The Valley seems particularly peaceful today, as I realize that I must be out of my mind. I remember having this feeling before, once when I was packing my bag for the first two week trip that I had ever led into the backcountry of the Adirondack mountains. Even if you know what you are doing (or, in some cases, think you know what you are doing), packing can really draw forth the reality of the mater; you are headed out.
For better or for worse, this feeling is exciting. The unknown, the new-found awareness of everything around you. Fear of departure makes that world that you have grown accustomed to seem so much more enticing. A part of your brain turns on and says “We could stay here just a bit longer”. The place that was boring yesterday looks different today.
Was it boring yesterday? Is it really different today? Probably Yes and No on both counts. I’ve read a few memoirs from soldiers and their time in Vietnam, and there seems to be a theme among them: When you are anxious, particularly with anticipation, your mindset changes. Bored, but not looking for anything to do. Content, but with an itching sensation that something needs to happen or you might just explode. That feeling that keeps you awake deep into the night when you have just too much caffeine and too many thoughts for your nerves to let go. Anticipation of the unknown is a paradise of mixed emotions, crossbred in ways you didn’t think were possible.
I like to spend more time thinking about what I will bring for a trip than actually looking at physical items. If I hold them for too long, they loose purpose, and I forget why I originally had the thing in mind. As I sit here today trying to lay out things for a trip to China, my mind drifts back and forth between worlds. All of my hard items are laid out on a table, stemming between the realities of the present and the realities of my mind. The cables to the phone, chargers to a variety of items- I try to feel them as they feel now, get a sense of what they are in this place. Maybe nine thousand miles and a world away, they will be a piece of the life I understand best. On those days when things just don’t go right, the day when your mind says “We can still go home”, I can look at these items and know that at the bottom of it all, I’m still in control of everything.
If I’m really nervous, I tend to unpack and repack everything, in part to make sure that it is all still there, but also for the sensation of the process. Each piece of the particular trip has a home in this bag. Cables in the top, sharp crap on the outside, electronics in secret places. Things change over the course of the trip, but over the years I have developed a liking for certain methods of packing. Things are where they have always been, and life is good. Just remember that the rain jacket should always be on top everyone ends up miserable if they tie things on the outside.
These are the feelings I hold while putting on this pack for the first time in two years. Already, there is a path underneath my feet. Strange that I can choose to step on to such a path, but cannot determine its destination. Sure, we can make some stops along the way, grab a snack and a beer here and there, but in the end, even if you know where the trail ends, it’s hard to say what it will look like.