For those of us who will have the good fortune to live a long
life, there will no doubt come a time when we will look back and
take stock. Did we squeeze the most out of this great gift of human
life we were given, or did we simply take the well-marked path to a
safe and comfortable existence?
For those of us who will have the good fortune to live a long life, there will no doubt come a time when we will look back and take stock. Did we squeeze the most out of this great gift of human life we were given, or did we simply take the well-marked path to a safe and comfortable existence?
I have an illustration that I keep by my desk of a young man who has just leapt off a high cliff. With his arms spread wide, as if executing an elegant swan dive, he commits himself to gravity and the plunge into a deep cloud-filled valley. The first time I saw this picture, I gasped. But this is not an image of a young man ending it all. With special courage, he is answering the call of his true passion and is making a leap of faith into a new and unknown realm, believing, though it seems crazy, things will work out.
There are many yardsticks to measure the fullness of life, but I believe the amount of adventure you experience is an important one. Big or small, adventure is simply making that scary leap of faith into the unfamiliar where your normal reference points and safety valves are gone. Whether you climb Mount Everest, join the Peace Corps, or quit your job at 50 and go back to school, you are leaping from that cliff into change, excitement and challenges. Bravo.
Wilderness travel and backpacking are special adventures available to nearly everyone. You need some equipment and some backcountry skills, but beyond that, it is just walking. Once you hoist your load and enter the wilderness, there’s no telephone, no thermostat, no tool box. You’re on your own – just you, the elements, and what’s on your back.
In 2003, my 18-year-old son and I walked the John Muir Trail. Starting at Yosemite Valley, the JMT follows the Sierra crest for 220 miles to 14,494-foot Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States. During our 21-day trip, we carried all our food and gear across 11 mountain passes reaching 13,700 feet. Most of this trip is deep in the high country far from a road. Often at odds at home, here Drew and I were in perfect alignment. Our needs and challenges were difficult, but elemental, and we worked together to meet them.
This adventure will always rest in my memory like nothing else, and I am sure that as the last grains of sand are falling through the hour glass of my life, it will remain among the things I treasure most. It was a defining experience, and many more are waiting out there.
Is this the summer you take your adventure and create such a memory? For some of you, the John Muir Trail will be too much; for others, not enough. I bet the idea of some adventure has danced in your head, but there has always been a reason to defer it.
I encourage you to make this the year. It’s the middle of winter and a perfect time to start planning. Whether you need to get in shape, or sharpen your skills, you have plenty of time between now and summer to get ready. If you can walk, you can do it. Put a nickel in me, and I will launch into an evangelical sermon touting the magic (and leave out the work part) that awaits you. Go. You’ll see.
If you want to know what walking the John Muir Trail feels like, read my journal of the trip Drew and I took at www.ronerskine.com.
If you need to learn backcountry skills, consider taking the backpacking class I will be giving March 3 through Gavilan Community Education. For more information, visit www.gavilance.com.
Make the leap. It will make all the difference.