The afternoon sun slowly sinks behind a peak as a girl rests on a granite slab. Slowly, she swats at a lone mosquito and shivers a little in the shadow of the mountain. Grateful for the heat, she allows her body to relax limply against the warm rock. The wind blows gently and sprays a bit of mist from the roaring cascade nearby. Inhaling the mountain air slowly, she lets her chest rise and fall with the rhythm of her thoughts. She is at ease with the world and herself.
“I wonder what my friends are doing right now. They’re probably worrying over work, or stressing about college, or fighting with their parents. And look at me. Lying here. Doing absolutely nothing. This is perfect.
“In a way, I can’t wait to get home, but at the same time, I seriously could live out here forever, like a hermit. When I am out here, I don’t miss material things from home except for a hot shower. Even my bed I could live without. It’s funny that when I’m home, I don’t really get to appreciate the simplest things, like a hot shower. And really, it’s the simplest things I miss the most. I don’t miss watching TV, or shopping, or eating out, but I miss shampooing my hair, having food anytime I want, and driving. Then, of course, when I get home, I miss being out here. I miss not worrying about grades or tests or homework, sitting in the dirt and loving it, having a bad hair day and not caring.
“I’m lucky that I get to go backpacking, but the luckiest part is that I get to go with my family. Most people probably think I’m crazy, but I love being in the mountains with my parents and sister. At home, we’re all too busy to spend a lot of time together, but here, we have all the time in the world. We talk, laugh, tell stories, play games, sing songs, and plan for the upcoming year as we pass away the miles and take in the scenery. We act like a team – we are all equals. Sure, at home our parents have the final say, but on the trail, we each must be willing to do the hike or we can’t do it at all. We help each other. When we’ve had a long day, Dad makes dinner and Rosie, Mom, and I eat in the tent. When we are all hungry, Rosie and I fish for a little extra food to keep Dad going. We play cards with Rosie, even if we’re exhausted. I cook dinner if Dad is taking photos. Mom and I rub each other’s feet, no matter how bad they smell. Our family backpacking adventures are a group effort, and we each pull our own weight, plus a little bit of each other’s. It’s fun. We have the most random conversations too, like the one I had with Mom today… Something about if we are really thinking our own thoughts, or if someone, some greater being, is making us think them. Conversations like that give me insight into who my Mom is and weave our family closer together.
“The world seems endless out here. Time is slowed down, since the fastest one ever travels is about two miles per hour. I think that is why backpacking is so relaxing. In our non-backpacking lives, we hurry through life – hurry to school, hurry to practice, hurry to homework, hurry to bed. I now realize how stressful everyone’s life is. When life is slowed down to the speed of a walk, we are able to enjoy the view of ourselves. We have time to get to know and to reflect upon ourselves. We have time to think. When I return, with this new view on life, I am ready for anything.”
She opens her eyes and sits upright. Though she has lost all sense of time, she knows by the rumbling in her belly and the aroma of salty noodles that it is dinnertime. She kneels and dips her hands into the cool water of the nearby stream. Sucking in the sweet woody draught, her contemplative drowsiness leaves her and she rises to her feet. Staring at the white, foamy cascade, she breathes once more.
“Yes. This is living.”
She smiles at the rich blue sky, and feeling the warm granite beneath her bare feet, heads for camp.
(Danielle was 17 when she wrote this piece about her family’s summer trip along the PCT in the Sierra Nevada of California. Excerpted from PCT Communicator, December 2005)