Escape to nature brings peace, clarity and tranquility for hikers


Photo provided by Joanna Zhang

Justin Sutherland

Photo provided by Charlie Gan.
Photo provided by Charlie Gan.
Walking along a ridge line with drop-offs on both sides that make visibility through the pine tree forest with only the underbrush of fallen needles seems endless and delightful to four backpacking seniors. This was what they were looking for; the serenity and tranquility of pure immersion in nature, the adventure of searching for sights not seen, the companionship developed through the fellowship of depending on one another.
Seniors Breta Phillips, Joanna Zhang, Charlie Gan and Josh Baumer went recreational backpacking on the Big Piney Trail near Springfield, Mo. in the Mark Twain National Forest on Feb. 16. Baumer said for him, backpacking involves going out for a set number of days, carrying all the food he needs, all of the trash he makes and all of his shelter on his back in an effort to fully experience nature.
“Backpacking is really cool because you get to go out in God’s creation for a certain amount of time and with most cases you have very little distractions from what humans have built,” Baumer said. “So you have a lot of peace and quiet and get to see a bunch of really cool things.”
Among other sights, the crew got to see forests of short trees, enormous trees and various wildlife including two particularly rowdy armadillos.
“We saw two armadillos which are actually some funny-looking animals and really weird, too,” Baumer said. “We’d be going by and they’d just jump straight up in the air and then kind of waddle off. They were pretty cool to see.”
With two less-experienced and two more-experienced campers, the group took care of each other in pairs: girls and boys with Baumer as a sort of “group leader” and Phillips as another.
During the day hike, the hiking crew kept one another’s spirits up through various methods including quoting a movie Phillips and Zhang watched just two days prior to their hike called 3 Idiots. In the movie, there is a scene where one of the characters said “Whatever the problem in life is, just say to yourself ‘Aal Izz Well,’” which motivated them even at the beginning of the 17-mile long hike.
“Within the first 300 meters, we come across this giant hill and that was just the first part, and we just looked at each other and were like ‘If this is what the rest of the hike is like, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this thing. We’ve got, like, eight miles left to do today,’ but it wasn’t all like that, and it was OK,” Phillips said. “Each of us had three other people pushing us on so that made it easier, as well.”
Although they planned on staying another night, the equipment wasn’t fully adequate for the 17-degree weather, causing the students to return home a day early.
Even with the students going to bed at 9:30 p.m., Phillips woke around 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. because of the cold outdoor conditions. Shivering, though it started as voluntarily, became an attempt for heat soon learned to be useless. At around 1:30 a.m. however, Zhang glanced at her watch which illuminated their two-person tent.
“We had both slept about one to two hours at that time since 9 p.m., and she ended up asking me if I was awake, and I replied yes, then she asked ‘Are you cold?’ And I said ‘Yes, I’m freezing; it’s so cold,’” Phillips said. “So then she decided we should get into one sleeping bag, but these were mummy sleeping bags, which means that they are fitted right to you so we don’t really fit in one, so that was a struggle.”
After finally getting into a comfortable position, they soon realized the worst thing for a time like this; they both needed a bathroom break. They took care of this quickly and then had to reposition for another 30 minutes to where they could get sleep for about another hour or so. Then, after the few hours slept, the morning came and it was time to pack up the campsite.
“We got up and started figuring out how to make the fire and trying to get stuff together while singing Frozen which apparently woke the guys up,” Phillips said. “Then they came out and Charlie made the fire in like a second, which was awesome because the rest of us kept trying and couldn’t.”
Though Phillips prefers matches, the rest of the crew uses lighters. However, starting the fire in the morning, the group used no firestarters, matches or lighters to create the fire even though they prepared to. Instead, Gan used the embers that were almost all blown out from the windy night before.
“Somehow, Charlie found something deep down or something, but we didn’t have to use anything in the morning because of it, so we just started the fire,” Phillips said. “I don’t know how but he found something deep down in the fire.”
The cold weather not only affected the amount of sleep for the hikers, but also the pack up time in the morning. Continually going back and forth between packing one item and having to return to the fire to warm their hands, the process took longer than expected as they got ready for the six or seven miles left for their trip, incubating a stronger friendship all along the way.
“If you can stand just hiking with them all day long when you guys are all at some points miserable and at some points fantastic,” Baumer said, “you either learn to hate each other or learn to love each other. For us, I think we all came out loving each other at least a little bit more.”
By Justin Sutherland
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