I am a slow backpacker. I am consistently two to five minutes or more behind my other companions. I might tell you it’s because my legs are short or because I am new to backpacking while all my friends spent summers working in Yellowstone exploring the park by foot on weekends or took a summer off to hike a long distance trail. I have to go slower because I have asthma, I am not in great shape, I have a blister….Myriad excuses bubble up in my throat as the voices of my friends fade around another switchback and I’m alone.
After my first few trips as trail sweeper I started to get frustrated with myself. I can usually keep up when I go hiking with friends. Before I started backpacking I was a rock climber, and humping heavy gear up a trail was not new to me. However, the steep hike had never been part of the objective before, and it certainly had not lasted for more than a few miles. With no one to talk to, my evil inner critic began to convince me that I was not cut out for backpacking; that I was the weakest link bringing down the group. Luckily the solitude also allowed me to work through these old feelings and see the literal forest for the trees.
The reality is that I am just a slow backpacker, and my ego hates being left behind. The miles I’ve logged at the back of the pack have been valuable in learning how to tame my competitive ego. With only me, my hulking backpack, and the trees, I’ve learned to loosen up a little and go easier on myself when I don’t perform the way I expect to.
The truth is that I’m still accomplishing something difficult. I’m still experiencing the 360 mountain views, the snaking and sparkling rivers, even if I don’t get there first. I love the feeling of dropping my pack by the lake, muscles aching and still breathing hard, even if everyone else has already caught their breath.
The truth is nobody cares when I come into camp because the point is to get outside, to travel to some remote area and share that experience with each other. The truth is I’d rather stop and eat berries on the trail in August than rush past them while my critic berates me for my non-perfection.
The truth is I like backpacking a lot, even the steep grueling terrain, even the afternoon rain showers, even when it feels like we will never get there, because I always get there. It doesn’t really matter when.