You cannot wait to start this trip. You’ve been waiting all week (month, year) to go backpacking and the time has finally arrived, you’re at the trailhead. Sometimes the adrenaline pulls you through the first heave of that pack onto your back, and you can carry this happy eagerness onto the trail itself. Other times, you go directly to:
You realize, either after you put your carefully packed pack on, or perhaps during the first big climb of the day’s hike, that your body is not ready. No matter how much time you put in at the gym, or how many hikes you do in a season, your body sees fit to remind you that this is actually hard work you’re engaging in, and you’ve only just begun. You think longingly of the car keys stowed in the wheel well, you could turn back and just drive home, to air conditioning and toilets with running water, but you keep marching forward, leading you to:
3. Grim Acceptance
There’s only one way you’re going to be able to get a rest, and that’s by making it to the campsite. Sure, you can stop on the trail, even take the beastly pack off for a few minutes, but there’s no camping early, not on this trail, not when your hiking partner has the tent and has zipped off ahead of you. You feel it in your aching hips and shoulders, the quads that scream in protest at yet another uphill section and the hamtrings that whimper at that next downhill. The only way out is through, step by step by step, an inexorable rhythm that might lead you to:
4. The Zone
Your body is a well-oiled machine, cruising up hills with an easy speed that passes your partner up and hardly leaves time for him to eat your dust. You laugh at the downhills, breaking into an easy jog. Every breath is intoxicating – this is what you came out here for, the exhileration of being outdoors, in the wild, carrying everything you need on your own two feet. Your pains are just background noise, subordinate to the pure joy coursing through your body. If you’re lucky, this carries you through to camp, but if you aren’t, or you forget to eat enough, you fall into:
Your feet have acquired an extra 20 pounds of weight. A piece. With every step, your toes catch rocks, jarring your aching calves and knocking the enormous pack weight around on your back. You’ve almost fallen five times, and have fallen twice. Picking yourself back up felt like an effort that should be rewarded with nothing less than the Nobel prize, even if you did have to take your pack off the second time. Your partner passes you up again. You think he might have just joked about seeing a bear, but he’s gone before you can muster the strength to question him. At this point, being eaten by a bear seems like the least painful of your options.