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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Backpacking: A Cure for Multiple-Choice Syndrome

My friend Doug rolls his eyes when he hears parents offering their children choices for meals. "Timmy, would you like pancakes or cereal for breakfast this morning? How about waffles? Yogurt or fruit? Candy?...." He likes to tell a story from his younger days when he whined that he had to eat oatmeal for breakfast. Again. His father told him "You want choices? I'll give you a choice: you can have oatmeal, or you can have oatmeal and a spanking."

It struck me, as I stood in line at Starbucks this morning, that there are far too many choices in everyday life. I thought I had heard it all before the following order was given to the poor girl at the register:
"I want a Venti iced latte with three shots of espresso, two caf', one no caf', soy milk about halfway up the cup..here, let me show you to where...fill it the rest of the way with coffee, Blonde roast, and I want it really cold, so put the ice in there to chill it, but I don't want too much ice. Just a few pieces, but make sure it gets cold before you take the ice out. And today I think I'll have three squirts of the pumpkin spice flavoring. Don't shake it, I like the layers, but be sure to mix it in though, I don't want all the syrup to go up the straw on my first sip..."

It went on from there but I lost track as my eyes glazed over and my brain refused to believe what it was hearing. The girl at the register had to grab another cup because she had run out of room on the side to write it all down. The register didn't have the proper keys for all this information either, so she ended up calling the unfortunate barista over and having the customer dictate it to her as it was made. When this masterpiece of half-caffeinated cold-but-not-too-icy nirvana was finally finished, the guy took one sip, looked at the barista and said "It's ok. Not exactly like I wanted it though."

Mark the Mighty Explorer points the way.

One of the things I really like about backpacking is the lack of choices. Sure, there are a few decisions to be made before you leave, but once you're out there, you're stuck with them. If you packed nothing but freeze dried green beans and beef stroganoff you will be eating green beans and stroganoff for every meal. And in the morning, hate to break it to you Mr. Pumpkin Latte, even Starbucks doesn't have a branch on the top of Bishop Pass (although there was probably one proposed at some point...)

Backpacking really boils everything down to what you're willing to carry to be comfortable. You carefully choose only items that are necessary for survival, and throw in a few luxury items you just can't live without. Then once it's all loaded up, you try the pack on for fit and realize there's no way in hell you're carrying that much weight so you rip it apart, throwing things aside while deciding you really don't need to be that comfortable.

I've only been backpacking a few times, but that little taste has led to a goal to do the Pacific Crest Trail. To be realistic, unless we wait until we're retired (or win the lottery) we're going to have to do it in chunks (as opposed to a thru-hike.) Getting that kind of time off work would be pretty much impossible at this point, not to mention being able to make the house payments, etc. But it's fun to dream.

What I look forward to is the simplicity of it all. You put on the impossibly heavy pack, walk all day, rest when you're tired, eat when you're hungry, make dinner before it gets dark then go to bed when it does get dark because you're so tired. When the sun comes up, you eat what you have, pack up and do it again. You don't have to decide much; if you've done your planning correctly it's all predetermined. If we only have enough food for 4 days, I guess we better get back to the truck in 4 days.

On the way to Wades Lake, Plumas National Forest
Having just come off a month of non-stop home repair that took up every after-work and weekend hour, I'm done with choices. I don't want to see another paint chip for a long time--did you know there are approximately 2.3 million shades of green?--and I definitely could live the rest of my (now shortened) life without breathing lacquer-based primer fumes ever again.

I guess I'm yearning for the simpler life that backpacking offers. It's challenging, and exhausting, and really kicks your butt at times, but your mind is free to wander. All those worries that seemed so important back home just slide off, mostly because you just can't carry them and all the crap in your pack too. That pack which, coincidentally, always has packets of instant oatmeal tucked inside.

So I guess to answer that question: Yes thank you, I'll take the oatmeal.