Why do we do the things we do?
I ask myself this question nearly every time I go backpacking. When you're walking uphill with 25 extra pounds strapped to your back, too busy trying not to trip to take in the scenery, it's not a philosophical question. I'm not contemplating the motivations and beliefs behind human behavior.
I am literally questioning my decision to send myself into the wilderness for a weekend of sweat and blisters. I genuinely want to know why I'm watching my feet trudge through the dirt instead of watching Netflix from my comfortable apartment.
Never have I asked myself this question with more frustration than the weekend my roommate and I decided to take on the wilderness surrounding Fontana Dam.
Itching to escape the city for some much needed nature time, Olivia and I planned a challenging, yet "relaxing" trek that would take us two days of walking and two nights of camping.
We left Knoxville on a sunny Friday afternoon, taking scenic highways into North Carolina. The roads followed a river gorge, winding around cliffs as we approached the dam. We were practically celebrating when we exited cell-service range.
Once parked and packed, we set off, following the road that led across the dam and up to the trailhead. We had about seven miles ahead of us that afternoon. Although it was about 3 p.m., Olivia and I were confident we would reach our designated campsite by dusk.
It didn't really occur to us that most of those miles would be uphill.
Despite the ambitious start, we made our camp just as the sun was setting. Too tired to make a fire, we gratefully accepted the invitation to eat our dehydrated dinners alongside a father and son also camping at the site.
After a long day and driving and hiking, Olivia and I turned in fairly early. We knew the forecast called for rain, and the route we had planned for Saturday was a full 13 miles back to a camping shelter near our car. We wanted to get back early enough to enjoy an evening on the lake.
It's always hard to get good sleep the first night on the trail. Fears of bears and insane axe murderers, dismissed during the daylight hours, rise and stifle you inside your sleeping bag. Often you lie awake contemplating the structural integrity of the thin, plastic tent that separates you from the outside world.
On this particular night, as I drifted in and out of consciousness, I was startled awake as Olivia bolted upright with a shriek. It was then that she informed me there was a rather large centipede crawling among us in addition to the black ants I now noticed on the tent walls and floor.
Taking solace in the fact that dawn was only a few short hours away, we hunted down the centipede and checked our watches. Maybe we could just pack up and get going now.
It was only midnight, a few hours after we had first zipped up.
Several sleepless hours later, Olivia and I disassembled our camp in record time and beat the sun onto the trail. We did not, however, beat the rain. I felt the first drop as we stepped across the creek separating our campsite from the wilds.
The rain didn't stop at all that day.
About three or four uphill miles later, we were cold and wet and decided to abandon our planned route in favor of the shorter direct path back to our dry car. The thought of another sleepover with creepy-crawlies was not appealing, and the blisters on our feet were screaming for rest.
That day, we hiked a full day's worth of trail in about six hours on a Clif bar and a few handfuls of trail mix. There were no stops, no lunch breaks. The cold wind and rain pounded at our backs as we stumbled downhill on dead feet.
To this day, I have no idea how I walked the last mile or why my legs continued moving.
It's times like this hike that I seriously wonder why I am doing what I'm doing. Why in the world would anyone volunteer to be in that situation?
Perhaps it's insanity – performing the same action expecting different results – or perhaps something makes you forget the pain and the struggle. Whatever it is that happens when you leave the trail, dry yourself off and slide into a reward dinner at Waffle House, I'm glad for it.
When Olivia and I had settled in for the drive home, stiff, chafed and soaking wet, we contemplated the ridiculous story we now had to tell. Laughter is the best medicine, and as our sore bodies wracked with it, I was cured of my bitterness toward what I had just been through.
I don't know why I do the things I do, but I do know I would do them all over again.
Emilee Lamb is a sophomore in journalism and electronic media. She aspires to be a journalist and photographer for National Geographic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.