A Walk in the Woods

It’s funny how fast a walk in the woods can cause you to re-prioritize your life. Last week I drove down to North Carolina with three friends to hike a 36 mile section of the Foothills Trail for our Spring Break. The four of us arrived at the trailhead Sunday night and slept in our 6-seater Mercury Mountaineer to avoid dampening our tents on the first night (despite our efforts to avoid the cold, we had driven through snow just 2 hours before arriving, and were worried it would catch back up to us before the end of the night). In the morning we packed our gear and hitched a ride from a retired woman named Nancy to the other end of the trail (essentially, we were going to hike back to the car). Nancy was kind to warn us of the bears, snakes and hornets that are frequently found on the trail, and then she sent us on our way.

Here’s where stuff started to go wrong. Note: it’s important to understand that we chose our stretch of the trail for it’s seclusion. The only road that we would cross for the entire length of the hike was a mountaintop gravel access road about three fifths of the way through. Nancy estimated that we might cross up to 8 hikers the entire time; no more than that though.

The trail was beautiful. In our first three hours we crossed two waterfalls and three rivers, and even got to hear a tree collapse at the end of its life. At noon we stopped by one of the rivers to refill our water bottles from a backpacking filter we had rented from the White Building on campus. The filter, despite looking very technical and heavy duty, was only filling about one bottle ever forty minutes. None of us were too experienced with that type of filter, but we knew something was the matter, so we did what any group of four college-aged guys would do; we took it apart. We’re still not too sure what happened, but by the time we had put it together again, a piece was missing and the filter no longer worked at all. No problem though; we’d simply have to boil our water for the rest of the trip to sterilize it. We had two stoves and more than enough gas (2 small canisters for the first stove, one larger, different one for the second).

A little frustrated for having wasted so much time, we set back out to finish our section for the first day. That night though, when cooking dinner, we noticed that stove number was leaking gas, and was unsafe to use (we accidentally set a small portion of the ground on fire). That would have been ok if we only needed to cook food with the other stove, but more than food, we needed to be sterilizing twelve liters of water daily between the 4 of us. From that moment on our group took on a new demeanor: we were no longer careless spring breakers backpacking through the woods; we needed water, and we due to run out of gas halfway to the car.

All of a sudden, almost unknowingly we became intensely focus on primal needs: food, water, and staying dry an warm to not get sick (it started raining heavily on the second night, and didn’t let up till we were back in State College). Every critical thought that wasn’t spent in conversation with one another was devoted to our survival instinct. The thoughts that plague us back at school -“I bombed that test last week”, “I’m so unprepared for midterm two”, “I still don’t know where I’m going to work this summer”, and then the more escalated ones -“If I screw up this class and don’t get my internship, I’ll be unemployed when I graduate!” -suddenly, your mind doesn’t even give them the time of day. Subconsciously, you recognize that a test score doesn’t dictate the rest of your life -not even an internship does. And before long, instead of of freaking out about trying to control your immediate position in life (grades, internship), you begin to ponder this: “what do I want my legacy to be?”

So what are your values? Will you spend your life seeking financial security and luxury, or do you wonder if we were made for something greater than ourselves, perhaps even greater than each other? Ask yourself this: if your life was stripped of every luxury except for food and water (which is a luxury), and you knew that you that you would not ever be able hold on to any money; what would you devote your time to?

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One thought on “A Walk in the Woods

  1. CASEY M MCDERMOTT says:

    Harry,
    I absolutely LOVED this post. And to be honest, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me to read it. I’ve spent the past week, as I spend most weeks — staring down a computer screen, connected to my iPod as I walk around campus, making sure my cell phone doesn’t leave my side for more than a few minutes at a time. What I’ve recently noticed, though, and what your post underscored, is the importance of “unplugging” every once in a while. It’s easier said than done — especially when my job with the Collegian requires me to stay on top of emails, edits and other online developments constantly. But I’m planning to make a conscious effort to allow myself a few more hours a week than usual of non-electronic time. As you said in your post, unplugging your computer is also usually coupled with a chance to truly unplug from the usual worries that fill your head during the course of a given day.
    As for your question, that’s a tough one — probably because I’m too plugged in all the time to really stop and think about it. If I had to narrow it down, I’d say that one thing I undoubtedly value is how fortunate I feel to know the people who surround me both at home and at school. I feel incredibly lucky to have a handful of close friends from high school who I know will still be at my side decades from now, and now, in college, I’ve found a similar group of friends through the people at the Collegian, who – having spent around 30 hours a week with them – have become like my second family. If I lost the worldly possessions in my life, I don’t have to hesitate for a moment in saying that the people I’m close with are what would keep me going – and your blog post is a nice reminder to still make sure to appreciate them all the time.

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