavor spread wide across my tongue. First tart, then floral, then an accelerated array of sweet, sour, base, and plant before I swallowed and began again. I paused, affixing my gaze on the small, oval sticker that bared a barcode and a cheap cartoon logo, and I wondered, “Where did you come from?”
“How much higher do you think that outcropping is from where we’re sitting right now?”
Justin was faded, nauseous, and swaying in the mid-day heat of the Eastern Sierra when he the words fell out of his mouth. My head felt like an over-inflated balloon. Dumbstruck, I tried my best at a civil response, “Fuck. I don’t know… Maybe 50 feet? Is this not the summit?!”
“Look! My hip has a weird, reptilian scab from this backpack’s belt.”
“Pumping water from these plastic bags takes SO LONG.”
“Dude. I hate marmots.”
We’ve all been that person – the one with the sweat dripping into our eye sockets or the wrong shoes on when it starts to rain. It’s inevitable, it’s annoying, and, usually, it really fucking sucks. The more I go outdoors, the more I become aware of the myriad of weird discomforts and things that can go wrong while tramping through the woods with your house on your back. I’ve also noticed that some people seem to be significantly better at keeping their troubled assertions to themselves and making light of the situation instead, laughing off blisters like some sort of high-octane mutants. I call them Bodacious Backpackers, and they are the superhero mind-ninjas that everyone wants on their thru-hike or climbing expedition. I wanted to become one of them.
The thing that I fear most isn’t taking a whipper on a towering rock face or an unexpected mountain lion attack; it’s complacency. You’ve seen the pattern – we all have – somewhere around the age of 27-35, we pair off, move into a domicile of some type, have children, and somewhere along the way, we stop trying. We cruise through comfortable jobs that don’t challenge us, we stop working out, and, what hurts my heart the most, is that most of us stop putting effort into the most important romantic relationship of our lives. It’s a sobering reality when you think about how finite the blip of time we get on this cloud-strewn marble is.
As badass as I try to appear in the online world of Brazen Backpacker, I can often be a bit of a princess about what I eat in the backcountry – especially at altitude. My stomach frequently turns on me or neglects to get hungry entirely, instead opting to be distracted by a stunning alpine vista or a mind-blowing sunset. Nutrition is a tricky beast to conquer when you’re burning 300+ calories per hour hiking and need to replenish at least half of them as you move through your day in the wilderness. That’s why exciting snacks are a key part of any seasoned backpacker’s equation.
“It’s probably negative 20 out, and I can’t feel my feet… but at least it’s windy!” Jimmy Chin is 20,000 ft. above sea level, climbing near-vertical snow and ice as his team pushes towards the summit of Meru’s Shark’s Fin, and he’s smiling. In fact, the one thing that most struck me when I re-watched the film, Meru, a few weeks ago was Chin’s unfailing ability to laugh at a situation, no matter how fucked up it got. It was remarkable; a mastery of the human spirit almost as difficult as the technical, mixed climbing he faced, and it got me wondering, “Why the hell am I not doing that?”