This past weekend, my husband Tom, along with our friend Will, decided to embark on a one night back packing trip in the Superstition Wilderness. After my frenzied New Years and a long weekend traveling all over San Francisco/Bay Area, I had difficulty jumping on board with another adventure (i.e. Just let me sleep, damnit!).
To be honest, I still haven’t unpacked from California. But combining my undeniable FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and my inner wanderess screaming, “YOLO”, I caved. I justified my decision with the fact that an 8+ mile hike would be a good kickoff for my 2015 fitness goals. Now, what to bring?
Tom had read about “Grandma Gatewood” – an inspirational mom of 11 who completed the mammoth Appalachian Trail (2,180 mile trek) when she was 67 years old. She was one of the first minimalists – wearing Keds sneakers and carrying nothing but an army blanket, a raincoat, and a shower curtain. And if that’s not impressive enough, she did it all over again at the age of 69. So shouldn’t we be able to pack light for one night in the Superstition Mountains?
Most of the weight was water. I brought just enough water for myself and my dogs – about 90 fluid ounces. We also had a Steripen and planned on collecting water from streams if needed. In southern Arizona, water resources can be scarce and unpredictable so we decided to bring the minimal amount needed just in case.
Next was clothing. I wore leggings and a dry fit tank for the hike. I packed light snow pants for the predicted 45 degree night and a thermal shirt and sweatshirt. Tom bought me a super lightweight 40 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag – which proved to be completely useless, much to our dismay – but more on that later.
Since we planned to just stay one night, food was easy. I packed a Cup o’ Noodles for dinner, a PB&J sandwich for breakfast and a massive bag of trail mix for snacks. I know, Cup O’ Noodles is not super nutritious but I was going for convenience and figured I would sweat out most of that nasty sodium anyway. With some other necessities including two tarps for shelter, some rope, a hatchet, a multi tool, a lighter, toilet paper, camera, and dog food – we set off on our trek.
From our house, we drove 7 miles down a dirt road to the trail-head. Stormy gray skies and rain drops on our window had me in the backseat silently second guessing my previously gung ho attitude. How ironic that the day we decide to become minimalists might turn into a day of us backpacking in a torrential downpour. The rain was on and off, sending me through a whirlwind of hopes and doubts. As we pulled up to the parking lot, my spirits were renewed. Sky high cliffs called my name – adventure awaits and there is no turning back now!
We chose the familiar trail Peralta Canyon 102. This is easily one of the most beautiful trails I have ventured on in Arizona. The first 2/3 of the hike is easy – but it is important to pace yourself as the last 1/3 gets challenging. You can’t help but take several breaks, not just to catch your breath, but to turn around and see the magnificent desert views behind you. The endless waves of shadow play over the mountains overwhelms me every time.
The treat is at the very top, at the Fremont Saddle. After roughly 2.5 miles of climbing, you come around a corner to see an even more expansive and epic view over Weaver’s Needle and beyond. If you climb to the right rock, you can get a 360 degree view – seeing miles of breathtaking scenery and not a single man-made structure in any direction.
For the first time ever, we traversed the Fremont Saddle into unknown territory. Dipping down into the other side, we realized we were no longer on a heavily trodden path as we were before. This made me realize how much I take trail maintenance for granted. This part of the trail was seriously overgrown. Rife with prickly cactus and bushes with thorns called “cat claws” that will grab at you and rip your clothes, it takes all your concentration to side step and avoid the ruthless little plants. The boys’ term used to avoid snap back of the dangerously overgrown foliage is “‘CHOUT!” (an abbreviated form of “Watch Out!”). The beauty in a trail like this is the meditative state you go into; it’s just you and the trail and nothing else to think about. There are no other priorities, just one foot after the other. Just like with any intensive exercise or activity, it forces you to live in the moment.
We took advice from a couple of forest rangers at the beginning of the trail on finding a good campsite, but we still weren’t exactly sure where we would lay our heads for the night. Eventually we met a couple on a 12 mile route who said they saw an epic site a mile further. It was nearing 4pm and a mile further meant less daylight. With their reassurance that we would make it, we set forth. Sure enough, after a tunnel of thick foliage, a beautiful little campsite unveiled itself in the clearing. It was perched perfectly under the massive needle, which now from this angle, looked more like a castle.
Will set up his tent and we set up our tarps. The boys set out to collect fire wood while I captured what photos I could in the remaining daylight.
We built a fire, boiled some water, and had hot soup and warm coco. At the end of the day, we had a great time on our minimalist camping trip. It rained that night but we had shelter. The only bugaboo of the entire trip was my damn sleeping bag. It did not hold up to the temperature it promised, and I may as well have been sleeping in a sheet. But, even though the sleep was uncomfortable, I still had a great time – and I could still take home the fact that you don’t need a truckload of items to do that.
Have you ever gone on a camping trip where it takes half a day just to set up camp? If you bring that much stuff, are you really enjoying the nature and enjoying each other’s company? Are you learning anything? I mean yes – glamping does sound very fun and would be a perfect honeymoon in my opinion – but in terms of meaningful travel, I think it’s important to consider putting yourself out there in a new way.
In the documentary, “I AM” radio host and progressive political commentator Thom Hartmann discusses the concept of greed. He explains how our desire to have more than we need is a cultural superstition that is driving us to ruin. Greed is described as more of a mental illness developed by western civilization than it is a true characteristic of human behavior. The truth is this: if you are out in the cold and hungry, and someone brings you into their home for a warm bowl of food, a place to sleep, and shelter you go from being unhappy to happy. Your basic needs are met. The farce is this: when someone tells you that having twice, three times, a million times the amount of food and shelter you need, you will be twice, three times, a million times as happy. This is simply not true, yet everything about our culture drives us in this direction.
I have written a few posts now about trying to decrease clutter. First, I cleaned out my junk room and created a healthy, calming space to practice yoga. Next, I decided I was going to just bring one carry-on backpack for my 11 days in Costa Rica. This time, it was camping light in Superstition Mountains. Am I ready to fully prescribe to a minimalist lifestyle!? Heck no – you should see my closet! But I am taking baby steps and keeping my eyes and ears open.
Here’s another way to think about it: the thesaurus shows the word “need” as being synonymous with the word “weakness”. The more needs we have the more we feel without, and feeling without causes one to feel weak. Yes, if you need food you will feel hungry and therefore weak. So why do we make up false needs if being without them only causes more pain? One thing I have concluded is that less clutter means less pain – less weight both physically and mentally. When you have exactly what you need, your only focus is what’s right in front of you. Food for thought. Let’s challenge ourselves to think about what we think we need versus what we actually need. In what new ways can we decrease the loads we carry through life?
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you’ll ever have.” Eckhart Tolle