We’re driving back from the Grand Canyon today. A group of us through UAB Outdoor Pursuits has spent the last week driving cross-country to the slot canyons in Utah. We spent three days in the backcountry of Paria Canyon, hiking through freezing river water that they call a trail and pooping in plastic bags.
The canyon walls are beautiful and terrifying. I would find myself thinking of what I would have for dinner or planning my escape route in case a flash flood were to come. It was like those thoughts were keeping me grounded. They were keeping me in touch with the menial tasks of this earthly existence, so that I wouldn’t be terrified of the vastness and wilderness surrounding me. At times while I was hiking, I felt extremely happy and grateful, splashing through the freezing muddy water. At other moments, all I could think about were my painfully frozen feet as I struggled to make it through the shaded areas of the canyon.
Everything is more complicated in the wilderness. It’s difficult to find a clean, flat rock to set your morning coffee cup on. It’s hard to pee without getting your shoes wet. If it’s cold, I fall uncomfortably asleep with several layers on, dreading the moment when I’ll have to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag into the freezing air. I miss fresh fruits and vegetables and cappuccinos.
But I love it so much. I love how ridiculously simple everything becomes. I love that I totally forget about my to-do list at home. The things I was worrying about the day before I left, suddenly seem extremely petty as I’m surrounded by hundred foot red canyon walls. It’s a humbling experience that reminds me how fragile, yet how strong we are as humans. It gives me the perspective and feeling of aliveness that I so desperately long for.
Yesterday as we left the Grand Canyon, I felt a physical ache. I wanted so badly to be down in the canyon by the river staring at the canyon walls and the layers of earth’s history. It’s hard to get too caught up in my obsessions when I think about them in the context of 4.5 billion years!
There are moments when I want to leave everything to be a backpacking vagabond. The park rangers live in dilapidated trailers, tents, and most of them get no retirement plan or health insurance. Why is it hard for me to be happy with a 2,000 square foot house and $3,000/ month? Why not risk a secure future that may never come to truly enjoy the moment?
I know for me it’s about balance. As much as I love travel and the wilderness, I also like stability, comfort, and being close to loved ones.
These trips are my reset buttons. They bring me closer to the things that I value most, and they help me appreciate the luxuries I have in my day-to-day life. They remind me that more than fancy things and retirement plans, I value simplicity, relationship, nature and authenticity. It’s important for me to remember that as I build my house, so that I create a home that provides me with more freedom to be closer to what I love most.