Hiking Musings

The Burden

Packing for Fear

It’s 2007, I am both anxious and excited. My friends and I are going to hike across the Presidential Range in New Hampshire to Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the state, known for its erratic weather and climate conditions. It’s my first time hiking up a mountain and with no experience, I try to pack for all the scary scenarios crossing my mind. By the time we are taking our first steps up – I have 50lbs of backup supplies and 25lbs of camera gear on my back because I want to take the best photos. It takes me most of the day and I end up at Madison Spring Hut exhausted and relieved that I could finally sit down. After eating a hearty dinner, I collapsed on to the bunk bed and went straight to sleep.

The next morning, we had planned to follow the most common path that would take us along the ridge of the Presidential mountain range but the arrival of a thunderstorm forces us to change plans. It would be too dangerous for us to hike where we’d be exposed to the elements so my friends and I find an alternative route on the map that should take us to the next mountain hut where we’d stay. Despite concerns with how much time it’d take us to tackle all the ascents and descents – I set off into the pouring rain.

the author (Ehren Cheung) struggling to maintain balance on the trail
The author (Ehren) struggling to maintain balance on the trail with the heavy pack.

Unanticipated weight

One friend ahead of me and another behind me — we make slow progress on the trail and discover that we need to leap from one boulder to another.  This does not bode well for me.  The 75lbs that I’m carrying is making it hard for me to maintain balance and nowhere in the list of scenarios in my head had I anticipated what could happen next.  Just as I step across a boulder, my hiking pole got caught in a gap and snaps.  Falling down the side of the mountain, I find myself stuck in between a boulder and a tree — I call out to my friends so they can reach and pull me out.  Shaken up, we decide to turn around and descend the mountain back where we came up only to find myself rolling down part of the trail when I lose my balance again. Bruised and a little shocked — I survive and descend the rest of the way safely. 

That day, I realize the burden I carried — it was fear.  I would have to learn not to plan for every potential scenario that popped up in my head.  Uncertainty and fear of the unknown was what I had to confront and embrace.

Embrace the Uncertain

Since that moment, with every trip or hike — I push myself to pack less and acknowledge whatever fear is in my head.  Every year, I strive to carry less and become comfortable with the unexpected.  I feel a surge of confidence and freedom.

Fast forward more than 10 years later since that moment, I now find myself carrying at most a medium-sized duffle bag when I travel for long periods of time.  I never would have thought that each item I pack or carry with me in some way represents a fear — a story my mind repeats to me.

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