“The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” – Teddy Roosevelt
The cold mountain air strikes my face as I crawl out of my tent during the pre-dawn hours of the morning. I stand, gazing across a vast alpine landscape, the jagged peaks on the horizon etching themselves into my memory as the sun begins to cast its morning glow across the landscape. Arriving at dusk, we hadn’t fully appreciated the dramatic vistas that surrounded our tents. We made it.
There is something about carrying the weight of your world on your back. The freedom. The excitement. The feeling of leaving it all behind.
At a young age I was exposed to the great outdoors by my parents. Riding in a child carrier backpack, I was hauled to mountain tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains before I was capable of hiking under my own power. In my most formative years, hiking and exploring the outdoors were regular family activities, building a foundation for what would end up shaping my life.
In August, I embarked on a trip with my fiancé and our work friends to backpack the Wind River Range, a trip that wouldn’t have been possible in our current roles without the effects of COVID. It was a bright spot in our season and an opportunity to reset and enjoy a meaningful experience together. Our trip began at the same time many students were set to head back to a very strange new normal in their school experience, my fiancé and I had just made the challenging decision to postpone our November wedding, and each day continued to bring heightened levels of uncertainty. It was exactly what we needed and we all felt fortunate to escape.
We drove from our summer home and workplace along the upper North Platte River, across the state of Wyoming to the west side of the Wind River Range. This was a place I had longed to explore for many years and it was difficult to contain my excitement as we made our final approach and began to see the distant mountain peaks rising on the horizon.
Everyone has their escape. For some, it’s curling up by a fire and reading a novel. For others perhaps it’s painting or woodworking or focusing on some other hobby. For me, it is the complete immersion into wild places, the backcountry, that re-centers my world.
The world as we know it continues to evolve rapidly into a mangled mess, difficult to navigate and overwhelmingly different from anything we could have ever imagined. It is now more important than ever that we must find those escapes. The things we can do to revive our souls. For me, a trip into the backcountry of the Wind River Range was the perfect recipe.
It is an ancient desire, to immerse in wild places. Our distant ancestors were connected to their landscape in ways that are seemingly obsolete in our modern world. But the desire to connect remains deeply rooted for many of us and possibly all of humanity. Wild places still exist. We’re fortunate for that. And it’s up to us to preserve, protect, and appreciate the power of these places.
I believe it’s more important now than ever to find that innate desire to connect with nature, with the wild places that surround us. For it is that connection that can re-ground us, revive and reset from the stressors of the modern world and keep us on the right path.
As the sun rises, it seems impossible for me to remove my gaze from the ever-changing light cascading across the granite features of the mountains towering above. My camera is set, capturing photographs that in the weeks to come will bring me back. Back to the place and my state of pure joy.
Backpacking to me is the purest form of immersion into nature. Everything is left behind and the only things in focus are all the nuances of a landscape that remains in its most wild and natural form.
Thousands of people embarked on a similar journey to ours this summer. Road trips, camping, and backpacking were among the fastest-growing vacation activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a wonderful thing to see more people turn to the outdoors for their escapes during such a challenging time. And whether we realize it or not, it’s the primal experience that helps ground us, when we find ourselves back in these wild places.
We wake early on the final day, soaking in the last sunrise in the alpine. It’s the calmest morning yet with dramatic reflections of the surrounding peaks cast across the alpine lakes. We pack up camp and embark on a long trek back to the trailhead reflecting on our experiences and preparing to re-enter civilization. It’s hard to leave but I know I’ll be back. Back into the wilderness soon.