One night a couple weeks ago, I ate dinner with my back to a 180-degree view of Titcomb Basin, one of the most spectacular mountain valleys I had ever seen. I suppose when you think about it, it was like going to a restaurant and asking for a table with an ocean view and then turning and sitting facing the door.
During our five days in the Wind River Range, a friend said to me, “This is just what I needed.” She had worked nonstop for months, not getting much time outside, especially not five consecutive days. I’ve been in that situation before, gotten so busy with life that I feel like a soccer ball someone keeps hitting in the air, out of control but never coming down — and five days of backpacking is the perfect pause button for life.
“How about you?” she asked me. This is incredible, I said. But, I’m at the end of a five-week road trip, and I feel like I’m not excited enough about the Winds, that it’s been diluted by five weeks of my experiencing some of the most beautiful places in the West: the Sawtooths, City of Rocks, the Wasatch, the Bitterroots, Cascades, the Oregon coast, and Tuolumne. At the end of it all, I was ready to to sit down and process it, to write about some of it, and get the experiences out of my head and onto paper.
I go into the outdoors to recharge. Climbing and being in the mountains is what I do, maybe one of the most important things I do. But it’s not everything. Most of my life is periods of intense work punctuated by one day in the mountains on the weekend, and maybe a half-day somewhere during the week, playing on rock, getting some chalk on my hands, breathing non-city air for a few hours. A few longer trips throughout the year, visiting the desert, getting some long hours behind a steering wheel and letting the scenery fly by to a soundtrack. And that’s usually enough.
Or is it? I feel creative if I spend one day out in the mountains, and can work out some good stuff in my head during short road trips. I try to spend 30 nights a year sleeping outside. This year felt like way too much work than play. From January 1st until August 1st this year, I’d only spent one night sleeping outside. Then, in five weeks, I spent another 29 nights sleeping under the stars. At first, I had to re-learn how to get comfortable on a sleeping pad, and then later in my trip, friends would offer me their couch, and I’d instead drag my sleeping bag out to their back porch and zip myself up in it, sleeping like a baby. Inside was too warm.
In between towns or climbing destinations, I frantically wrote notes on scraps of paper on my steering wheel, churning out enough ideas and bits of essays to someday build a book around. Things were flowing. I was completely recharged after spending a few weeks on the road and walking miles and miles of trails, climbing dozens of pitches. And after the trip to the Winds, I didn’t feel like I needed to tie into a climbing rope at all. I just wanted to write.
How much of the outdoors do you need? Maybe you’re content with a couple weeks a year, if that’s what you can squeeze in. A ski vacation for a week, maybe a backpacking trip in the summer. Some people need far more — outdoor instructors and climbing guides, or the folks who live in ski towns so they can get in 100 days of skiing a year. Do you have to spend a day hiking or skiing every weekend, or you get grouchy? Even more, how much do you deserve?
I’m somewhere in the middle of the couple-of-weeks-a-year people and the 100-days-of-skiing folks. Maybe it’s not so much the number of climbing pitches — I can get in 3 or 4 in Eldorado Canyon before work, then work 8 hours, so that’s not so much of a reset button — but moreso the nights I spend sleeping under the stars. Thirty days is a solid month of nights in a sleeping bag every year, whether it comes all at once or one or two nights every couple weeks. That’s about one night every 12 nights of your life, out of town, sleeping on the ground, hopefully somewhere quiet, probably waking up with the sun. Seems to work for me.