Backpacker’s Packing List for Life

Forrest Gump’s mom had it all wrong. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates, although it’s true that you never know what you’re going to get. Chocolate is sweet, so even if you don’t like that coconut creme, your senses have not been assaulted by vinegar or spice. Life is not all sugar. There’s plenty of sour and bitter to go around. And chocolates just sit there, provided by someone else for your enjoyment. Forrest’s mom was an optimist, which is a good thing in a mom. Personally, I’d rather go searching for life.

For me, life is more like a hike to the top of a mountain. From the bottom, you can’t possibly know what lies at the top. It could be shrouded in fog or could even be snowing. It may be obscured by those trees you can’t see the forest for. You may have a field guide for the wildflowers that lie ahead, but until you see their color against the backdrop of a clear mountain sky, take in their aroma, and see the life that surrounds them, they are only pictures on a page.IMG_3357Opal Creek

At the bottom of the mountain are many paths. You are led along one for a while until you are adept enough to choose your own. You climb. Once you reach a certain point on the path, you have a vantage point from which to look back and see where you’ve been. You may have veered off the trail and come back. You may have taken a different trail entirely. You may have even scaled a sheer cliff! But all roads lead to the top. From the vantage point you can look back and see where the trail led, though you couldn’t see it at the time. You might second guess your choice. Should I have taken the longer, looping trail?  In my rush to get up the mountain, have I opted for the steep switchbacks over the longer, softer, more scenic route? Who have I lost along the way?

Toward the top of the mountain the views back become wider and more expansive. The old path becomes less clear, but also less important. The air is thinner up here. You get tired. Elevation is slowing you down, but boy, what a view! And those flowers you enjoy in the guidebook are so vivid in person. Now it’s time to sit and look back at the journey in awe. Hiking1560

Here are some tips to help you on your way. Pack your bag, grab the binoculars, and enjoy the journey.

  1. Let love be your GPS. It may steer you wrong occasionally, and the road it chooses might not be a standard one, but it will get you safely to the end of your journey.
  2. Buy the best boots you can, but every once in a while, walk in someone else’s.
  3. Consult your trail map, hopefully a combination of a spiritual guide, history, good literature, and scientific research. It’s good to know where you’re going and where you’ve been.
  4. Talk to fellow travelers. Each one of us is on a different point on the path, and understanding that helps us understand one another. We all see different things along the way.
  5. Pack light. Relieve yourself of burdens that you don’t need to carry with you. Forgive. To hold grudges is akin to loading your pack with rocks, and only serves to slow you down.
  6. Have a tent that’s big enough for comfort, but not so huge it becomes a burden.
  7. Repellent clothing is important to ward off the chilling rain of others’ sometimes hurtful words.
  8. Budget your resources. The idea works for trail mix and money. Feasting at the beginning of your journey only leads to hunger down the road.
  9. Stop to take pictures. The scenery changes with each step you take. Savor the moment and embrace the different scenery.
  10. Prepare to ford some rivers. Bridges work best.
  11. Make sure your first aid kit has plenty of healing salve. You never know when you might come across someone in need of help.
  12. Know the toxic and steer clear. The burning rash takes a long time to heal, and if you don’t recognize it, you are liable walk into patch after patch of it.
  13. Keep a repair kit handy. Life gets shabby, but shouldn’t fall apart. The duct tape of friendship fixes just about anything.
  14. Know your SPF and use it. Life can get pretty intense, and if you don’t take precautions, you can end up badly burned.
  15. Always use your spork. With your spork you can partake of the meaty part of life, but the broth won’t slip through the tines.
  16.  Remember the toilet paper. Every once in a while you just need to deal with crap.

What would you put on your list?

Think Hard About Accepting that Visa Offer

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Well, I Never….”

All paths lead to the road I’m on.

Accepting mistakes and learning from them is a part of life. Most of the things we do temper and steel us to be the people we ultimately become. Our challenge is in using those mistakes, those irritating, often embarrassing moments, as growth material. There is no better fertilizer than bullshit, after all.

If I could, and I wish I could, I would discourage everyone I know from building credit card debt.


As Americans, we are raised to be consumers. We are plied with images of happy families in their big, suburban houses driving shiny new cars. We see commercials for Disneyland and feel like terrible parents if we don’t make the trip at least once. Even the kids need a toy to go with a meal to make them happy. We need new bikes, new shoes, different shoes for road and trail. We need fancy watches for running. We need gadgets and more gadgets, and when they become obsolete in just a year, we trade them in for new ones. And life is short, so why not take that vacation to the Bahamas. Just put it on the Visa and worry about it later. And the next thing you know, we wake up from our dream life and our Visa is maxed out, the minimum payment on the clothing store card is less than the interest, and we have nowhere to turn. We have imprisoned ourselves in a world of debt.

We lived this life, minus the trip to the Bahamas. We got a Visa when we first got married. At first we used it for “emergencies”, although now not a single real emergency comes to mind. We started adding to it, fulfilling our desires for stuff, and little by little, shovelful by shovelful, we dug ourselves into a deep, deep hole. We were lucky. A family member came to our rescue and paid the debt, but we spent the next 10 years paying him back.

I can’t tell you the toll this has taken on our family. What began as hope soon spiraled into money problems, arguments, and worry. We have spent years trying to get our feet back under us. We have missed out on many opportunities because during the time our children were small, we were busy trying to get out of the mess we caused.

The ability to delay gratification creates peace of mind.

There is a well known Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows. In it, researchers put a marshmallow in front of a preschool child, then tell the child they have to leave, but if the marshmallow is still there when the researcher gets back, the child will get two marshmallows instead of one. The researchers found that kids who are able to delay gratification (not eat the marshmallow) were more successful in life, had better grades and were more likely to attend university. Those who weren’t able to resist suffered poor school performance. It’s likely these kids go on to build credit debt because they don’t develop the self discipline that is required to say no to the immediate pleasure the object will supply.

Marshmallow test redux

I’m afraid we fell into that category, but the good news is that we learned from our mistake. Twenty-five years later we can have a credit card, chosen by us, and with a low credit limit that we know we can pay off monthly. It has come in handy, but we use it with the specter of past mistakes looming over our shoulder. The instant gratification that our Visa allowed us is superficial. It’s a quick pick-me-up that very quickly dissipates into stress and worry, not to mention clutter. Living with a budget requires considering your decisions, and creates a peace of mind that is both deep and meaningful. It doesn’t mean going without, but it does mean figuring out what really matters to you.

So, friend, next time that credit card offer shows up in the mail, do yourself a favor and burn it.