Pacer Notes: The risks and rewards of exploring
"Indian Heaven," they had called it. A wilderness known for its plentiful wildflowers and huckleberries, clear lakes and solitude. But with wind and rain lashing against the small tent I shared with my brother, our campsite was anything but heavenly.
The trip should've been simple — a two-night backpacking excursion for the entire family. The first day was a quick five miles through rolling forests and pristine meadows. The sun was shining, our packs were full and our eyes were set on Lake Wapiki, a clear lake set deep within steep walls of evergreens and red dirt.
We were the only backpackers there, so we snagged a gorgeous campsite on a peninsula, with a sandy, gently sloping beach that led into pristine waters. We rested in camp chairs and watched clouds float over the ridgeline, only to dissolve over our heads. My dad had called it "Cloud-death lake."
The wind started to pick up, and it was getting cold. Around dinnertime, the clouds that had so quickly dissolved before became more stubborn. Fog rolled over the ridgeline and sunk into the valley like a wet, heavy blanket. Just as we said goodnight and zipped ourselves into our tents, the breezes became howling winds, and rain swept through the valley. We pulled our hats and buffs over our heads, zipped our sleeping bags tight, and tried to sleep.
By 3 in the morning, I hadn't been able to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. Neither had my brother, by the looks of it. The roaring wind tore at our tent like a lion, clawing at the poles and seams until, finally, it succeeded.
I felt it first — the tent was collapsing. I felt fluttering fabric at my feet and the tent shrank to half its size in a mere second. My brother and I jolted upright. Swear words were used by the bucketful as I put on my headlamp, slid into soaked sandals and exited the tent to what could have been a nightmare.
Fog crept across the lake and onto the beach like some poisonous gas. Trees were turned to elastic, bending every which way in the powerful gusts. Luckily, there were no rips in the tent, but half of the stakes and ties had been ripped out of the ground.
I did a hasty fix, then battled the elements to my parents' tent. They hadn't been sleeping either. I told them what happened, and my dad came out into the storm to help secure the fabric. After a minute of frantic tying and straightening, we returned to our respective tents.
We didn't end up completing the trip. Our gear was soaked, our bodies and pride sore. We got milkshakes at a local grill and drove home.
But that doesn't mean I'm not proud of how we braved the storm, of how we chose adventure over a comfortable bed and a solid roof.
So why do we backpack? Why do we brave storms, along with blisters, heavy packs and early mornings? It's not always for the reward — sometimes there's no beautiful view or pristine lake.
It's about the suffering, I think. Backpackers like to suffer, not because they enjoy the pain, but because they can say they got through it. What's more satisfying than telling the story of a challenge you've overcome, like I did on this trip?
This lesson shouldn't be limited to the outdoors, however. What if we took the same principles of overcoming challenges, and applied them to our lives? Instead of avoiding something challenging — work, classes or household tasks — we could use the backpacking mentality and do them just to be proud that we completed them.
Sure, maybe unloading the dishwasher doesn't make a great story, nor does finishing homework. But knowing you've had a productive day can yield the same feeling. Appreciate what you've done today, whether you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail or merely got out of bed. After all, being proud of yourself is truly the greatest reward of all.