Need help counting your blessings? Spend a week without them!
I just completed an 8-day, 65 mile hike across the Sierra Nevada mountains with my two boys (ages 18 and 11), culminating on the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. It was a grueling week, to say the least. I felt every syllable of the phrase, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” One of my fellow hikers in our group of 14 liked to remind us with that fan favorite, “No pain, No gain.” (If I had had enough energy, I would have punched him in the mouth.)
In hindsight, there were also many bright spots. When you’re on the trail for 8 days, hiking 6-10 miles per day, you have a lot of time to yourself to think about your life and your life’s choices (like, how did I get myself into this–again?!). For example, when you have all of your food, clothing and shelter on your back, and when you’re “off the grid”, you can’t help but assess and evaluate all the things in your life that you no longer have access to and that you take for granted. Here’s my top 10 list of things that I was missing and/or appreciating more:
10. Convenience stores — Other than an occasional hiker we would encounter on the trail, civilization as we know it was non-existent. No popping in to get a candy bar and beverage. No Starbucks for a little morning (or afternoon) pick-me-up. What you brought is what you got!
9. Microwave oven — We had to carry single-burner stoves and small propane fuel cans to fire them up. That means boiling water for cooking was a minimum of 15-20 minutes, plus the cook time for the food itself. Excruciating in this age of instant gratification!
8. Milk — Ice, cold milk. I’m a milk junkie and it is so refreshing after a hard day of work, or a warm meal, or a sweet snack like a granola bar or trail mix. In fact, when we got off the trail on Day 8 and were enjoying our post-hike celebration breakfast, I slammed two bottles of chocolate milk eagerly!
7. Indoor plumbing — Sinks, showers, toilets, etc. When you have to go to the creek to get your water for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc., you quickly realize how much you truly miss and appreciate clean running water on demand–both hot and cold. And other than an attempt at some sponge bathing, we didn’t get to shower or bathe until Day 8–unless we wanted to swim in the snow-melt streams or lakes as we went. Even that was not too appealing, despite our collective “stink” that increased in rankness as we went.
6. Toilets — I know, I mentioned it above, but this one is worth it’s own entry for obvious reasons, I think. Digging a hole in the ground and then having to pack out your T.P. (that means keeping your used T.P. in a ziplock baggie, in your backpack, until you get back to civilization) is equivalent to not saying the name of the bad guy (Voldemort) in the Harry Potter series. It is “the task that shall not be named.” (Oh, I almost forgot–it gets worse: from the morning of Day 6 to the morning of Day 8, you’re not allowed to even dig a hole. You have to use a special bag provided by the Park Service for “packing out” your poop.)
5. Clean drinking water — Again, even though it’s part of indoor plumbing, this one is worth it’s own entry. When you only have two 1-liter bottles on your pack, and you need to stay hydrated, having to filter or boil all the water necessary to replenish your supply makes you very appreciative of the convenience and surplus of clean drinking water at home.
4. My bed — Sleeping in a tent. On a 1-inch air mattress. In a sleeping bag. For 8 days. Enough said.
3. Communication access — No cell towers, no internet, no WiFi. Which means I couldn’t phone, text or email my wife and daughters. Even though this was my second time doing this trip, for some reason it was a lot harder this time to not have that access. (Maybe it was because I felt closer to dying :-)) My wife expressed concern before the trip about this lack of communication access. I told her that the only way they would hear from us was if there was a medical emergency and we needed to be airlifted out. In other words, no news was good news. (I found out later that our trail guide was sending a GPS signal to his wife every evening when we arrived safely at our daily destination, which she then relayed to all the families of our group. But still, I wasn’t able to communicate directly with MY family.)
2. My family — I had my boys with me, but I deeply missed my wife, daughters, parents, siblings, etc. I didn’t even think to bring pictures with me. The first three days were the worst. Then after the fourth day, knowing we were over the hump and in the home stretch, the missing and longing turned into anticipation and excitement. This is definitely something I need to reflect on every day and not take them for granted.
1. My health — I did not do enough training and conditioning prior to this trip to make it less painful and strenuous. I made the assumption that since I had done it before, I could do it again. But I did not factor in that: 1) I was now six years older, and 2) last time, I had been training for a 10K race that I ran about a month prior to the hike, so I was in better shape. Still, I had enough physical ability and health to make a go of it and complete the hike. And even though at times it was more extreme than I remember, there were so many people that I wished I could share it with who probably wouldn’t be able to do it. Not to mention the scores of people I don’t know who would never be able to experience something like this due to disabilities, infirmities, etc. And so even though it is unlikely I’ll ever do this particular trip again, I feel inspired and obligated to stay in better shape and take better care of my body so that I CAN do it again if I want–or any myriad of other things.
So that’s my story. And even though this trip was a lot harder than I remembered or expected, I’m thankful for the experience and the reminders it gave me of the many things and people in my life for which I am grateful every day.
How about you? What on this list do you agree with most? Is there anything you would add? I would love to hear from you below.