This story was first published in The Bee on Aug. 6, 2006.
I should know better. I'm a 50-something guy whose life is just starting to ease up -- my kids are leaving almost as fast as my hair.
Why in the world would I backpack 77 miles in the Sierra Nevada and sleep on the ground every night for more than a week? I don't know, but I'm hoping to find clarity when the Motrin kicks in.
Truth is, I had given up on the dream of walking and writing about a massive chunk of the John Muir Trail. I had been hankering to do it since 1995 when I walked up to the top of Mount Whitney.
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That hike somehow distilled my thinking. Moving to the rhythm of nature, I wound up in a place I hadn't been since a season much earlier in my life: the depth of my own soul.
The idea of writing more about that experience had been buried a long time. Then cohort Diana Marcum somehow hot-wired my undead dream this year.
Now I can't wipe the smile off my face. Photographer Mark Crosse and I will be backpacking mostly in northern Kings Canyon National Park. We'll pass right by the glacier where the frozen World War II airman was found last fall. Cool.
But let's get real here. I will not carry 45 pounds on my back. Anytime you backpack for more than a week, you have to carry a lot of food and stuff. Food and stuff equal weight. I sweat weight.
Thus began a quest within the Muir Trail quest: to lighten up.
I filled my backpack at home with my camping stuff, tossed it in my Honda, drove to work and lugged it across the parking lot, nodding to curious colleagues.
"You headed to the lake to go fishing?" one asked.
"Nope, I'm going to the postal scales in our mail room to go weighing, " I answered.
I went postal.
I trimmed 48 ounces -- three pounds -- just by replacing my old Boy Scout-era external frame backpack with one of those modern, lightweight marvels.
Next was my fleece jacket. It weighed 14.9 ounces. Gone. I'll stick with my down jacket (20 ounces, but wonderfully toasty on cool evenings). I used to carry both jackets, but now I'll go for warmth all the way.
I was down almost four pounds.
My old one-person tent is 3 pounds, 3.1 ounces. Lighter than many premature babies. It weighs almost a half-pound less than advertised. Sweet. Sometimes old equipment still works well.
But out with the clunky cooking gear and another 30 ounces. In with a 3.25-ounce stove, an 11-ounce water filter and a 4.8-ounce titanium pot/cup.
As the ounces melted away, I felt some of the same load shifting in my own life. My daughter was married in April. My older son is studying in China. I might lose my father to cancer.
Now, more than ever, the John Muir Trail beckons as a season in life gradually changes for me.
All I need now are freeze-dried dinners and plastic sacks. Boil water, pour in the freeze-dried whatever and ta-da! A feast.
Who am I kidding? I'll be comatose in four days on that diet. I'll be talking to animals that no one else sees.
Better throw in a fresh, light pair of synthetic hiking shorts. I'm hoping I look presentable when the rescue helicopter arrives.