SHANE STEINKAMP'S BACKPACKING BASE CAMP
GRAND UNIFICATION THEORYPHILOSOPHY OF JUSTIFICATION
1. Keep your mind moving forward, and the rest will follow. - Sally
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand.
William Butler Yeats, "The Stolen Child"
Kelly, on the AT-L asked about justification. This is what I wrote:
Step one of any endeavor is desire. Step two is a feeling of longing. Step three is doing. Most people stop at step two...
I've actually been thinking a lot about this subject lately. I'm married and have a 15 month old daughter. It isn't fair for me to check out of my life for six months and go hiking. Fortunately, I've already done enough long distance hiking for a lifetime, and I can wait a few years to do some more.
After high school, I wanted to go wandering. I had a strange and uncontrollable wanderlust. I have never been sorry that I went wandering.
How did I come to this decision? I have often thought about it, and the only answer is this: I listened to old people. Old people tend to have a lot of time on their hands, and are perfectly willing to tell you how to live your life. The trick is getting them talking about what they wish they had done differently, instead of what you should be doing. It's important to note that what they tell you to do, and what they wish they had done, are often two different things. (Any old people want to back me up on this?) There are a few common answers. "I wouldn't have gotten married so young." "I would have waited to have my children." "I would have traveled more." "I wish I had..." The list goes on. I also had a few role models of outdoorsy type people who drank too much, smoked too much, slept outdoors too much, and generally had the time of their lives. Of course, they had regrets too, like, "I wish I had finally settled down, but it's too late for me now..."
All this received wisdom was not wasted on me, and I had a lot of things going for me. My parents, for one thing - I always had a place to come home to. My jobs for another - I found employers that were willing to let me come and go. Of course, it helped that I was good at what I did.
I wandered. I had fantastic fun. I had moments of mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical clarity that most people don't even know are possible. I danced in the rain, rolled in rivers, slept with trees, and had a long love affair with the night. I still do, and at times I still keep my trysts, wandering at all hours of the night, singing to the stars and whispering with the wind. My wife is used to this, but generally expects me back in the morning. If not in the morning, then no later than noon...
Of course, this life was not all fun and games. There were many dangers. Cold nights, endless rain, hunger, merciless terrain, pain, sweltering heat, bugs, thirst, thorny plants, wild beasts, exposure to many elements, and thousands of other things that threatened life, limb, and sometimes sanity. Even so, all the while, I was filled with a strange and pure joy.
Sometimes I would get into real trouble. Sometimes I drank water that was very ugly. Sometimes I had to beg. Sometimes I ate out of garbage cans. Sometimes I thought I would freeze to death, and twice I almost did. Even so, all the while, I was filled with a profound sense of thanks.
There were other things that I 'missed out' on as well. I never had a girlfriend. Until I got married, I had been on seven 'dates' in my entire life. I didn't attend wild parties. I couldn't keep up with television shows. I didn't know much about current events...
People asked endless questions at first, but then got used to the idea that I was 'wasting my life', and quit bothering me. My grandfather did little but watch television, drink, and make occasional trips to the casino for the last 15 years of his life - but I was wasting MINE... He's dead now, but I often longed to take him with me. What sights I could have shown him! "What!? Go get eaten by bugs!? Are you crazy!?" "Yes, sir, crazy as a loon..." I never understood why loons got such a bad rap.
Of course, eventually I turned 30, which was sort of a turning point in my life. I settled down, got a real job, got married when I was 31 to a lady I had known for 14 years, and we had a child - all before it was 'too late for me'.
Last weekend, as I lay snuggled in bed with my daughter until she went night-night, I was filled with a strange and pure joy, and a profound sense of thanks. I have done my wandering, and now I am doing my settling. Eventually this too shall pass, and I will wander again, but for now I am satisfied and I have no regrets.
Which brings me back to Kelly's questions:
"How in the world do you just let go of everyday and future responsibilities and DO IT?"
