Wilderness Interruption

Wilderness Interruption

I began going on backpacking trips nearly 20 years ago because I was craving adventure.

The idea of packing a bag with only the essentials and wandering off into the woods was exhilarating. 

Little did I know that those first few trips would be profound mishaps! Once we packed canned food with no can opener. That same trip the four of us had to huddle together, shivering, under one sleeping bag because most of us didn’t think it would get cold in the Smoky Mountains in the Spring. We once planned a five day hike that quickly became a five day hospital visit complete with a broken femur, fractured vertebrae, and a shattered wrist. I honestly had no idea what I was doing.

Yet something kept me coming back.

Something happened within me whenever I stepped into a mountainous landscape. Each time I came back inspired. I’d return home exhausted, yet somehow refreshed. I had a new vigor to face the struggles of work after each excursion. For the first few years, the trips were sporadic. Then they became essential. For nearly a decade, I’ve been going on at least two wilderness adventures a year.

I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to go backpacking. However, everyone needs some level of nature, and everyone needs some form of interruption from the day to day grind. For some it’s the occasional porch swing overlooking a field, or fishing on a crisp cool morning. A trip to the beach, or a long bike ride. Whatever form you enjoy, what makes it meaningful for you? 

I suppose I haven’t quite grasped what it is entirely that keeps me going back to the wilderness, but here are some things I’ve been able to name so far:

  • Life Interruption. Every now and then, our rhythm of life needs to be disrupted. We have a tendency to become numb to the ordinary. For me, nothing does this better than an exit from the mundane into an immersion into beauty. When we choose to step away from the noise of our everyday lives, space opens up, and our souls can find  stillness. Coincidentally, this offers fresh clarity when we step back into the ordinary. 

  • Spiritual Direction. Walking with God is a way of life. For Jesus, the effect of His life was rooted in intimate connection with the Father; it’s the same for us. Hearing His voice is something to be learned; our ability to hear God’s voice grows over time with practice. On our trips we’ve developed a culture of anticipation of God speaking to us. We don't fill these trips with structure, we simply ask questions that position us to hear, and we invite others into the process.

  •  Strength Training. Facing unknowns, fears, and challenges has a way of cultivating courage. These trips have an unpredictability that strips us of our sense of control. What we find is that when our fears do come true (sometimes it happens!), they are never as bad as we imagined. In fact, in the face of them we find new freedom and joy! We learn to laugh in the face of our mishaps.

  • Being Known. Spending a few days on the trail with friends creates a space where vulnerability is possible. You can take risks in authenticity and allow yourself to be seen by those who prove themselves trustworthy. You discover new things about yourself when you allow others to discover you.

  • The Nature Fix. It’s undeniably clear that time in nature has physiological benefits. Less noise pollution decreases stress levels, time in nature reduces our levels of cortisol, and spending time with beautiful views allows our brain to rest and increases our capacity for creative thinking and of course, gratitude. The book, The Nature Fix is a great study on the positive effects of time in nature.

If you feel a sense of longing while reading any of these elements, pay attention to that. That’s your heart telling you that something is missing from your life. If you don’t currently have spaces where these things are happening, it’s time to seek it out. Occasionally someone will hand you something that makes you come alive, most of the time though, it will be up to you to discover it. 

Here’s a helpful article if you want to know what’s involved in planning for a backpacking trip.


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