A Reflection

More than 35 years of backpacking and mountaineering have given me a lot of time to think as I watch the miles go by under my feet. Here are some lessons I have learned from this time:

PERSPECTIVE: Did you know that many of the giant Sequoia trees are over 1500 years old? When I think of all that has transpired in human history during that time, it boggles my mind. My troubles and worries pale in comparison to the depth of history that has passed while these trees have flourished. Each of my days is but a speck of time in comparison.

TIME: It is a bank account under constant withdrawal, minute by minute, year by year with no way to check the balance! One thing is certain, the balance is a finite amount. There is no greater gift I can give another than the gift of my time. It is my most valuable asset.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS: Focus needs to be 90 percent on short term goals and 10 percent on long term goals. On a long backpacking trip, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the journey at hand. The only way to make it happen is to focus on the daily plan: the route, where to get water, how much elevation to climb, where to camp at the end of the day. Eventually, I reach my long-term goal one day at a time.

YOU JUST GOTTA EARN IT: After a long, humid, fly infested hike up Cloud Canyon, I was thinking “I don’t ever want to be here again.” Then, the vegetation opened up to the most spectacular view of Wet Meadows and towering peaks like the Whaleback. It was suddenly all worth-while, and it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much if I didn’t have to suffer to get there.

FATIGUE: It is rare that I am required to push my physical and mental endurance well past the point of comfort into complete exhaustion. First, the body protests. The mind has to take over to drive forward through sheer will. Then, the mind begins to tire. This is when extreme care must be taken. I no longer have reserves to recover from a misstep. Injury becomes more likely as I move toward a resting place for the day. This makes most of my life seem relatively easy.

COLLABORATION: My friend was determined to have a fire one night. He gathered wood, but then it rained, and the wood got wet. He abandoned the idea of a fire, but I went and found some dry tinder and was able to get it going. It began to rain again, but my friend held his umbrella over the infant fire while I tended it and coaxed it into something more resilient. I began stacking the wet wood around the now burning fire so that it could dry from the heat. My friend expanded on this idea by forming the wet wood into a trellis-like formation around the fire. The wood dried, and we finally had an invincible fire – impervious to the wet!

COMMITMENT: On a long trip, you eventually pass the Rubicon. The starting point is now further away than the finishing point. It is a forced commitment. Regardless of what I find ahead, I must finish. There is no option to stop or turn around. The only path lies ahead. This can be overwhelming when things go poorly, but it can also be liberating when I realize that all choices have been taken away from me. I must move on.

Story written by Steve Yasmer, Manager of Therapy Services at Carson Tahoe Health.