When we venture outside our comfort zones; whether into the wilderness, to a foreign country, or onto a stage we gain a lot of appreciation for what we’ve left behind. Never am I more thankful for friends, family, a bed, a toilet, or a faucet than when I am freezing, starving or otherwise agonizing through a self-inflicted hell in the mountains. As a bit of a veteran (ok, advanced amateur) in the art of suffering I like to make claims about the benefits of these experiences: I learn what I can do without, what I’m capable of, and what things truly matter. As I strut my way out of a sufferfest my chin is high, my mind clear, and I reflect on how I’m such a simple, enlightened man. Then, of course, I am confronted with all the trinkets, comforts, and vices that I’ve been without and I indulge myself ravenously like an unobstructed five year old.
Whether a trip of 3 days or 30 the return is always the same. First, a shower. I don’t use that word lightly. Shower. It’s got to be hot. Dear god, heat. It’s everywhere and feels so good. In fact it’s way too hot but fuck it, you do what you want. Soap. A fresh smell that’s not the waft of your groin or a tentmates sleeping bag. A deep huff…… a light head, ahhhh. Time to claw off all the dead skin, the old sunscreen, the duct tape covering heinous blisters you haven’t looked at in days. Scrub dammit, scrub hard. You hope to bring regions of your body back to quasi-normality, whispering promises you won’t keep. “Never again little guy”. As hot turns to warm you twist the knob and towel off with a t-shirt you thought was dirty but is now your cleanest garment.
With cotton fabrics loosely draped over clean skin your mind turns to food. Well, it’s always been on food but you are finally addressing the matter. You’re still in survival mode but now with unlimited access. It’s a dangerous time for your body fat percentage. At this point you are not discriminating between calories, whatever it is you are putting it in your mouth with haste and in excess. Candy, chocolate, left over Snickers bars. Sugar coats your teeth. Your stomach churns. You find and bite into your first piece of fruit. It’s pure magic. A spray of glucose and citric acid revive your dulled taste buds as you revel in the unique texture.
With a cleansed palate, you find a food service establishment. The novelty has returned to the most simple of transactions: meal for money. You order something with the largest variety of ingredients: veggies, meat, egg, and cheese ranking among the most important. While waiting for your food, a beer appears on the table. Oh boy beer. You’ve been dreaming of this moment since your first night in the field. Hops, suds, and celebration all in one deliciously intoxicating liquid. After savoring your first few sips like a connoisseur you get more serious with your consumption, putting away a few more while finishing your mega-monster-burrito-burger-salad. With a tilt to perspective you make your way home, get in bed, and consider sleep. Sleep in a real bed, with no sleeping bag, your recent tent mates beard and snoring just far enough away.
The ping of a cell phone notification stirs you from drifting off and you are quickly lost to social media. What have you missed in this world of close friends and loose acquaintances? Next to nothing of course. But that doesn’t stop you from scrolling endlessly. You post a status and pictures of your epic adventure and wait for the likes to roll in, each little thumbs up releasing a bit of dopamine in your brain and stroking your ego juuuuust right. Eventually the eternal tug of sleep takes hold; you rest easy and sleep late.
The next couple days continue in this style: everything in gross excess. Sooner or later however, somewhere between your 2nd shower and 16th cup of non-instant coffee, a shift occurs. You become sick of sitting down, spending money, and eating food (no seriously, you feel sick). Looking down at your distended stomach, your moisturized skin, your bright laptop, and the scattered food wrappers you realize you’ve gone soft. You’re ready to go back into the mountains. To get dirty, blistered, and sunburnt. To wipe your ass with a rock, eat dinner with a stick, and spoon with someone doing the same. You’ve hardly been in civilization and yet you’ve already lost your essence, your simplicity, your zen. You need to get back out there and find yourself. At least I do.