The experience of strapping a backpack on and hiking miles into the wilderness to spend a few days is one of those things I have enjoyed doing since I was very young. Leaving your job, most of your possessions, and civilization behind results in a long list of standard benefits: decreased stress, good exercise, fresh air, quality time with friends or family, beautiful natural scenery, etc.
But one of the most important benefits is that of perspective. When the technological world recedes and the natural world replaces it, anyone who is in the wilderness gets a profoundly different sense of their place in the world. Put simply, you aren’t at the top of the food chain anymore. In fact, you’re pretty fragile compared to the other things that live in the wilderness full time.
When you are “backcountry” in North America, the threat of an attack by a bear, or a mountain lion, or a swarm of vicious chipmunks, is actually pretty remote, but you sense its possibility as you trudge among the trees. You take precautions, making lots of noise as you walk (most bear attacks happen when a hiker surprises a bear) and putting all of your food and toiletries in a bearbag that you hang from a tree away from your campsite every night. (My friend Chris is one of the bravest guys I know but fears bears more than anything – he is so fastidious about the bearbag that he has earned the nickname “bearbait.”) Of course, the results of not taking these precautions is well documented in popular movies.
It’s fascinating to think how the wilderness was once our world too, and how these precautions used to occupy the same mental space that looking both ways before crossing, driving with your seatbelt on, or drinking liquor before beer now occupy. Taking a trip into the woods is like taking a trip back in time. In an abstract way it’s almost like flipping through an old family album to get a sense of history. And in the same way, when you return to the present, alternate universe of commutes, status meetings, and happy hours, it’s easier to handle. While that client presentation is tough, you don’t have to worry about being dinner. That is, until a grizzly wanders into your office and starts wreaking havoc.