When I started my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in May 2002 my pack weighed 49 pounds, which was about one-third of my body weight. The first day was exhausting—and not very fun—and the next morning I had to keep chanting, “Katahdin, Katahdin, Katahdin,” in order to booster my deflating motivation to reach the trail’s northern terminus in Maine. In my journal that evening I tallied a list of things in my pack that I needed to throw out, send home, or replace at the next convenient opportunity in order to shed the extra ballast that was weighing on my body and my morale. You can say that I had been converted, realizing that lighter is actually better and less is actually more.
When I finally reached Katahdin after three months and 2,168 miles I had reduced my pack weight to a more manageable 16 pounds. During subsequent trips it was trimmed to 12, then to 8.5, and most recently to a mere 6 pounds! Surprisingly, as my pack weight has dropped, my comfort, safety, and mobility have increased; my risk of injury, my expenses, and my environmental impact have decreased; and the fun factor is a multiple of what it once was.
Early on my efforts to “go light” were aimed solely at my backpack, but nowadays the lightweight philosophy extends into all other areas of my life as well. There are two reasons for this: (1) my quality of life is better, and (2) even more important, my impact on something I care about deeply, the environment, is much less.
Quality of life. By having and using less stuff, seeking simplicity instead of complexity, un-tethering myself from technological devices on a regular basis, and being selective about my ethical and financial responsibilities, I have more freedom, resources, and energy to focus on the things that really matter to me, namely my relationships with others, the outdoor world, and self. While my life is not entirely stress-free and may not be considered “plush” by some, I seem to worry about fewer things than most and also to get along just fine.
Environmental Impact. My outdoor experiences have played a significant role in my personal growth and development. Perhaps the two most important things I have learned from them are: (1) Boy, I live in a beautiful world! and (2) Wow, my time here ain’t nothin’ compared to these trees, rivers, and mountains! I think it is a moral responsibility that we be good stewards of the earth so that its magnificence continues to instill awe and humility in future generations, and it would seem that not doing so is simply audacious — it’s not our right to leave a lasting adverse impact on a planet that we fleetingly inhabit.
I purposely try to lead a “lightweight lifestyle” in order to live more sustainably and to ensure that future generations are able to experience natural grandeur in the same way that I have been able to. Unfortunately, today it is difficult to lead a modern life without “going heavy” on the earth — environmental implications are a distant consideration in conventional choices for and attitudes about things like transportation, utilities, housing, material “needs,” agriculture, and reproduction. Society has not taught us to ask fundamental questions like, Why do I essentially have to drive a gas-burning car, or a car at all? Where does my water and energy come from, and where does my sewage and garbage go? Why can’t I easily find a house/condo/apartment that is made largely with reusable and recycled materials, and that is powered with solar panels atop the roof? And, Do I really need to use “paper or plastic” in transporting my groceries from the store to my home? In sum, if I am not purposely going light, environmentally reckless behavior becomes the default, not the exception.