CategoryBackcountry

A blank spot on the map

“Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?” Aldo Leopold, 1922

I love those blank spots on maps. If you look at them on Google maps, they’re green areas with few roads that terminate in trail heads and no towns. Big blank spots that hide the best part of living in the west.

shoot-563I’ll sit and look at those nice green swathes and think about what they hold. If I’m curious enough, I’ll go get the topographic version and trace the dotted lines denoting trails with my finger. If something catches my eye, a pen will come out. It will tap on the table for a bit. If it gets serious, a Moleskine or Field Notes will come out and there will be scribbling. Scribbling is a good sign.

Sometimes, there may be an afternoon walk after that. A stroll down Cherry Creek to the REI store. I won’t always buy something, although often I do. But I will wander over to the ORIC. The Outdoor Recreation Information Center. I’ll go over to the huge tabletop map of Colorado and find that section I was interested in, and then I’ll ask questions. What about this green, blank spot? What about this trail leading in to it? How are the trail conditions? Are the bears behaving themselves? A water resistant topo of the area will be purchased and slipped in to a thigh pocket for the walk back home. The walk will be accompanied with a smile.

shoot-561Soon after, gear will go in to backpacks, film will go in to cameras, gas will go in to the 4Runner, and we will go on our way. Aimed squarely at that blank spot.

Back to the backcountry

For a while there, we weren’t spending enough time in the backcountry. I’m glad we fixed it.

As far as I can tell, backcountry as an idea is an American thing. It’s defined as “a geographical region that is remote, undeveloped, isolated, or difficult to access.” I find all of those traits desirable. The outback in Australia is much the same, I think. I’ve never been there, but I’d love to go and see what their wild places look like.

There are parts of it some people don’t care for. Some of them are the very things that I find attractive.

shoot-550It’s lonesome in many of those places.  That bothers some folks. I think it’s a good sign. When you trudge along on a trail, You’ll see categories of people. First, folks who have just popped out of their cars for a minute, looking at things. Then day hikers with small packs, out getting away from it all for a few hours.  And finally it thins out to the last two.

After three miles or so, you get backpackers, folks who are spending a night or two out in the wilds, recharging. Bigger packs, more food, usually having a bit more fun. It’s a spot of adventure, and they’re mostly all smiles. Beyond that, if you’re on a trail that leads somewhere, you get through hikers. Thin packs on thin people, whittled clean of any excess fat. Most of them are either totally silent or will stop and talk because you’re the first person they’ve seen in weeks. If you run in to them in towns, they are inhaling an impossible amount of food.

shoot-552These days, we’re mostly backpackers when time permits. One day, we want to through hike. But now, we’re in the backcountry as much as we can be. I always like it when we get far enough back that we’re beyond the day hikers. It feels like a demarcation point, passing from civilization in to the real backcountry.  It feels different, like we’re in a new country, and the trail is unrolling out in front of us, stretching on forever and always, leading somewhere we’ll never find. It’s ok we’ll never find where it goes, as long as we get to keep going, discovering, and being back in the backcountry.