In this next installment of “Lessons from the Trail,” it felt appropriate with the Thanksgiving season to explore one observation I had in the middle of the journey, which was how trail life was helping me to remember the blessing of simple things – a cool drink of water, a hot meal, a beautiful view, a warm and comfortable place to rest.
In our constantly inundated world, there are few moments where we get to set aside our daily entanglements to remember the basic delights of being a human. We talk about the idea of appreciating the simple things in life. This is often difficult to do until we are forced in one way or another; however, my hope is to spur us on, to practice this on a regular basis, and not to wait so as to miss the wonder of each day. Though only one of many ways, I found that trail life is one medium that brings those realities into stark relief, and is one of the reasons that we embark on self-appointed expeditions.
A Cool Drink of Water
After hot charges uphill, dipping my hands into icy cold streams to gather water, and then drinking it fresh from our squeeze filters became a moment that I relished. I felt one step closer to an adventurer from a beloved book on a quest to a far-off land. Some of this feeling was summoned by the realization of these childish daydreams, but some of it was simply because of the delicious, crisp water slaking my thirst after hard work.
Back home, in my caffeinated world, I drank water because I should (and not as frequently as I should). I have gone through seasons of great diligence to make sure that I am adequately hydrated, but those don’t always last long, and it is usually considered a necessity and not a delight. Out there, accessing necessities became a source of delight. There was nothing to outsource our basic needs to. They needed to be answered and could only be done in the simplest ways.
A Beautiful View
At home, it was easy to pursue entertainment in an unlimited way. If something didn’t please me, I could move onto the next subject. Often these decisions happened in flashes of milliseconds, from one to the next, to the next, to the next. Out there I was forced to consider simply what was in front of me, a focus rarely accessed during normal life.
At one moment, we would be facing the side of a mammoth glacier. Long moments of stillness would break with a resounding crack or low rumble as a tumbling boulder or underground movement revealed that this sleeping giant was truly awake and alive. We would stop and tremble.
At another moment, I could appreciate the individual details often lost in the midst of the grander view. Behind the cabin at Indian Bar, I bent down low to examine a wildflowers encased in ice. Frozen in their shells, these delicate and fragile frames were bursting through the frost with beautiful resilience as the snow continued to melt. Such rapt attention was hard to give to each detail we encountered, but I had the headspace to stop, to see, to truly experience without distraction.
A Simple Meal
Is it hunger that makes us appreciate even the simplest of foods? Is it hard work? I wouldn’t choose to eat freeze dried foods for my regular meals, but nothing is more appealing than a hearty meal at the end of a long push up the side of a mountain. It almost – almost – doesn’t matter what the meal is at that point. The satisfaction of being energized and comforted all at the same time is enough.
After experiencing two other trips with freeze-dried meals, we were determined to have normal bodily functions throughout our trip (another simple blessing!), and to generally feel a little lighter than we had from all of the rice and legumes and salt that usually goes into the store-bought meals. We supplemented our packaged meals with hot cereal for breakfast, powdered eggs with seasonings, lunches of trail mix and beef jerky, and soups made from dried veggies, bouillon, and packets of chicken. Our meals felt like feasts — except for the eggs… those didn’t quite work out. Minor disappointments aside, I was immensely grateful for each meal. Eating is the most basic need we have, but oh, how I take it for granted when I don’t realize how deep that need is, or how grateful I should be that it is accessible to me.
A Place to Rest
In the evenings, after we reached our campsite, dropped our packs, and settled down to relax for the evening, I could hardly wait to get to sleep. We would often make it into camp at a decent hour, somewhere around 6:00 or so, sometimes earlier. On a comparable night at home, this time frame would be about the equivalent of getting home from work, where there was plenty of evening to spend making dinner and doing various activities before bed. Each campsite was beautiful, some more than others to be sure, but even at the less desirable locations, I didn’t just want to eat and go to sleep. I wanted to relax and enjoy our surroundings when we weren’t pushing onward, to be able to read a book or spend time journaling, to connect with fellow hikers, or just rest and soak it in. Though we often did that, I had to admit, I was never more grateful than when we were finally ready to settle in for the night.
Yes, after night three, we discovered that my air mattress was giving up the ghost, and I was to end up on the ground every night after that. Yes, it wasn’t perfectly comfortable. Yes, I was terrorized by chipmunks on several nights. But I had a nice sleeping bag and foam pads that kept me warm. I got to relax. After long, exhausting days, I got to curl up and enjoy this beautiful process we have been given called sleep. Sometimes I’ve resented sleep because it stops me from being able to keep going. I feel limited and weak and frustrated. But lately, and especially since this trip, I have been thoroughly enjoying rest as a blessing and a gift.
Blessings Every Day
It’s not every day we’re out in a place that frees us from distractions and assists us in honing in on these precious moments. Some may rarely catch moments to escape from normal routines. However, if we take it seriously, and not as a trite truism, we really do have the opportunity in every moment to value the simplicities of life with the same attention, the same appreciation, the same gratitude.
Let us be challenged to walk in gratitude for the blessings we have been given, small or great, as seeing with fresh eyes.
What a beautiful life we have been given!