I wasn’t entirely sure of what backpacking consisted of and I certainly didn’t understand why any civilized human being with air conditioning, and cable television, would want to partake in an activity of the sort. My understanding of backpacking involved rocky trails, mosquitoes, and carnivorous animals. I had never been backpacking, and until recently in my life, nobody had ever asked me if I wanted to go.
My neighbor, who is one of my best friends, is an avid outdoorsman and he enjoys hiking, camping, and other things that involve sweat and occasional discomfort. He wanted to help me experience the true beauty of nature. He asked me if I wanted to go backpacking with him. I was skeptical about the invitation. I enjoy nights lying on top of my king-sized mattress, and the idea of a night spent with the rocky ground of the Cheaha Mountain in my back was not the most tempting offer. However, my neighbor’s entrepreneurial spirit won me over. We found an unoccupied weekend on the calendar and decided to pencil in “backpacking”.
The day of the trip is the moment when my apprehension began to transform into excitement. My neighbor loaded me down with backpacking essentials that I did not realize I needed. He gave me breathable clothing, a hiking stick, a backpack with a sleeping bag in it and numerous other necessities. The evening was finally upon us.
My neighbor, our friend, and I headed toward our destination: Cheaha Mountain. We spent a couple of hours hiking at a steep incline, and my lungs were burning as badly as my thighs. As we continued to hike, we would periodically stop to take in the beauty of nature. I didn’t realize what existed in my backyard. I live beside the most beautiful mountain in Alabama.
Night began to fall and we found a small ledge that we decided would be the perfect location for setting up camp. We started a fire and made some coffee with a neat contraption that my neighbor had found in his house earlier that day. It was easily the best coffee I have ever had. I am not sure whether it was the coffee that was outstanding, or the fact that we were miles up a mountain on a chilly March night.
Conversation began to flow between the three of us. Real conversation that was uninterrupted by phones or television. Stories about family members, camping trips, and trail names were had around a crackling fire, and I swear the stars shine brighter when you look at them from Cheaha Mountain. Unburdened thoughts and simplicity comfort your mind. Stress does not exist in the midst of God’s most beautiful creation. It cannot exist.
When we decided it was time to go to sleep we rolled out the sleeping bags. My neighbor and I, decided to sleep without the protection of a tent. We slept “cowboy style” as my friend explained it. I fell asleep beside the last dying embers of a campfire while looking at the stars.
We woke up early and had another cup of coffee. We set out hiking before sunrise, so we could witness the sunrise from Bald Rock. Bald Rock is the highest point on Cheaha Mountain: the highest point in the state of Alabama.
I was a tiny speck standing on top of the tallest mountain in my state watching the sun chase away every shadow that existed from the night before. I have never felt so tiny and so filled with power at the exact same time. I saw the world wake up that morning. I had snuck into nature with my two friends and took a front-row seat to watch the world slowly come alive. It is not the same as watching the sunrise from a kitchen window, or through the windshield of a moving car. When you immerse yourself into the rocky trails of nature, and you climb into the atmosphere of Heaven during the early hours of a chilly morning then you become a part of nature. You don’t watch the sunrise, rather you feel the sunrise. You don’t watch nature blossom into a new day: you feel it.
Backpacking was an experience that cannot accurately be conveyed through this story or any story for that matter. Experiencing the subtle intricacies of nature is something that can not be felt through television programs, songs, or poetry. The only way to truly experience the full emotional and romantic side of nature is to be a part of it. You must place yourself in the middle of it. It involves a range of feelings and emotions that cannot be imagined but can only be experienced.
Written by: Riley Jones