In my mind I still see myself as a 20 year old college basketball player but, this past weekend, reality hit me hard: I am an out of shape college grad with a slight asthma problem. Somewhere between the giant rocks I scaled, the summits I ascended, and the many miles I traversed I discovered what I was made of– sore muscles and shallow lungs!
When the opportunity to backpack the 17 mile Slide Mountain Loop through the southern Catskill Mountains was presented to me I had no choice but to grasp it. Backpacking has always been a dream of mine and now it was going to be a reality.
We started out Friday evening with a short 2 mile hike to Giant Ledge. And, yes, true its name, it is a really big ledge that overlooks the Catskills. While it was the shortest part of the loop, it was one of the hardest. Most of that first hour I spent trying to catch my breath, calm my muscles, and comfort my mind saying, “You can do this.” over and over again.
I thought often of one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, during the weekend. She says that her two favorite and necessary prayers are “help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.” Wow was I muttering a lot of those prayers!
Both nights were incredibly and eerily windy. At times the wind sounded like ocean waves, crashing above my head one after the other. Other times, as I lay awake in my tent, I could hear the wind coming as if through a tunnel, getting louder and louder until it encircled my tent. Then the wind would race back around the mountain and come through again, chasing itself like a dog chasing its tail.
Maybe it’s because this backpacking trip was only 2 nights and 3 days but I am still enchanted by cooking over a fire, sleeping in a tent outdoors, boiling my drinking water, and going to the bathroom in the trees. In the mountains, meeting these basic needs is the task at hand and I am all the more appreciative and in awe of how these needs are met.
The excitement in backpacking comes not only in the challenge it presents and the feeling of accomplishment it brings but also in the reality of living with only what you need to survive. Everything you need is on your back (or your friend’s back) and whatever you do not have, nature will provide. It’s a beautiful give and take: nature gives what she can and you take only what you need, being careful not to disturb her too much.
And nature keeps you in check too. Just when you think you’ve reached the summit or conquered that last climb, she reminds you that you aren’t even close. Just when you think you’ve seen the most breathtaking view yet she teaches you that another incredible view is waiting around the next bend. Just when you think the path is too difficult and you can’t make it, she levels out the way in front of you so you can catch your breath. In this way, nature commands our respect.
Even though I came back from the trip severely sleep deprived and sore with a splitting headache and a knee that still aches, I would do the trip again in a heartbeat. Because, at the end of the day, I’m made of so much more than sore muscles and shallow lungs– I got (Cat)skills.