Following a slide presentation at the Eagle River Nature Center this coming April covering my hiking and climbing experiences over the past 45 years, I intend to ask the audience a simple question: “Of all the things I needed to successfully make all these hikes and climbs, what do you think is the single most important item?”
I will probably hear some responses about physical fitness, equipment, and skill, but with the kind of outdoor-minded folks who attend these programs, I am sure several will readily put forth the correct answer: Time.
Here is a number for you: 700,000.
Based on an 80-year life expectancy – which I admit, is a bit optimistic for some of us – that is how many hours you have to live.
Here is another number for you: 300,800.
That is a rough estimate of how many hours you will have left after accounting for sleep, work and family/parenting responsibilities.
With these remaining hours – 300,800 – you can pursue your individual passions: academics, art, astronomy, camping, climbing, gardening, hiking, hunting, fishing, music etc., unless for some reason work is your passion. And I realize that for many of us, nurturing a family is also a compelling passion.
You are already getting my point. If your passion is the outdoors, you feel compelled to get out there often, and go as far as possible, because the time to do this is obviously limited. There is bad weather, injuries, work issues, etc., that further reduce our time.
Energizing in the Outdoors
I am not sure how to prove it scientifically, but in the outdoors there is some kind of latent power. I felt it for years, but it is equally rewarding to witness it in others. I go out with my friends and though we all begin showing signs of fatigue as the day wears on, I also observe rejuvenation. It is like we pull a cord out of ourselves, plug them into the ground and get re-charged, like a battery. I have witnessed it over and over again. It never ceases to amaze me.
I remember feeling totally wasted on the summit of 7,520-foot Bold Peak quite a few years ago. It was one of my harder climbs. But simultaneously, I could feel energy pouring in and welling up within me. One might say it is completely psychological – the mental boost of succeeding at a challenge. But I have theorized there is a scientific reason for this burst of energy: electromagnetism. Perhaps within a huge mountain like Bold Peak, there is a gathering of electromagnetic energy, and that energy becomes concentrated toward its top. Only a theory – similar to pyramid power. And I suppose if you firmly believe your own theory, it becomes real to you.
I see this physical, emotional and spiritual uplift in so many out on the trail. I have never seen happier people. They are not the same ones you saw at the post office, bank or grocery store. They have shed a pack full of burdens and are free to tune into nature’s sights, sounds, smells, and rhythms. They are unleashed, truly alive and connecting with nature. It is a joy to see.
By necessity, we human beings were once much closer to nature than we are today. But it is still in our DNA and lingers in our primordial brain. We miss it. We feel incomplete when we cannot touch it in some way. But life in the 21st Century is complicated. There are so many duties, responsibilities, deadlines, bills, home repairs, etc.
Okay, so we have done the subtraction and we each have about 300,800 hours. The task here is the make the time to do what our hearts tell us to do.
Making a Choice
For 30 years, I worked for a Fortune 500 company that had high-performance expectations. The company put heavy demands on my time. But even at a much younger age, I knew instinctively that two things were much more important: family, and the outdoors. I could have risen higher in the corporate ranks during those 30 years, but I made my choice. I refused to work the insane hours that curried favor with bosses and chained many of my colleagues to desks. I had a good career, but it was not superlative. I did not “walk on water” as those who catapulted to the corporate stratosphere – those who were placed on the “fast track” list. I looked to the outdoors.
My dad was old school. He did not see much reason to be tromping around in the backcountry if he was not looking for gold, hunting or fishing. I get that. But as with my friends and so many folks I have met, just getting out there is reason enough. We might see some wildlife, the aerial antics of ravens; soaring eagles; an unusual cloud formation; unique wind-sculpted grooves in the snow; or in summer, breathe in the intoxicating fragrance of wildflowers.
There is a calming effect. It is in the air. It is life-giving, and it reaches out to us.
Sometimes we cannot even describe what we find out there. And even on trips when we do not think we have found anything, we subliminally know we really have. We recognize that somewhere, on a deep and fundamental level, we have discovered more about ourselves. I think that is something worth searching for.
You still have almost 300,800 hours after reading this. The rest is up to you.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of the Echo News team, an outdoors enthusiast and a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife, Rebekah, a retired school teacher.