SHANE STEINKAMP'S BACKPACKING BASE CAMP
IS FASTER BETTER?PHILOSOPHY OF FASTER
1. Do you prefer quality, or quantity?
While I respect the Olympic motto 'Certius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger - sometimes I prefer slower, lower, and weaker. When some people arrive at the end of a walk, they consider themselves winners. They have conquered something. When I finish a walk I don't think of it as winning or passing a test. When I finish riding a wild roller coaster I don't think I won or passed a test - I just think, "Wow. That was FUN!"
I don't go hiking to accomplish the activity of hiking. I have no particular love for the sport of hiking. I am not proud (or ashamed) to be a hiker. Hiking is a means to the end for me, not the end itself. I had no particular pride after doing most of the CDT, for example. I did have a wonderful feeling for all the things I saw, places I visited, and people I met. One of the most profound things I've seen on this subject so far is when Orange Bug said on the AT-L, "Your experience is your success."
Sometimes the backcountry is a living hell. Of course, attitude plays a big part in that. Rain, cold, hunger, sleepless nights, and other things bother me very little. I'm all Zen about it. Bugs, on the other hand make me insane... I still don't understand why God saw fit to make mosquitoes, and It's the first question on my list if I ever get to ask him (or her).
Backpacking isn't fun for me. It never has been, and it probably never will be. Dragging any pack of any weight across endless miles for 'fun' is, in my opinion, a sick abuse of the word. I have made peace with my pack, but I'm not in love with it either. The REWARDS of backpacking, however are fun. Sleeping out doors, standing under waterfalls, watching the stars, breathing fresh air, dancing in the rain, and thousands of other little things ARE fun. Some of the things that other people hate are, to me, fun. I like camp food, for example.
Everyone has different views on what 'doing well' on the trail means. Some people think that 'doing well' is covering as much ground as possible - I don't share that mindset. For example, if I visit a museum and spend as much time as I like and see as many of the exhibits as I care to, I consider that I did well. Someone else may run through the museum, lay eyes on ever single exhibit for three seconds, get out of there in an hour, and consider that they did well. I'm not going to judge them and say, "Well they didn't REALLY visit the museum.", but I might ask them what their favorite part was...
I have had various people comment that they aren't really hiking faster. Carrying a light load just lets them hike longer hours. They don't have to stop by 2:00, because they aren't tired so they can keep going. Well, I don't stop at 2:00 because I'm tired. I stop because I want to.
There is another difference between the two philosophies, and it's something that's quite subtle. Some of us are driven, and some of us are pulled. I am the pulled variety. After so many trails and so many miles, I have never thought of myself as a 'through hiker', I consider myself a wanderer. On some level, even the AT is just another section hike...
Some people feel the need to 'test' themselves, and I can respect that. Just don't think that going further, higher, or faster makes you better than someone else, or some kind of hero.
There is a fine line, I think, between those men and women who meet challenges presented to them by time, circumstance, or misfortune - the outcome of which have real and meaningful importance - and those challenges that are drawn arbitrarily and met by those desiring to, but that have little meaning beyond the task itself. That is not to say that such endeavors are without merit.
The climbers climb because the mountain is there, and I tip my hat to them as I walk the valley far below. Neither one of us is greater of lesser than the other. We are both meeting our own set of challenges in our own way.
Firefighters, law enforcement personnel, doctors, engineers, and other people who make a real difference in our lives and the lives of our fellow men, however, meet no arbitrary challenge, but rather respond to a call that often holds a desperate struggle for life itself.
This line, however, is fine and I think that both fall into a subset of people described by Mr. Roosevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
I assume that everyone reading this belongs to that group, and as a group we appreciate as well the words of Mr. Napoleon Hill: "Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul; the blueprints of your ultimate achievements." He fails to note however, that the children that will grow and thrive are the ones that we feed. Also, the end result of these 'blueprints' leads us to surmount obstacles, and obstacles are necessary for success. Victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats - but each struggle, each defeat, sharpens your skills and strengths, your courage and your endurance, your ability and your confidence and thus each obstacle is a friend that forces you to either improve or to quit. Each metaphorical mountain in our path is an opportunity to move forward; turn away from them, avoid them, and you throw away your future. These metaphoric mountains contain the power to push a man to the brink of his destiny and show him the path to his improvement, and at times to his salvation. Robert Louis Stevenson noted this when he wrote, "When a torrent sweeps a man against a boulder, you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised if the scream is sometimes a theory." This is the call, and the response, of men and women who are driven to succeed and never surrender.
I also see the wisdom, however, in Sir Lubbock's belief that "Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky is by no means a waste of time." Which is the call, and the response, of those of us who are pulled out of their slumber to act as sacred witnesses of an often indescribable majesty.
These two philosophies, two religions if you will, are not at odds. Those who reach for greater heights are not held back by those who prefer the beach, and those who remain in their caves are pitied by both sects.
So, no, to me, faster is NOT better. You surmount the obstacles either way. Of course, it's up to you if the obstacles make you miserable - but that's a topic for another time.