I have a deep and intimate relationship with mountains. Mountains are my sanctuary. When it all gets to be a little too much, I find myself getting that familiar itch…
I start looking at maps, scheming & dreaming. I pour over gear websites and go through my mental gear inventory for a possible adventure. I start scrutinizing my purchases more closely- less food means more money for travel! I salivate over my friend’s and acquaintances’ Facebook photos.
Through the years, I’ve learned the that I don’t have to travel to far flung places or need a ton of gear to indulge the itch. Sure, the grander the adventure, the longer the relief from it lasts, but sometimes, I need that quick fix.
I’ve been feeling the itchy feet lately. I had a little bump a few weeks ago in the White Mountains, but now its time for another one- Daks maybe? I was thinking more about this today- dissecting the anatomy of this urge- trying to understand better where it comes from why it becomes so strong at times. My mountainlust has caused strife in my relationship on a few occasions. The question has been leveled at me- why do you need to travel to the mountains when we live in them? It’s a question that has haunted me over the years.
I use to think it was because these weren’t ‘real’ mountains. I prefer my mountains craggy and snow-capped, thank you! I grew up in the Appalachians and I suppose I’ve always taken them for granted. They aren’t very high and rarely hold snow except in the depths of winter. No marmots or pikas or mountain goats are to be found on their flanks. And you most certainly don’t have to worry about being below treeline before the after thunderstorms.
But after this recent bout of the itch, I realized that despite my preference for the mountains of the West, even if I lived in them, this itch would follow me and I would have to find a different mountain range. Because the real thing that the mountains provide me is a sanctuary from the banality and stress of life. In the mountains, life is distilled to its essence. Eat, Sleep, Survive, Repeat. There are no bills, creditors, bosses, family drama, etc. in the mountains. Just dirt and sky and things that might try to eat you and things that might kill you. It’s all very primal and I think it helps put me in touch with that ancestral thread that runs through all of us really.
More importantly, it provides an odd sort of focus.
It’s kind of like climbing at night with only your headlamp. You can’t be afraid of the yawning abyss below if you can’t see it to know that it is there. All you can focus on is that 3 meter circle of light and what is illuminated by it. You are forced to take what’s up ahead- the future– as it comes because you can’t see it to anticipate it. What’s below you- the past– is sweep away as well. There is only that present moment; that circle of light.
And so moving in the mountains can be. Life is enchantingly simple in the mountains. Legs and lungs burn as the burdened body strains upward against gravity. Step, breathe, repeat. Rest, refuel, get up and do it again. I am addicted; in love with the simplicity, the escape….