By Tanya Koob
Rain slowly fell around me in a steady drizzle as I made my way up to the pass, complaining miserably that this was not fun. What’s fun about backpacking through rain and snow (which we got the next day), setting up a tent in the cold, and then huddling under a small tarp eating freeze-dried chicken and rice—only to finally call it a day at 8 p.m. and go to bed?! I have many words that come to mind to describe our backpacking trip in Banff National Park last fall, but “fun” isn’t really one of them.
The question I really had to ask myself after the trip was this: What is the real reason I embark on this kind of adventure in the backcountry? Is it for the fun? Do I carry a heavy backpack up 3,600 feet to reach camp, placing myself entirely in Mother Nature’s hands and goodwill while suffering from blisters and bruised toes (I lost six toenails after this particular weekend), all because it’s just so much fun? Perhaps there is a different reason I choose to do this kind of trip. Something equally important to, or more important than, having fun. Through mountaineering, climbing mountains, and backpacking I have learned perseverance. I have built skills that teach me to carry on when tired, to keep going when I want to fall over and curse the universe, and to follow through with my dreams when I really just want to give up.
Perseverance is an important character trait that I build in the mountains but take with me in my everyday life. That everyday life includes, but is not limited to, caring for a very spunky five-year-old, balancing a part-time job and aspiring writing career, and spending quality time with my family. Add the myriad of other activities I’m involved with each week and sometimes I can barely get out to the door to hit the gym. (OK, make that most days.) And I know you can all relate. We are all busy. We all deal with stress and we all feel the pressures of life. Without perseverance, we’d never survive in this world.
I also build friendships during outdoor trips. Friendships that are tough enough to handle disagreements, differences of opinions, and a plethora of other challenges that life throws at us. While I wouldn’t say that backpacking is always fun, I would say that traveling into the backcountry with my friends is incredibly rewarding and we develop bonds that far surpass the ones built while sipping coffee or shopping.
It’s been said in outdoor circles that there are different types of fun. For me, stand up paddle boarding is almost always true “in-the-moment” fun, as is ski touring with my girlfriends through fluffy, soft powder. However, in the kind of adventure I pursue, “fun” isn’t always lived in the moment. There will be moments during a trip where you are honestly having fun (usually on a summit after you’ve worked your butt off to get there). Often, though, an adventure becomes fun at the pub afterward over a few pints of beer and a plate of nachos. The adventure becomes fun in the future as you swap stories around the campfire years later, reminiscing the time you got chased off the summit by lightning or the time you actually got lost coming down off a tourist summit because you decided you didn’t need the silly gondola. (Yeah, that really happened.)
I’ve been quoted as saying, “If I’m in the mountains, I’m happy.” This is true—most of the time. However, for me, that backpacking trip last fall was hardly “fun” at the time. Nobody was hurt and there were no serious complications or problems, aside from my lost toenails and blisters. Yet, I didn’t enjoy myself during the trip and still don’t look back on it with many positive memories. The other girls on the trip will tell you a different story of how beautiful it was, rain and all, how empowering it felt to leave the kids behind for a weekend and do a good climb, and how they just appreciated the time away. But I couldn’t get over the rain, the lack of views, and the fact that I was horribly out of shape and unprepared for the trip.
Regardless of what kind of “fun” my last backpacking trip was, adventure is always worthwhile, and I will push on to strengthen myself, to build character, and to develop meaningful relationships with my friends. Last year’s trip might not have been classic fun but I’m off into the backcountry again this weekend and have strong hopes I’ll at least catch a glimpse of sunshine through the predicted spring snowstorm.
Tomorrow, I’ll also bring my son and some of his friends with me on the journey, which I know will be an important step in their own journeys to becoming self-sufficient, strong, and capable adults that can survive anything this world throws at them. Skills and character forged in the backcountry carry into everything we do—and that’s the kind of fun I can embrace.