This week, I'm visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks with my parents. Among the many things I owe them is my love of the outdoors. We took family trips to national parks starting very early in my life, and although neither of them is a camper, they signed me up for the Boy Scouts where I learned to appreciate camping and backpacking (as well as how to get along with kids who weren't honors students -- more on that some other time).
Sadly, they've reached a point in their lives where they're unable to accompany me on hikes of any significant distance (although I have to give mad props to my dad for completing the Angel's Landing hike with me four years ago at age 72!). So these days, when we travel together to national parks, we often end up doing separate activities for at least part of the time. Which is how I ended up on my first ever solo backpacking trip, the one-night Paintbrush Canyon to Cascade Canyon loop in Grand Teton.
I figured a one-night trip with the latest high-tech gear would be a reasonable introduction to solo backpacking. Day 1 of the trip involved 3,500 feet in elevation gain (from 6,200 ft. to 9,700 ft.). Day 2 involved another 1,000 feet in gain (in one mile), and then 4,500 feet down back down to the trailhead. The up was tough, and more than I bargained for at this altutude -- but at least when climbing you can rest and the pain subsides. What I severely underestimated was the effect the descent would have on my feet -- and unlike climbing, the effect is cumulative and can't be eliminated by rest. By the end of the day, I was in such pathetic shape that I missed the last boat home across the lake, but they actually turned around and came back for me once they saw me hobbling down the dock. "You looked like me" a friendly old retiree observed once I had boarded.
Even with pain and exhaustion (or perhaps because of it) backpacking is an opportunity to set aside your everyday worries and learn something meaningful about yourself or the universe. Among my epiphanies on this trip:
-- I think my ring toe is abnormally long. I'm just realizing it now, but it's always the toe that ends up bruised and blistered when I do any major downhill hiking.
-- Lying alone in the dark is really boring. Good thing I had my phone with me, so I could play Robot Tower Defender while the freezing winds howled outside the tent. I also lamely attempted to send one work email (at 10,000 feet, I had line-of-sight cell phone reception).
-- It's crazy that the sun is more than 90 million miles away and can still pack enough heat to sunburn my ears.
OK, not the most meaningful insights, but I'm still recovering from he mental exhaustion of work, remember? Baby steps. Just not any downhill steps for the next few days, please.