Last summer I graduated from my undergraduate program at Seattle University. Less than 24 hours later a car packed full of food and gear would sustain my fellow backpacker and I for roughly the next 24 days. I guess I needed to get away from computers, classrooms, final exams, and general structure for a moment. Over 3,000 miles of driving, and 250 miles of hiking, as leisurely as you can do it, is not always relaxed, even if it is rewarding. Carrying everything you may possibly need leaves little room for indulgence; yet I dream of being in the glacial lakes, soaring mountains and endless horizons no matter the toil.
So I’m not used to seeing this many tents – and there’s a 4th hidden from this angle. What I’m even less familiar with, and once again not even gracing the photograph, is the amount of gear we were able to contemplate having at our disposal. Usually an extra sweatshirt is a luxury; this time I brought extra sleeping bags that went unused.
Strangers yet colleagues, a cohort existing with less than a month’s worth of acquainted time together, but enamored and elated by ideals that brought us to intern for the National Park Service, we were now destined to brave the Mt. Rainier wilderness together, on the ferocious mountain still blanketed in snow. Okay, it was only one night. It was also at a clearly designated campsite. However, pulling up to a site with 10 people and 3 cars was indeed like nature pulling us into her clasp, if only for an evening. Contrasted to hiking in 8 miles to find a place to sleep, waking up, breaking down a site, and trekking another 10 miles before eating dinner, a brief respite of deliverance via automobile on this occasion was happily embraced.
You intimately get to know somebody while stuck side-by-side in a vehicle for 3,000 miles (you also really get to know someone by setting up a campground or tent for the first time). In setting up camp, cooking food, pondering a single album to play on repeat over a road trip, the partnership here with new people I got to learn more about, made me enthusiastic for future work to come. I witnessed a willingness to embrace new experiences, a determination to problem solve, and blooming curiosity toward every crawling inch of the mountainside. This approach we will all hopefully carry over unto our work.
Our IMBY camping trip in Mt. Rainier National Park was somehow the first time I’d slept a night in the wilderness since my backpacking trip.
It had been too long.
Yet never once on that trip did I remember to stare at the stars and find the constellations like we did on this iconic mountain.
24 days versus 24 hours: it is hard not to say I’m finding myself trying to take an equal lesson from both experiences. Perhaps lesson isn’t the right word. Perhaps that isn’t the best way to look at it either. What I definitely know I found was a sense of belonging, and a sense of relaxation. A relaxation I needed; one that is sometimes hard to find. Had me feeling like this snowman. Chillin.