The Importance of Keeping Traditions

“What exactly do you plan on doing with that Leatherman?” my girlfriend Anna asked me as we lie awake in our lean-to.

Deep within the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York, a black bear was thrashing through the river, no more than a stone’s throw away from us. It was dark, and our food canister was secured several hundred feet away, but just a couple hours prior, we’d knocked over our boxed risotto as the water and seasoning boiled. The dank smell of dehydrated parmesan and oregano that sank into the loamy soil surely had lured the bear toward our campsite.

This was our first backpacking trip together. It has since become an annual tradition. Anna is now my wife, and every year we take the chance to unwind after summer, when the evenings and air begin to cool. Winter trips and skiing were ingrained in both of us prior to dating. But then Anna got into medical school, and with the withering away of summer came the looming demands of text books and long nights of studying, clinicals and board exams. What better way to hit the reset button than disappearing into the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park for a few nights?

“Damn it!” She said, digging through my bag the second night. The bland risotto and bear encounter–which eventually ended innocuously with our ursine friend making his way downstream, gave way to another camping fail. Cheese quesadillas, a planned meal for two nights, went south when we realized we left the cheddar on the counter at home. We shrugged it off and ate granola and peanut butter for the rest of the trip. And after a while our mishaps and potential fights became treasured memories. Those experiences–the good and the, er… memorable–made us realize how important it is for us to unplug.

That first trip seems like yesterday. In reality it was more than a decade ago. A lot has changed since then, in our lives, and in the world around us. Anna’s a practicing physician. I have deadlines to hit and clients to keep in touch with. Our phones are now mobile computers, and frankly we, like many people, sometimes become like robots–unconsciously checking email and habitually dickering on social media.

Then once a year we have our camping trip, our annual tradition. No matter how busy we are, this is our time to turn everything off–to get outside, get cold, make a campfire, then climb into a sleeping bag with nothing but “repeat” on the schedule for the next day. It is sacred to us. The trip has migrated, following us west. What began in the Adirondacks has since transitioned to the High Uinta’s in Utah. But the purpose remains: a chance to recharge the primitive being within us and to recover and prepare again for the bombardment of our professional lives.

Fueled by nothing but granola and peanut butter wraps (its amazing what tastes good when you’re hungry), we scampered for several days over peaks and slide paths. On a trail that hadn’t been maintained for a few years, we were ducking under and climbing over downed trees until we eventually found ourselves at the bottom of a cold waterfall with a swimming hole. And of course we jumped in–yelping as the freezing cold water shocked our bodies for the final ten miles back to trailhead. As we drove off, we started planning our trip for the next summer, and contemplated which general store we would raid for anything to eat that didn’t contain peanut butter.

It’s almost fall again, and our tradition is alive, although we’ve changed the location again. I’ve drooled over the Wind Rivers for long enough, and this time you can bet the farm I’m not forgetting the cheese.

Photo by Mitchell Joyce



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