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The Leader

The Real World

By Casey Kanode
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2002, Vol. 18, No. 1

  Three Peaks Ranch Staff
© David E. Anderson
Today was my last day on my NOLS Idaho Backpacking and River course. I sit this evening not only on the bank of the Salmon River in the middle of Frank Church Wilderness, but also on the verge of my next stage in life. It’s called “The Real World.” It’s referred to as the place in this world where one becomes fully dependent upon oneself and must enter a working field of some sort. A recent college graduate, I’m quickly approaching this apex of life. I came on this course partly to experience one “last hurrah” before entering this monotonous, methodical lifestyle. I wanted excitement, exercise and relaxation. What I ended up finding was something that exceeded all my expectations.

Backpacking for 19 days with a pack almost half my weight up mountain after mountain, I was at times pushed to my limit, both mentally and physically. There were times when I didn’t think I could make one more step because of burning blisters or when I thought every muscle in my legs was spent and could carry me no further. Then it would happen. I would reach the crest of a mountain that would in turn unfold into a view that seemed unworthy of my eyes. In an instant, all weight on my back was forgotten, all pain ceased, and, as if someone was controlling my thoughts, nothing but beauty, happiness, awe, and amazement filled my mind. I would forget about every trivial thing that has or would ever bother me. My mind was completely free; free to wonder amazing things, free of worry, and free to go blank and concentrate only on taking in all that was laid out before me. Every step of the way, amongst the pain and determination, all worries and stress fell away.

It was the sum of these moments - the cresting of a mountain, the pounding of my feet on unstable earth, or the reading of a river rapid, that led me to my greatest discovery of the trip, and perhaps my life. Over the course of 19 days, I slowly began to realize that some things I had always just accepted as being true were anything but that. What I had thought of at the time as the “Real World” turned out to be nothing of the sort. That real world is full of trivialities, unnecessary necessities and unneeded stresses. It provides its share of happiness and enjoyment, but also provides more than its share of sadness and anxiety. I would hope that anything worth the label of “The Real World” would not encompass any of those traits. Rather, I would envision “The Real World” as a place where we as humans can live mostly free of worry, full of happiness and most importantly with a free mind. I believe I’ve been to that place.

By removing myself from society and its methods for a month, I removed myself from all preconceptions and false notions. The media, luxuries such as running water and showers, the ease of transport, and a million smaller things not NEEDED to live and survive. In the wilderness your thoughts are geared towards much more important things. You are forced to remember what’s truly important, and in fact necessary. Things such as food, clean water, sleep, and once again a free mind. In the last month, I’ve found only these four things to be truly necessary to live a healthy life. Three of these things can easily be found within the prison walls of society. The fourth, however, and most important, must be searched for outside these walls.

Wilderness gives me a free mind at the drop of a hat. When I am perched along the shore of a glacial lake, atop the continental divide, or next to a mountain stream, all other matters aside from my mind’s spiritual and physical wanderings cease to exist. It is for this reason that I feel I’m leaving, not entering “The Real World.” I find relief, however, in knowing that I can always return whenever I want. As long as there are places where nature overpowers society, there will be sanctuaries for a free mind. I can always escape from a world where stress and luxuries rule to a place where survival and a mind free to wander take over. I can always return to a place where every part of me feels alive, awake,and most importantly, a place where everything feels REAL. To me, that is “The Real World.”

Kanode, a native of Salem, Virginia, was a student on an Idaho Backpacking and River course this past June after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in natural resource recreation.



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