We just got back from four great days in the mountains. Sitting in the Lake Hawea bar, with people around me extolling the virtues of flush toilets, chips and beers, all I could think was “I wish I was still in the mountains and I don’t care about flush toilets, chips or beer.” To be fair, having had high blood sugar, I don’t drink beer or eat chips any more so they aren’t going to be my reward after tramping. Maybe I was also feeling a little down side because there was nothing on the bar menu that I thought would fit with my food requirements which focus on fibre and vegetables. I could even have been feeling over-virtuous about waiting to have the remains of our tramping food in a sandwich once we left the venue, while everyone else happily ate large numbers of fat-enhanced calories that Herman Pontzer would say we don’t need, even if we have been doing a bit more exercise than usual.
What do I love about being in the mountains? Here are just a few items on what could be a very long list:
- The water tastes great. You shut your eyes and drink from a cold stream when you are thirsty. The taste is impossible to describe, and it may not be ‘taste’, more ‘sensation’, but there is a sense of perfect satisfaction of a need.
- The feeling of being ‘entire’. When you are walking on difficult terrain for long periods, and your body is doing exactly what it should be, including carrying you over difficult terrain to navigate, there is a feeling of perfection or rightness that comes from engaging both mind and body simultaneously in an action that is exactly as it should be.
- A sense of discovery. When you go tramping somewhere new, every vista is new to you. While I will do quite a bit of research about an area before I go there from the point of view of safety, I generally avoid photographic images and videos because I don’t want to have seen the place before, I want it to be new to me. Humans like the feeling of discovery, at least they definitely do when they are young. The easiest way to retrieve that feeling of discovery is to go somewhere you haven’t been before and discover it for yourself.
- The sense of self-sufficiency. I realise this sense is an illusion, because I need the trappings of modern day life to provide me with the goods I take into the mountains to survive. However, there remains a feeling of achievement when everything you need for a particular period of time is carried on your back or available to you in the environment that surrounds you.
- Simplicity. When you are tramping, the goals are simple and the external world can be kept at bay. What do you need to do? You need to stay alive and reach the next point in your journey, traversing through unknown terrain. You don’t need to think about climate change, COVID, house maintenance, a broken heating system, stray cats that might be threatening your chickens, that the floor hasn’t been swept for way too long. You do need to think about where you are placing every foot, whether you are on your route, and how far the next stream is so how much water you need to carry. And that’s what you should be thinking about, because a misstep could be fatal or highly injurious and your every move requires your full concentration. Your current world is proximal and constrained and a relief from the huge world of oppression it is so easy to carry on your shoulders.
It was quite marked that no-one we met on the Young-Wilkin circuit talked about COVID. I think everyone was all too happy to leave it behind. As we drove away from Gibbston there was news of COVID exposure events in Queenstown (one of the many pieces of jargon that would have been a very strange phrase to our ears two years ago) that we happily left behind. We returned to news of a volcanic eruption in Tonga, creating tsunami and ash fall and cutting out communications for the island nation. The boundary between civilisation and desperation is paper thin; we all need our means of meditation to stay on the bearable side of the worry line. Which leads me to think, “Please life, take me back to the mountains!”. I’m not waiting for life to deliver mountains though, plans are already afoot…