I Don’t Actually Enjoy Backpacking, I Just Keep Doing It

It’s sort of a type for my life in that sense.

I go backpacking sometimes. I’m not really a serious backpacker and I don’t know that it’s a particularly integral part of who I am, but still: sometimes I pack up, drive somewhere, walk somewhere, then sleep on the ground for a night or more.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve gone on backpacking trips to Paria Canyon, Coyote Gulch, Mt. Robson and Berg Lake, Keyser Brown Lake in the Beartooths, Seneca Creek (in West Virginia), Fox Lake and Glacier Lake (both in the Beartooths), the Virgin River Narrows (a few times), Ibantik Lake in the Uintas, Island Lake in the Wind Rivers, White Pine Lake and Steam Mill Lake (in Logan Canyon), and most recently, Stough Creek Basin (also in the Wind Rivers) and Martin Lake Basin sort-of (Beartooths). So that’s a rate of about 1.6 backpacking trips a year, which is probably above-average for a middle-aged American during peace-time.

That said, the following is literally true:

I don’t so much enjoy backpacking. I have never gone on a backpacking trip where I didn’t at some point think this is terrible, I’m never going to do this again.

More specifically:

  • Sleeping on the ground is terrible.
  • Being cold all night is terrible.
  • Having hip pain wake you up multiple times a night is terrible.
  • Eating freeze-dried food multiple days in a row is terrible.
  • Mosquitoes are terrible.
  • Swarms of flies circling around horse manure on the trail is terrible.
  • Sitting in tree sap is terrible.
  • Sweat stench that compounds with each day of the trip is terrible.
  • The scent and feel of bug spray is terrible.
  • The inevitable taste of bug spray is also terrible.
  • Splash-bathing in a frigid lake or creek when all you have to towel off with is a bandana is terrible.
  • Forest service policy against splash-bathing in lakes and creeks is terrible.
  • Taking down and setting up camp is terrible.
  • Finding that rodents have eaten a hole through your backpack overnight is terrible.
  • Inevitably running out of sun block, bug spray, and/or hand sanitizer is terrible.
  • Realizing that you have no interest in eating any of your remaining food is terrible.
  • Bugs flying into your just-cooked dinner is terrible.
  • The sound of wind and rain on your rip-stop nylon tent is terrible.
  • Hiking uphill with a pack on your back is terrible.
  • Hiking through tree prisons is terrible.
  • Sitting around camp for hours in the evening because there’s not a whole lot else to do is terrible.
  • Pump-filtering two liters of drinking water at the rate of one teaspoon per minute is terrible.
  • Driving for hours through Wyoming, central Utah, eastern Montana, or wherever to get to the trailhead is terrible.
  • Feeling dehydrated is terrible.
  • Waking up four times during the night to go to the bathroom because at some point during the day you decided you didn’t want to be dehydrated is terrible.
  • Tying a knot around a rock and trying to get your paracord up and over a tree branch so you can hang your food is terrible.
  • Digging a six-inch cat-hole with a tent stake is terrible.
  • Stuffing used toilet paper into a quart-sized Ziploc bag when your pants are around your ankles and while swatting away mosquitoes is terrible.

So why do I keep doing it?

I don’t know. Really. Here’s the best I’ve come up with.

  • I feel like I’m supposed to.
  • Fear of regretting not doing things when, later in life, doing those things would be more difficult.
  • Probably something about an aspirational self-image.
  • Perceived benefits of the forced disconnection with my day-to-day life.
  • Lack of better ideas.
  • Provides an interesting optimization challenge.

So anyway — this year to the Sawtooths then?