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Why We Go

by Rob Coleman

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Since I began backpacking about 10 years ago I have been asked many questions. Many of these questions had to do with how to do something, or where to go, and in general things you could find in a book or by trial and error. Recently, I had the fortunate experience of introducing someone new to the joys of backpacking and was asked the toughest question yet, "Why?"

Why do any of us enjoy backpacking so much? Having grown up in the country I knew she wasnít looking for the standard, "I love the outdoors", answer. I could walk out my house and experience the outdoors as wild as any backpacker would. The question was more directed toward inner thoughts, emotions and personal revelations.

Not only did I begin to realize that putting this into words would take a moment to collect my thoughts, but also why this had never come up before among those I've shared the trail with, it was tough. Sure we all know "why" we love it, but when you have to put it into words, how can we do it justice.

After a moment I put together somewhat of a presidential speech. You know the kind, where you havenít a clue what you are going to say until you read the teleprompter or hear the words come out of your mouth. I began to talk of sitting on top of mountains formed in the last ice age with a view stretching for country miles. How the clouds slowly approach against the backdrop of blue while the trees sing when a gentle breeze blows through them. Listening to the distant call of a bird gliding along the thermals like a surfer rides a wave. How when you lay under the stars at night you feel a peace that canít be explained. Somewhere not far away the whippoorwills hold a rhythm that soothes you to sleep. Or how just before dawn, the air is the purest youíll ever find it. You take a deep breath of the cool morning air and settle back to watch the glowing sun wake over the next mountain. These experiences can make you feel so inferior and such a small part of existence, while at the same time you recognize what a large impact you have on your surroundings and their future state.

Throughout the years these experiences have led me to believe that there must be something else, something we canít see. While this could be anything for anybody, for me, it is something beyond, something that try as I might, I may never be able to explain. A spiritual feeling and connection with nature that I never knew before I began backpacking. Over time, this feeling has carried me into the woods over and over and is "why" I backpack. I donít know what it is exactly and I may never know. I simply felt that there was something that I had connected with over years of wilderness travel that could not be seen, something more.

She was hoping I wouldnít say that. She didnít believe in anything past human existence, what you see is what you get. We stopped on the trail and I asked her to look around her, to take a deep breath. I couldnít understand how a person could look at all that beauty and believe in nothing else, whatever that may be.

I couldnít explain my "why" any further as I had struggled to put it into words in the first place and she couldnít explain her position further either. The beauty of conversation and individualism is that we could agree to disagree, and thatís exactly what we had to do. Being her first wilderness experience I had to wonder if, like me, over time her opinions and outlook may change, for mine werenít the same in the beginning as they are now. It will be interesting to have the same conversation a few years from now and see if she has been touched by the wilderness experience as much as I. When we set up camp, the stars start shining, and the conversation begins around the campfire, Iíll ask, "Why do you backpack?" Here we go again.

About the Author

Rob is an engineer and avid backpacker who spends much of his spare time photographing and writing about the outdoors.


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