Leave No Trace :: Leave Happier.

Holy smokes it’s March! How did February escape so quickly? The only evidence I have that February even existed was my 22nd birthday celebration, a few commendable concerts and one epic adventure in the Ozark National Forest. Without these events, I would be skeptical that February even existed at all; however, that one glorious trip in the backwoods would lead other adventuresome hikers to believe otherwise.

This past weekend I joined my fellow backpackers and outdoor adventure employees for a very gratifying escapade in the wilderness. Our hiking class of twelve, both experienced and inexperienced outdoors(wo)men, spent the weekend in the backwoods with beautiful weather, howling coyotes and strangers that I now consider friends. We backpacked for two days, hiking about 3-4 miles each day. We spend two very chilly nights in tents, sleeping next to people that were before this weekend, only considered aquaintences. We cooked. We camped. We bonded. For me, this was a learning experience not only because I can count my adventures in camping on one hand but also because we learned about the correct ways in which to camp, i.e. Leave No Trace.

The Leave No Trace priniciple is unfamiliar to most people. Basically, you want to leave the wilderness just as, if not better than you found it. This includes planning and preparing, using durable surfaces (marked trails), minimizing campfire impact, leaving what you find, packing in and packing out, respecting wildlife and being considerate of others. I had no idea these ethics in outdoor activities were so important or serious for that matter but our fantastically exhuberant leaders at OSU Outdoor Adventures proved otherwise. Everything we packed it, we packed out. We even swept the ground after leaving each campsite so that no one knew we were even there. Luckily, there was already a fire pit and man-made furniture at one of our campgrounds.. if there hadn’t been, we would have not had a glowing fire to warm our shivering bodies at night under the glowing full moon, which was a sight I will never forget. Yeah, sure you can see the moon anytime, given that you wait for it to fill itself, but witnessing such a sight in the mountains, next to a fire, enthralled in a game of 20 questions and the green glass door with new found friends is a very gratifying memory. It’s funny how strangers become less strange when the wilderness provides the setting. The bonding experience was terrific – I learned a lot about others and even learned a lot about myself.. another funny aspect. Anyhow, throughout this experience, I was able to minimize my impact on the environment not just for the greater good of the earth but also for the sanctity of others.

While reflecting on my weekend undertaking, I realized not only can I take these newly acquired skills with me in other outdoor outings but also in life. Not that I don’t want to leave an impact on anyone but that I want to leave an everlasting impact for the better. I want to leave things in life, people included, in a better state then before. I don’t want to take anything from anyone; I’d rather give back whether that is flashing a smile to a passerby, volunteering in my community or in literal terms, returning something I borrowed. Life should be enjoyed and I think it’s important to make like enjoyable for others, not just for yourself. Mother Teresa sums it up quite nicely – “Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”