The message after 200 miles, getting lost, snow pits, mosquito attacks, and slogging with backpacks is still the same: get out in the woods.
Nicholas Kristof and his daughter headed for the Pacific Crest Trail. Their adventure is recounted in his NYTimes OpEd piece, "Blissfully Lost in the Woods." Apart from a nice father-daughter saga, their experiences illustrate how much we need the outdoors and Nature needs us. Excerpt.
"This trip, even more than most backpacking slogs, was a reminder that we humans are mere bricks in a vast natural cathedral. As we tumbled in snow pits, as rain fell on us, we mused that we’re not landlords of our planet, or even its prime tenants. We’re just guests.
In short, the wilderness humbled us, and that’s why it is indispensable.
In our modern society, we have structured the world to obey us; we can often use a keyboard or remote to alter our surroundings. Yet all this gadgetry focused on our comfort doesn’t always leave us more content or grounded. It is striking how often people who are feeling bewildered or troubled seek remedy in the wilderness. That’s the point of the best-selling new book “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, about how she escaped from heroin and grief over her mother’s death by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
“Wild” is a terrific yarn, opening with a moment in which Strayed loses one precious hiking boot over a precipice — and then angrily hurls the other after it. Over time, the forests tame her, providing free therapy and the setting for her maturation. Strayed’s book has been successful, largely by word of mouth, partly because it reflects a truth we recognize.
For decades, youth programs have found benefit in sending troubled adolescents to drink from wilderness streams and lap up truths about themselves. Outward Bound takes a similar path, for everyone from at-risk kids to returning veterans to corporate executives.
Perhaps wilderness is an antidote to our postindustrial self-absorption. It’s a place to be deflated, humbled and awed all at once. It’s a window into a world larger than ourselves, one that doesn’t respond to a remote. It’s an Olympiad for all of us."
I can testify to the life changing experience of Outward Bound treks into the Canadian Rockies with a 50 pound backpack and another two week adventure kayaking Baja, Mexico with what I could stuff in a duffel. I was exposed early on. My family always camped in a tent with sleeping bags on the ground - where can you take 7 kids for cheap?
Kristof's parting message is urgent: Folks are just not out there like they used to be. Excerpt.
"To guarantee wilderness in the long run, we first need to ensure a constituency for it. Environmentalists focus on preserving wilderness, because that’s the immediate priority, but they perhaps should be as energetic at getting young people to interact with it. We need more Americans working through their challenges, like Cheryl Strayed, by hurling boots off precipices. We need more schools and universities to offer classes on the wild, in the wild — with extra credit for students who get lost."