I’m about to leave for an eighty day trek through Peru and Bolivia and, I kid you not, I’ve been packing for months. I’ve gone hiking and camping before, and I love being outside, but this trip is going to be more technical and intense than anything I’ve ever done. A large part of me is pretty terrified. To prepare, I’ve been training in the gym, reading up on Peru and Bolivia, and doing lots and lots of packing.
Packing for an outdoors trip is a bit different than other kinds of packing. This summer, as most of my friends were picking out and packing “twin XL” sized sheets and rolling up posters and printing photos for their college dorm room walls, I was testing out backpacks, wearing in new hiking boots, and, if I’m being honest, looking on with just a little bit of “FOMO” for the college first-year prep. But I know, all in good time I’ll be doing that too, and I’ve enjoyed the particular problem-solving, creativity, and discovery that my packing has prompted.
Spending hours at REI and in my closet, to ultimately cram socks and t-shirts and a journal and trekking poles and “wilderness wipes” (you can guess what those are for…) into my seventy-liter pack, has led me to a couple realizations. First, while seventy liters seems huge and imposing on my back and shoulders, it can also seem so small when trying to fit eighty days of necessities within its recycled nylon limits – my zero-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag impolitely takes up a third of its space and there’s not much I can do about it if I want to sleep warmly at night!
My second realization courtesy of the packing process is that I’m going away for a long time and doing something way outside of my comfort zone. The drawn-out preparation process I’m going through has forced me to spend quite a bit of time thinking about what I’m getting myself into. I’ve accumulated enough “just in case” prescriptions (malaria medication, Diamox for altitude, Azithromycin for bacterial infections, etc.) to call my backpack a “traveling pharmacy,” and gotten new shots too (typhoid, rabies, and yellow fever). It’s very easy to apply for a trip – to sign up for something – but it’s not quite as easy to follow through with it. But, as I like to remind myself, risks and adventures are what make life worth living, and I know that this trip is the right next step for me. The line between nervousness and excitement is thin, and I am straddling it – boy is it exhilarating!
But third and almost counter to my second realization, in a way I’ve been “packing” for this trip my whole life. I’ve always held the belief that every new version of myself would not “be” without the existence of the previous. We go through phases in life; I was once a little pigtailed girl who played piano, made fairy houses, and cried at birthday parties, and later I was an iPod touch girl with My Little Pony leggings, and now I’m a goofy, outdoorsy, music-obsessed eighteen year old who still believes in bathroom humour. Though vastly different, each moment in time and each phase prepared me for the next. I probably wouldn’t love music so deeply if it weren’t for hours spent playing piano in elementary school, and I probably wouldn’t pick out the most colourful hiking gear for my big trip if it weren’t for my obsession with crazy bright leggings in middle school. Moving more specifically to skills that I’ll be taking with me on my trip and into the new era of my life that is beginning, I’ve found that my packing has prompted me to look inward and backward, and appreciate the preparation that I have been doing my whole life. This past year has been filled with goodbyes; I’m soon leaving my hometown, I’ve already left my high school, and there is so much more that I’m leaving behind. But, in the same way that each “old” me is a part of the “new” me, in a sense I’m not really leaving anything behind. Though the space in my physical backpack is tight and I’ll be packing quite sparingly, I can take all the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned with me in my head and in my heart, in my hands and in my feet, and in my bones.
I am nothing if not prepared. There is lots more to learn, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the many things that I have learned thus far.