I love serving the community, helping my peers and doing what I can to better our world, but it is also important to serve myself.

EUCKERSitting in the passenger seat of my dad's car, I looked out at the tires revolving so quickly that they seemed to blur with the road. The cars on those churning wheels were filled with people busy with their own thoughts, travels and internal motives.

Behind the dusty windows of the parade of vehicles were hunched shoulders, fingers tapping on steering wheels and glazed expressions most likely due to disinterest in the folly of modern-day transportation. As I sat there watching others pass, I felt as though I were no different.

Suddenly, I realized I was missing something. I wanted to see more than this. More than the people all hunched in their respective cars, driving to work or to watch their kids' soccer game. I didn't want to feel the familiar skittish stops my dad always makes as we drive through town. I wanted the wheels to quit revolving as if they were racing toward a finish line that is always far out of sight.

"Dad, I want to go backpacking."

The statement slipped quickly between my lips, so quickly in fact that my tongue didn't even have a chance to coddle — or to consider curtailing — the thought. Minutes later, we were parked in front of REI.

And two months later, after relentless planning, material gathering and physical preparation, we began our first backpacking trip in eastern Oregon along the Snake River.

Against advice from the REI store manager, I requested that our trip last at least three days. I was determined to bypass the beginner stage of wilderness exposure. I itched to discover the new area. I yearned to learn more about myself.

I remember seeing our car disappear behind us as we stepped onto the trail. Though I was breathing the same air as before, it suddenly tasted more earthy and gritty. The same tongue that couldn't stop my bold idea two months prior now fondled the wild flavors as a result of that decision. And I liked the taste.

Dad and I set up camp by a nearby stream. My body ached from seven miles of walking on uneven footing while precariously balancing 30 pounds on my inexperienced hips, and from sweating off a seemingly large fraction of my being. But my scratched shins and tired limbs didn't detract from my inner peace after a long day of ascending through captivating beauty.

As in one of my favorite childhood books, "Where the Wild Things Are," my young mind knew that someday I would be one of those very "things" who escaped into far-off places. The itchy feeling of my wool socks, the burning sensation of freeze-dried food rehydrated with boiling water scorching my lips as I ate too soon, the mental photographs of wild goats and humbling mountain tops all instilled an unfathomable joy within me.

I am a wild thing, I thought, adventuring off in the woods, jumping into frigid lakes, summiting mountain crests and creating crackling light and warmth from fallen branches. A wild thing with a backpack and a yearning to explore beyond the tire-trodden roads.

Although I love the serenity that the wild grants me, my free spirit is not squandered by lamplight. I believe that time spent in nature is greatly beneficial, but most importantly, I value personal reflection and awareness of living holistically. Backpacking is one of the ways I continue to remain grounded, to avoid feeling overwhelmed while involved in many activities.

I love serving the community, helping my peers and doing what I can to better our world, but it is also important to serve myself. I believe that balance is necessary to find happiness, so I find ways to fill myself with joy by exploring and learning from my surroundings.

Happy mind, happy Earth, happy people spreading happiness.

Lakeridge High School senior Ava Eucker is one of two Pacer Notes columnists. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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