Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Being vs having

I subscribe to an email discussion for people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The list is really active lately because all the new hikers are in their preparation stages. They're all obsessing about gear and bear canisters and all the unknowns. One of the things I enjoyed about hiking the trail was how it put into perspective how little you need to be safe, warm, comfortable and HAPPY. Whenever people obsess about gear, especially about bringing electronics, it makes me feel the huge gap between the artificial world of "society" and the real world of nature. We really need so little, and of electronic things, even less.

Here's a response I wrote about what kind of headlamp is recommended.

I found a headlamp a few hours beyond Mojave Dam at a little camping area somebody carved into the chaparral near a spring. If it's yours and you can tell me what year you lost it and describe it, I'll return it. It has three LED lights. It's very light. It's very dim. It was perfect for my needs.

I have usually hiked without any light at all, or at most with a one LED light that I could clip to the bill of my cap. I enjoy fumbling in the dark for some reason. I really, really hate light at night. Years ago I had a studio apartment in town that faced the street. Somebody came to the door asking me to sign a petition to put street lights on my street. I told them I would never sign such a petition. What about safety? Criminals? I countered, What about stars? What about sleep? They put the darn light in and I had to pull down a blind every night to sleep but my room was still pink from those infernal sodium vapor lights. Curse from hell, those things are.

I'm not a big nighthiker, but one LED is enough to hike a little bit at night if you aren't in a hurry. Three is absolute luxury. Mostly I use it for reading.

There's so much excitement involved in getting ready for a big adventure like hiking the PCT. You think of all these cool things you can get to enhance your experience. By god you NEED some of these things.

The real gift of hiking a long trail like this is you learn you don't need most of it. You start sending stuff home so you can lighten your load. Then you start sending stuff home because you really don't need it. Your gear gets smaller and smaller and your happiness rises higher and higher. You acclimatize to being outside. You aren't cold anymore. The heat's not so bad. Hills? Yeah, so what? 15 miles to the next water? Yay, that's one of the shorter stretches. Soon you don't care that your stove is made from an old can, your water bottle brand names are for liquid long drunk not for empty containers backpackers are supposed to have (and if you're like me, you found a way to scratch off the brand names anyway). Your maps were downloaded for free. You have a sixth sense about the trail and can find your way pretty well and don't need the GPS anymore except for its entertainment value. The tent you have, the sleeping bag--you barely notice which brand you bought and you couldn't care less what brand your friends have. Ahh, the freedom of the trail, the freedom to just BE and not to HAVE.

I miss the trail SO MUCH!

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes people say, "It's not about the gear" and I think yeah it's not about the gear if your sleeping bag is keeping you warm, your shelter is keeping you dry, your pants don't chafe, your shoes don't hurt, your backpack doesn't dictate your hike, your umbrella doesn't break in the first storm, your headlamp is bright enough to allow you to hike when you want, your navigation gear keeps you on trail, etc.

    Billy Goat said something about not being a real hiker unless you have slept in an outhouse and eaten out of a dumpster. I said, "I've never done either but if I ever spend a night in an outhouse you can be sure I will be rethinking my gear choices."

    I good LED headlamp is key for me because I do so much night hiking. I use the Black Diamond Spot. It has the three LED's to hike with and then, for when I lose the trail, it has a high powered spot that I turn on and can locate the trail easily. Before I had it, when I would lose the trail, I would have to go to sleep and wait for daylight. With a good headlight, I can walk in the cool night without carrying any water sometimes.

    I find a lot of hikers having their hikes dictated by their gear. For instance, when I had a lightweight backpack, it would dictate how much water I could carry, how much food, how warm my sleeping bag is. Pretty soon I realized my backpack was the boss and got a backpack that would carry more weight.

    I think about my gear choices a lot. Because I like dialing in what exactly I need and no more.

    After hiking the PCT for the first time, I said, "It's not about the gear" and started out on the Florida Trail in cotton underwear, a one pound sleeping bag, and a Walmart umbrella.

    After shivering all night, I called my son to deliver my warmer bag. My umbrella broke in the first big wind.

    My hiking pants ripped, so I went in to Walmart and bought a pair of nylon pants. They were hot when it was hot and cold when it was cold. The cotton underwear that I was wearing created blisters on my crotch. As I was swaggering down the road like cowboy that had spent too much time in the saddle, I thought, "It is sort of about the gear"