Just got back from an idyllic week in the Sierra backcountry. Saw a lot of beautiful country and had quiet time to think about the world and my place within it. I think that's what I like best about long backpacking trips: the solitude. We have friends who want to turn every backcountry expedition into a social event. They're certainly stronger than I am since they usually show up at the previously-agreed-upon campsite at least an hour ahead of me, but when I do get there, they're in their tent. I only spend time in my tent at night. The rest of the time I much prefer to be outside looking at things, taking pictures or simply communing with the natural world. (Unless it's pouring, then I too prefer shelter.) But, different strokes make the world go round. And the wonderful thing about the wilderness is that it meets people's needs in different ways.
As I type this, big, fluffy clouds are rolling past reminding me that summer is fleeing. Gee, it only got here about six weeks ago. The wood pile in front of the house has an asbestos tarp over it and my husband is doing the final shingle repairs on our roof. Mammoth Mountain sent out reminders that they'll be open here in just sixty days or so. And so it goes. The seasons roll past and life is what you make of it.
I am hoping to get in at least one more week in the Sierras before winter closes in. There's a self-sufficiency to backpacking that's reassuring. By that I think I mean it makes me feel good to know I can get by with what's on my back for at least a period of time. And, I've gotten more and more spartan as the years have passed. I have one set of day clothes and a pair of long johns for night time. If I get cold during the day, I can layer those under the day clothes, zip my shell over everything and be pretty cozy. Sure things get dirty, but Americans are uber-obsessed with everything being pristine. I find I have two standards: one for home and the other for the trail. Not that one is better or worse than the other, they're simply different.
One of the surprises last week was the number of wildflowers that are still in full bloom. It's September and there are still flowers. Of course, there are still mosquitoes too, but they weren't all that bad. Ray Jardine, a pioneer of minimalist long range backpacking used to claim that if you meditated effectively, the bugs wouldn't bite. I tried that this trip and it seemed to work. Of course, there was that day when I cheated and sprayed my legs with Naturpel. It was hot and I really wanted to zip off the bottoms of my convertible pants! I can certainly see, though, if every ounce counts, that you might be tempted to skip the bug spray.
There's a timeless element to the mountains. They feel like old friends as I visit them, and visit them again. There's nothing like standing on a remote pass where I've been before and seeing that the vista is unchanged. Or on an equally remote peak. Mountains are the bones of the world. They'll prevail long after all of us are dust. It feels honest and humbling to share space with them. I hope I'm blessed with many more years to wander the local landscape. The memories are incomparable. They warm me and help me believe there will be something left after the politicians in Washington get done tearing the country to shreds. Sometimes it's better to be conciliatory, to work for the benefit of everyone (not just one's constituency) and to hold a sense of peace. Of something greater than ourselves. Mountains have always been my way of doing that. What's yours?