Two weeks ago I came out of the mountains. My husband and son drove across Wyoming to fetch me and my backpack full of filthy laundry. I said goodbye to my new friends and climbed into our car for the first time in thirty days. I’d walked nearly a hundred miles with my pack. I saw a Grizzly bear and Bighorn sheep. I bushwhacked through dead-fall and climbed a pass into Yellowstone. I baked cinnamon rolls and pizza at altitude. I pitched tents in the rain and hid from lightening under stands of thick, green trees. I wore the same t-shirt for a month and bathed in icy creeks. I slept on rocks and was eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. But it was sitting in the car that was tough.
I kept a log of my twenty-seven days in the backcountry. I needed to have the facts straight – my writing was not reflective or nuanced, but rough and fragmented. My brain was working at warp speed absorbing new information and adjusting to seventeen new personalities. Feedback was constant: the natural consequences inherent to living in the mountains are hard to ignore. If your sleeping bag gets wet, you’re cold. If you drink dirty water, you’re sick. If the camp stove breaks, you’re hungry. We learned to take care of our gear, to be methodical, to go slow to go fast. I kept track of the facts in my water-warped notebook, but it wasn’t until I sat in the car with my family that I began to piece together the rush of days spent living in a tent. And as is usual for me, I have more questions than answers.
I adjusted easily to the physical living of an extended pack trip. My labored frontcounty workout routine paid off – I hiked well and despite my relative old age, I kept up with the teenagers on my trip. I learned medical terminology and the advanced first aid curriculum without too much effort. I cooked on our little stove and managed to keep from hurting myself or anyone else with our ubiquitous bear spray. It is the headier stuff that I continue to wrestle with. I wonder about the strength and validity of the relationships I built in the snow and muck of hiking. I think about what I learned from teaching in the mountains with a two foot white board and camp utensils. I have new questions about my students and their morphing learning styles. I think about technology and my extended break from anything electric outside of my headlamp and a fire pit. I wonder about my stilted writing as I work to transcribe my scribbled log.
Still, I found a quiet certainty on the mountain. Despite a nearly unbearable ache for my family, I was happy and content. There is something liberating and strong about being able to carry everything you need on your back, to move with ease and assurance by map and compass, to cook and eat just what you need. In time my writing will become reflective and nuanced. I will weave an understanding of my off-grid time with words and explanation, but for now, I am content to record the experience. I draw great hope from the simple reality of those thirty days and for a while I just want to sink into the pictures and the memories. I always have more to learn.