There's nothing like the first few steps of a long backpack. You feel the straps digging into your shoulders, and the dull, aching weight on your hips makes you realize you packed too much as the summer sun beats down. The engines have been killed, replaced by the sound of wind in the trees. As you leave the parking lot, you contemplate the miles ahead and steady yourself for the requisite misery about to unfold. A few horse flies lazily circle you as they look for a place to land. Even they are reminders that the painful costs of the solitude you seek are worth the price of admission. You are setting off in the quiet air for a few days of peace and emptiness that only wilderness can provide.
When you think about the miles ahead, you might even doubt yourself and why you're doing this. Perhaps car camping would have been so much easier. Yet there is also a sense of exhilaration that only comes when stepping into the unknown, taking a risk. So much can go wrong, rolled ankles, wasp stings, sun burn, hypothermia, broken bones, and worse. But what will go right always takes precedence - Silence, solitude, spectacular scenery, and a spiritual rejuvenation that only comes from an immersion in nature. What can go right should always take precedence over what can go wrong.
Perhaps even words like those of Thoreau drift through your opening mind: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
Over the next few minutes, your body slowly adjusts to the steady rhythm of walking, and soon, you are deep in thought, and eventually, nonthought. Conversations with your companions (if you have any) have faded to silence as your heartbeat becomes the very rhythm of life and of all you see. You keep walking, advancing slowly up the hill or mountain, along the wild ocean beach and pounding surf, or up the silent river valley, maybe even through the desert. It does not matter. No matter where you are, the scenery changes slowly, as everything comes into better focus.
Sometimes the pain of incomplete conversations will linger in your mind, things you wish you'd said or not said. Anger. Regret. Perhaps you relive scenes from your life over and over. Yet, those too will dissipate as the miles unfold beneath your feet. You will learn to let go again and again.
Perhaps you stop for lunch or a snack and when you do, the conversations around you bring a sense of peace and well-being. You drink, and like perhaps like the icy river thundering in the distance, you feel the arrows of cool water shooting into your stomach. You drink more. And then you resume your journey. Even if you're with people, you know you are alone.
Now the seconds are quickly melting into minutes and then hours. Time, however, is irrelevant. As long as there is light, you will continue your journey. Thoughts are now less cumbersome and you are living in your aching feet and legs that now feel stronger than they did this morning. The addictions of screens, and social media fade as you unplug from it all. The whole world can wait. The chaos of humanity is put on hold for you. You are a different person than the one that set out hours ago.
This night after food, you will rest, and hydrate lest you wake up screaming with cramps that feel like they're tearing your leg muscles to shreds. Perhaps even a fire if appropriate will further immerse yourself in the presence of the wilderness that lives both within and outside of you. You know that when and where these two great rivers merge, you will find the peace for which you have been searching. You will have found your true home, place oddly familiar like an old friend. A place that knows you more than you know yourself. And you will remember the true reason you have come, and that you will come back, as long as your legs can carry you.