What To Do With A Heavy Load

Tracy is a climber, a lean whippy woman near my own age. We met her on the trail last week, on our way to the back country. She was day hiking with a minimal pack and light shoes. I hadn’t seen her since winter, and we stopped to visit by the side of the trail. Talked of trail work, her life in the city and need to escape to the mountains. I shifted on my feet, aware of the burden on my back. She remarked that there’s no way to make a heavy load feel good.

Ain’t it the truth? That statement stayed with me all week, and is still with me. While hiking (especially uphill), I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the stuff I would take out of my pack if I were not working: the radio and spare battery (dead the first day), hard hat, ax, work gloves, spare ranger uniform, roll of flagging, container of screws and nails, paper temporary signs, etc. I envied the PCT hikers who started in Mexico in April and who would be in Canada in three weeks. Their packs are small and compact. They carry as little as possible, just enough to survive. They go 15 or 20 miles a day, eating ramen supplemented with huckleberries.

But I was at work, and my pack was heavy. There are many options when you have a heavy load: carry it and suffer in silence; carry it and complain the whole way; persuade somebody else to carry it; sit in the trail and cry; hurl the pack over a cliff; leave some stuff behind and hope for the best; look at the bright side and tell yourself what a great workout you are getting…My strategy was to keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that I have carried heavy loads before and not died. I took short breaks as needed to catch my breath and admire the scenery. I treated myself to a sip of water or a bit of chocolate. I monitored how my body was feeling. My mind wandered and came back. I excused myself from having to be the first one to the top.

It never did feel good, but it never was unbearable either. When it was time to set up camp, I was grateful to have the tent and sleeping bag and pad. And the food bag and stove, extra warm layers, headlamp, raincoat. I used the radio to call the ranger station every day, as per protocol. We used the ax, and just about everything else. In the morning, it all went back into the pack.

At the end of the trail, I hoisted the pack into the truck. Its work was done for this trip, and I could put my burden down. I’ve been home for a couple days, and the pack sits on the front porch. The load is slowly deconstructed–toxic laundry washed, tent and bag aired on the clothesline, food bag cleaned up, first aid kit restocked, hemlock needles shaken out. Work gear goes into a smaller pack for next week’s day trips.

I am still mulling over the things we carry. Why we might choose a heavy load. When we might decide to go lighter, and how to let go of what we don’t really need…

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