A Backpackers Guide to Life

by : Mike Ege

Okay, so not everybody loves backpacking as much as I do. I agree that there are still a lot of people out there who will never don a pack even once in their lives. I know that there are people in the world who don't like sweating and hiking and bugs and carrying weight and sleeping on the ground. There might even be some folks out there who don't know what giardia is. (It's a microbe that will mess up your digestive track for weeks if you drink contaminated water).Worse yet, there are actually people in the world who couldn't care any less about all that I am talking about. This is for those people.

I don't love backpacking for the cold nights or the tough climbs. I don't love it for the mosquitoes or even the body odour. What I love is the parallel to life it offers me and the fresh perspective I gain from a few days in the woods. It rattles me loose from my every day life; it reminds me that I am not so big and important. It lines things up again, like when I file the papers from my desk in a real file cabinet. Backpacking brings me back to basics, to the stuff that really matters. It reminds me that I love my family, that I have physical limits, that I'm not twenty anymore. It causes me to reflect and slow down and know pain. There is nothing like hiking with 40 pounds on your back to remind you what tired really is.

I know from my time on the trail that I have a certain load to carry, and sometimes there isn't much I can do about that load. Some of the load I put there myself, some was given to me. All I know for sure is that I have to carry it; that it's mine. Nobody is going to carry it for me, and feeling sorry for myself won't make it any lighter. I can spend my miles letting everybody know how hard I have it, or I can decide it's my load and carry it as well as I can, with my chin up. I have learned rule number one in the wilderness of life is;

Carry your own load and stop griping about it.
I understand from a few miles in the majestic mountains that I am loved profoundly and deeply insignificant, all at the same time. I see in those alpine peaks a God who made them just for me, and I believe I am loved. I see in the mountains how little I know and how small I am, and how short the period of time is that I occupy on this earth. Learning to sit with this vast discrepancy has been a tough lesson, but I know that both are and must be true. It is the balance of things. It is the equilibrium between my need and my value, between my sin and my sanctity. I think I would have designed the world with just one option, but God seemed to think we would stand more solidly with two legs, one positioned in a deep knowing about ourselves in both camps. I have learned that the second rule for my life is;

I am both saint and sinner.
I have learned that who I am as I travel down the path is far more important than the coolness of the toys in my pack. I can have all the gismos and latest fad gear, but when it gets right down to it, my life isn't really any better because I have the toys. I have learned that bigger toys don't make me any bigger, and I can live without them. Sure, I like them, but they don't edit who I am by making me more or making me less. I know that I am significant and powerful without having to look and act and pretend that I am significant and powerful. I know that the third rule is;

I am more than what I carry with me.
I am beginning to know who I am in the journey, not by the size of my pack or the miles I travel, but by the man I am to others in the journey. I can still be an important man without a Humvee. I can still impact the world in important ways without a large 401K. Because you can't take away from me the very core truth about who I am. I also know that I can do an immense amount about who I want to be in the journey. So I choose to choose, to exercise that gift to be responsible for me. I am learning that the fourth rule is;

I can choose how and who I am.
I realize that backpacking is an analogy for life both on and off the trail, whether I am cresting a mountain ridge or driving in traffic. Because the load I carry follows me wherever I go. I will carry it well some days. Other days I will fail miserably, and that is what it means to be human. I choose to believe I am more than my load, and that I have a choice about me, and how I live.

You may never backpack or see a mountain meadow anywhere except in a picture. That's fine, because you don't need to get sweaty to understand what it means to carry a pack. You carry one every day. So who and how will you be today on the trail of life? And more importantly, who and how do you want to be?