Brooke Porch, one of our customer service associates, takes us on his journey of finding simplicity through backpacking across the country.
For me, simplicity is a virtue born from life experience. Just after graduating college, I moved to Japan and taught English for two years. While there, I moved three times and worked for two companies. I arrived in Japan with two suitcases and I did not buy much beyond food, train tickets, and admission to cultural attractions. I found that this ‘lightweight’ lifestyle, emphasized by Japanese culture, suited me well and gave me a sense of freedom. It also simplified my life and allowed me to focus on what was important, learning a second language and living in Japanese culture.
One great simplifying exercise of my life has been backpacking. I love to walk and I’ve been avidly pursuing this avocation for ten years. In 2012, I was lucky enough to walk from Georgia to Maine on the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. The normal accouterments of backpacking are eschewed in favor of the lightest possible solutions. Normal tents, filters, and Coleman stoves are abandoned in favor of tarps, chemical water treatments and homemade alcohol stoves, if the hiker even has a stove. Camp shoes? I didn’t need them. My only footwear for most of the hike was a trusty pair of Teva sandals, which performed admirably – even on such fearsome mountains as Mount Washington and the biggest, baddest mountain east of the Mississippi, Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Again, simplicity was the rule that carried the day. The reason for such ruthless simplicity is two fold. First, simple things don’t easily break and are easily repaired. Second, there are extreme elevation changes along the Appalachian Trail. Changes of 1,000 feet in a mile are common. The less weight you carry, the easier these climbs become. Before hiking the Appalachian Trail, I would often embark on backpacking trips with a pack weight of 40, 45 or even 50+ pounds. These days, my pack seldom registers beyond 20 pounds. Life on the trail suits me well—I know exactly what I have, why I have it and how to use it.
Recently, I spent six nights backpacking through Glacier National Park. This park is indescribable – how can you really express what it is like to see a 2,000 ft. tall glacier-fed waterfall as it cascades into a perfectly aquamarine glacial pond, surrounded by peaks and ridges soaring 4,000 feet above the valley floor? Words, as they say, fail—utterly so—at the task.
While in Glacier, I was again able to live the simple life I lived in Japan and on the Appalachian Trail, this time with some of my closest friends. Together, we traversed the park from north to south. Along the way we had close encounters with a grizzly bear, mountain goats, and an ornery bull moose. We heard the ethereal screams of mountain lions as we made our way through a perfect alpine valley. As always, my modus operandi was simplicity. By carrying only what I needed—and nothing else—I was free to enjoy the park as it is and completely focus on my immediate environment and the treasures it holds.
For me, simplicity is the physical embodiment of the categorical imperative. Less is always more. When I cook, I find that fewer seasonings lead to a better seasoned dish. When traveling, fewer possessions leads to a more fulfilling trip. And as we live our lives in other realms, such patterns of actions will continue to yield more fruits. Just as the lightweight backpacker minimizes the impact on his body, on the local environment, and the planet, we must all seek to consider the weight of our own literal – and metaphorical – packs.