Have you ever travelled someplace which has very different standards of living than your own? Or have you done some serious backcountry hiking? A former money-coaching client of mine, the super-awesome, world-travelling, (and gourmet-dessert-making) Katherine, recently spent some time in Yukon’s backcountry. She had some insights about possessions and the joy of life. If you relate to her guest post, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Leave a comment (below) on this post if you have a moment.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a month in the Yukon on a leadership course with NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). The company I work for sponsors 2 people a year to attend. The premise of the school is that while you spend a month in the Yukon backcountry learning backpacking and whitewater canoeing skills, you’re also taught valuable leadership skills that you can take into future outdoor guiding, work and life.
As much as I had enjoyed the outdoors in the past, I hadn’t spent more than 10 days in the backcountry since I was 14 years old. However, because of the work that I do, I am familiar with what it takes to do a trip like this. Or so I thought.
I knew that living minimally was going to be essential. Especially for the backpacking portion where you have to carry everything you need. The motto goes “ounces equal pounds and pounds equals pain”.
Though I don’t live a luxurious life, I do enjoy certain comforts in life; indoor plumbing, toilet paper and nice sheets all rank high on my list of life’s comforts. Though I did prepare myself for a month of thermarest sleeping and “nature’s outhouse”, I was terrified at the idea of using “nature’s toilet paper”; smooth rocks, moss and I still shudder at the suggested pine cones.
Before setting off, the instructors did a final check of our goods for the 2 week backpacking section. The course recommended a 90L pack. Though I hadn’t backpacked before, I knew that this was absolutely gargantuan given my 5’5” height and smallish frame. Especially considering that my personal gear consisted of 2 pair of long johns, 2 pair of underwear, 2 pair of socks, 2 layering tops, a rain jacket, rain pants, a warm jacket and some toiletries. The rest (pants, t-shirt, boots etc…) were on my body. I even had to argue with the instructor to bring my 2oz deodorant as my “luxury” item (there were certain things I wasn’t prepared to live without) However, once we packed in all of the group gear (including an astounding 1.5lbs of food per person per day) my pack weighed 47lbs. I was set. Everything I needed to live was on my back.
As the days went on, the group of us (14 students in 5 tents and 3 instructors) finally found our groove. Our days consisted of waking up, packing up, breakfast, a class, hiking, a class, dinner and much needed sleep. Since I’d never backpacked before, I considered the end of each day an achievement; I was still standing.
Because I wanted to remember this experience, I journaled. I made it a point at the end of each day to find 3 things to be thankful for. As our time went on, my 3 things became more and more basic such as; being dry, being warm and thankful that I avoided blisters and illness.
Then it occurred to me, here I am in the Yukon, tackling quite possibly the greatest challenge of my life, having a great time, making new friends, learning new skills and I only have 47lbs of “stuff” with me. In the past couple of years, I was guilty of trying to fill my life with “stuff” to fill a void and try to find happiness after going thru a painful divorce. Constantly buying new clothes, new furniture and shoes, Ah! Shoes!
Many people warned me that this experience would be life changing and I can now agree. Since I’ve been home, I scrutinize every item I own. Did I really need that? Did it really bring me the joy I thought it would? To be fair, there are some things that did (the new couch sure is comfy) but did I really need all those shoes?