That's just it... FUTURE responsibilities are in the FUTURE. Wandering is a wonderfully selfish thing to do. If you haven't complicated your life, you can usually find some place to stash your stuff and just go. This is an important thought for those people just coming out of high school or college. NOW is the perfect time to go. Once you have a job, a spouse, a child, a mortgage, and a myriad of other 'responsibilities' in the 'real world', it will be too late for you to go wandering. Not because you can't, but because it's not FAIR to the people who have come to rely on you to perform your duties as an employee, spouse, father, mother, etc.
Of course, once you have lashed yourself to the mast of the ship of society, you aren't trapped forever. Weekend hikes, section hikes, and fantastic family vacations can all be yours. Eventually, your children will grow, your mortgage will be paid, and you will retire.
Essentially, when you are young, you are free. When you are old, you are free. In the middle, you sell yourself into some kind of indentured servitude as a metaphorical prostitute to banks, employers, insurance companies, and Corporate America. I happen to be smack in the middle of my 'responsible' period, and I'm here to tell you that it can really suck. Of course, there are rewards, but a 30 year mortgage is as close to legalized theft as I can imagine...
In any case, I will eventually pay the thing off, and retire. Then I'll probably sell the house and buy an RV, before it's too late and I wind up spending the last 15 years of my life drinking in front of a television set...
> "How in the world do you justify it?"
How in the world can YOU justify NOT doing it? How can you possibly damn yourself to a life of wishing that you had followed your dream? How could you dismiss something that is so important to you, instead of reaching out for it? Would you NOT go because YOU DON'T want to go, or because other people or things are putting pressure on you to do 'the right thing'? Are you that afraid?
Answer this: Let's say that you DON'T go, and ten years from now, tied down by family, a job, a mortgage, two dogs, a cat, three goldfish, an African Violet that will die if you don't water it twice a week, and high insurance premiums, that we are having tea in a cafe in Paris. (Well, haven't you always wanted to go to Paris?) What do you think you would give to come back HERE, NOW, and make different choices? Are you SO sure that you won't resent the fact that your dog is off cheating with that bitch, your husband chokes up hair balls all over the house, and your cat doesn't make enough money? Are you going to say, "DAMN! I wish I had gone hiking instead of selling my soul to the bank and paying $200,000 at high interest for 30 years."?
Of course, maybe you DID go, and ten years from now, tied down by family, a job, a mortgage, two dogs, a cat, three goldfish, an African Violet that will die if you don't water it twice a week, and high insurance premiums, we are having tea in a cafe in Paris. What then? Do you think you'd be willing to come back HERE, NOW and NOT go? Are you now pretty Zen about the fact that your dog doesn't make enough money, your husband chokes up hairballs all over the house, and the cat just shredded your tarp for the third time, because you've been out on the trail and gotten your mind right? Are you going to say, "Yeah, It'll take twenty more years to pay off the mortgage, but after that my husband and I are hiking the AT, PTC, CDT, and sailing around the world AGAIN...."?
The bottom line for the wanna-be's is this: If you have made your bed, you have to lay in it. Long distance hiking may be something you have to wait until retirement to do. BUT, all you 'young' people, if you haven't made that bed yet, be very careful to select one with a water-proof canopy and ample bug-netting. Remember that it's better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven't done.
I might also add this quote by Mr. Roosevelt:
"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."
Perhaps Khalil Gibran is appropriate as well, "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."
For further inspiration, the AT-L archives are an excellent source.
I think that if for the next thousand years you stood on a mountain in Maine that has a name I forget how to spell, but starts with a K, and asked everyone who walks up from Georgia just to touch an old wooden sign if they were sorry that they had hiked such a long way just to stand up here and commune with a stupid sign for a few minutes, that nobody would ever be sorry that they had done so. I just can't imagine anyone saying, "I should have stayed home and watched Oprah." On the other hand, I know lots of people with jobs, wives, husbands, and mortgages that desperately desire to take that walk.
The dreams that thrive are the ones we feed.
No matter what happens, keep dancing.
Make a wish.
Take a chance.
P.S. No matter what you decide, we can still meet in Paris in ten years. If, after reading all this long, rambling, melodramatic soliloquy you DON'T go; please know that I do NOT want to hear your bitching while I'M trying to enjoy my tea.