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277 The Labor of the Trail 2010-09-06

backpacking in the San Juans

When preparing for an overnight backpacking trips, you are advised to keep the weight of the pack to a quarter or third of your body weight.

Those guidelines are generally where the newbie starts. Then they shoulder the pack, no problem, the pack feels surprisingly great. The fancy internal suspension is working like a charm. Soon they have doffed the shiny new nylon carry-all and are adding a few more essentials. Nothing much is added - just, some pancake mix and other food items, a couple extra shirts, an extra book, an ipod, and of course a cast iron skillet for the pancakes.

The packer can still shoulder the pack; but it felt heavy. They are only hiking nine miles. How hard could it be? After all, it is only walking.

With great enthusiasm they leave the trailhead, heading for a weekend in the mountains. After an hour the 2.5 mph pace drops to 1 mph. Instead of ticking off the miles the hiker is hoping to make the next step. Thoughts of jettisoning all the extra gear enters his mind. Just how important IS that cast iron skillet or the ipod for that matter!

As the trail grows steeper the packer takes a break but then cannot re-gain his stance. With help he dons the pack as his body screams in torture. The skillet clangs a dirge as the packer learns it is only 5 more miles to camp!

If backpackers had good memories, their first trip backpacking would also be their last. But then, they find that misery makes good fodder for tales of the trip. The blood, sweat, and tears become entertaining to others. With each tale the trip's degree of difficulty increases, the level of pain decreases, and the overall enjoyment grows exponentially. Soon the listeners are wanting to join the now, one trip veteran packer on the next trip.

Return to the top of the page and re-read to find the outcome of the second trip!

After a while the backpacker finally learns how to make life on the trail easier but not without some rookie season epics. At some point, the hiker learns to count ounces that leads to an obsession with weight. The pack gets lighter and the hiking gets easier.

Of course even with the lighter packs backpacking can still hard. Carrying lighter packs just means the packer wovers more distance. The amazing thing is, the difficulty becomes, to a certain extent, enjoyable. The labors of the journey become rewarding. As a hiker stands looking at a breath-taking vista after a hard climb, he has earned the right to experience a special view - seasoned by the weight of the pack, the weather, the length of the climb, and of course his hiking mates. This is life on the trail.

To the new backpackers, don't be afraid to pack the cast iron skillets, just remember to have fun and a short memory. You will learn the rest. After all, it is only walking.

Happy labor day trails.


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