It was the morning I had been dreading. I knew it would be cold. Over the summer I had gotten so used to the heat it’s hard not to feel like a morning with temperatures near freezing would be an extremely uncomfortable shock to the body.
On days like this, it is hard not to wish to just stay in the tent until the sun comes out and has a chance to warm things up for a little bit.
Perhaps, had it not been the final day of the trip, with places to be the following day, this could have been a reasonable course of action. After all, while suffering is a part of life, there is no point in suffering just for the sake of suffering. Suffering needs to be done for some kind of reward, whether it be progress in life or the kind of beauty one beholds on a backpacking trip.
There will perhaps never be a situation in life that better demonstrates the value behind the concept of “layering” than the final downhill day of a backpacking trip. Layering was something I barely experienced growing up on Long Island where it was common to wake up on a winter’s morning with a temperature of 35°F (1°C) knowing the day will have a high temperature of 38°F (3°C). These final days backpacking, where we commonly descend around 1700 feet (500m) tend to follow the same pattern.
A cold start while descending down into dense forest, typically still wearing many layers.
They layers come off one by one, roughly every 45 minutes, followed by a kind of golden hour where the temperatures are ideal.
Since the hike is downhill, this is where typically a lot of progress is made. It also can be where we start to encounter other people more after days of solitude.
Then, typically by 11 A.M., it starts to feel a bit too warm.
Somewhere in here is where these experiences get the most introspective. At some point, everything that had previously occupied the mind goes away. All the food needed for the final miles of hiking has been eaten. All the water has been pumped. A further decent takes us away from landmarks such as alpine lakes and vistas of the mountain peaks. Two and a half days in nature had cleared the concerns of day to day life from our minds. All there is to do is walk the final few hours and get to the car.
I reflected on how much I had dreaded the cold morning on this trip. I reflected on how much I used to dread, in general, the thought of being in the wilderness with no option for shelter, not even a car to go to to potentially warm up or hide from wildlife.
In life we have tons of things we dread. People dread putting themselves out there, having difficult conversations, the less exciting work that has to be done and trying new things. Some people even dread leaving behind what they know they need to leave behind. However, in the end, we all get through these things, one way or another. We overcome the awkwardness of talking to new people when it needs to be done. We have that unpleasant conversation. We do that boring task and move on with our lives. Would our lives be better without these experiences? Maybe to a point. Still, it is hard to envision a life where there is nothing to dread… ever. It’s hard not to be doubtful that such a condition is even possible, given human nature. And, if it were to be possible, would this cause all things to lose meaning?