A Little Extra Effort Goes a Long Way
By: John Huston
Over the years I’ve experienced countless wonderful wilderness moments that have stuck with me. A Perseid meteor shower deep in a New Mexican desert. Paddling through the pre-dawn mist on glass-like water in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Pausing my run to tie my shoe and catching the layered beauty of an overgrown Colorado pasture in full fall frosty morph. Watching the sunrise over the Northwoods and Lake Superior from a cliff with the perfect cup of coffee.
I’ve also missed some moments that I shouldn’t have missed. Not heeding my teammates’ call to get out of my sleeping bag at -25°F at 2:30 am on the coast of Hudson Bay to see the northern lights. Driving past a scenic overlook the other day. Sleeping through sunrise over Lake Michigan because I hit the snooze alarm.
When I think about what created these moments I see several shared elements. So here is a list of 5 ways to create and catch those little moments of awe that can become experiential mental postcards. In no particular order:
List of Ways to Find Memorable Backcountry Moments
Get up and out early. Early light, easy miles, morning mist, cool temperatures, everything quiet, world waking up, body feeling fresh, the list goes on and on. I love breaking camp as silently as possible and getting on the move in the pre-dawn. At the Voyageur Outward Bound School we called beginning the day like this a Voyageur start, after the French Canadian fur trading Voyageurs who made traveling in the wee hours part of their burly lifestyle. Make breakfast at a scenic spot the first break of the day.
Stop randomly and take a gander. Pausing to tie a shoe or make an adjustment and briefly scanning the landscape has always given me a sense of place and connection, for some reason. Maybe it has something to do with the contrast of movement and stopping suddenly with elevated heart and respiratory rates. Maybe it is seeing the landscape lower down from one knee. Whatever it is, for me, these are simple opportunities to take things in during these ordinary pauses in motion.
Celebrate the view with a treat. I’m a big fan of tasty food being part of any backcountry experience. And I’m a big fan of packing little treats to add to the standard menu; a bar of Belgian chocolate, some parmesan cheese, fried up bacon, a small pot of popcorn, etc. These morsels can add to any meal, but eating such treats or your favorite backcountry meal on the peak or at an overlook can take things to another level.
Seek out alternative vantages. I’ll never forget standing in a circle in the campsite parking lot with a group of college students I was training. We were about to start a backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail in northeastern Minnesota and we were all worn out from a day of van travel and logistics. Stepping away from the tree covered campsite into a spot with an unobstructed view overhead revealed a moonless sky exploding with the Milky Way and teleported the team into a different mental space. Spur trails to overlooks, lakes, off trail explorations, dips in cold streams, a nice long campfire, and other creative endeavors always reward the extra effort.
Embrace the weather and the challenges it presents. I’m a big believer in accepting what we can’t control in wilderness settings. Sure it can suck if it rains all week, but that weather is also part of that specific landscape and it is up to us to meet all aspects of the wilderness on it’s own inherent level. Getting one’s head around such uncontrollables (in a non-negative manner) can certainly be a challenge. But it is a worthy undertaking that will improve the day-to-day experience, dramatically increase sense of place, and open people up to memorable moments they weren’t necessarily expecting.
Perhaps the overarching theme here is to put in the extra mental and physical effort to set ourselves up for catching moments we would otherwise pass by. In other words, the moments are out there for us to find, we just need to be in the right place and right frame of mind.
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