I’m not a morning person. My wife can attest to that. In fact, she probably just raised her eyebrows in a nonverbal amen. I come to the world slowly in the mornings, through several cups of coffee and groggy eyes.
I think that’s why sunrises fascinate me. They have a barrier to entry. Sunsets any old fool can accomplish; it just takes being at the right spot at the right time. The sunrise takes willpower, timing, and sometimes a bit of luck. You have to be awake and you have to be willing to notice and you have to look up.
Dawns have violet hues, warm tonal oranges, and promise, hope, optimism. All of those things that go nicely on coffee mugs. But they don’t have the Tumblr accessibility that permeates so much of the world and especially sunsets. Exclusivity and elitism are not something to strive for, but something is lost when nothing is sacred, nothing is set apart, nothing requires some grit to achieve.
Newton’s laws of motion apply to more than physics. Momentum and the inertia of habit are drivers of decisions and the human condition. For me, that culminates in the momentum of staying put or the momentum of being comfortable. Because the thing is that I like mornings, when I’m up for them. I love breakfast. I love being coaxed from gruffness into life with a strong cup of coffee. But it’s hard to change states when you’re comfortable and most of modern life is built around comfort. And comfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there comes a time when comfort needs to set up that altar as a false idol. Comfort for comfort’s sake begets a certain kind of deep-boned laziness that erodes our realness. Comfort is a much needed salve, and respite for the parched and thirsty, but it’s good to remember we can also drown.
I need this reminder constantly. I forget it often because I like to choose comfort. I don’t like long-term stagnancy, but hell, I don’t want to do those dishes now. I want another beer instead of scrubbing off dried pasta sauce. When I’m honest with myself, I can admit that it’s more than procrastination: it’s a shameful inclination towards sloth. Sometimes I have enough self-reflection and clarity to make drastic changes, but I’m in the process of discovering that the small everyday choices count more than the big ones. The big ones are important, but the small ones define character. For most people, small choices lay the building blocks for large decisions. I’m finding that for me it’s different—large choices made months in advance force me into a routine of diligent small choices. That’s why I need to plan things to shake me up. Signing up for hare-brained competitive races, making commitment to communities and small groups, entering into covenant relationship with Bekah, sworn in front of friends, family and God. And that’s why I need to go backpacking, to spend time in the wild and lovely places of the world.
Backpacking changes me. Or maybe a more appropriate word is catalyzes. I’m a better person while in the backcountry. There’s something about the constant motion and the lack of ease. What you have you carry on your back. What you need you’re responsible for carrying. If you choose comfort, there’s no food, there’s no shelter, there’s no warmth. It goes even further than that though, in order to find a semblance of comfort you have to work for it. You have to set up a tent. You have to curse a bit over a camp stove. You have to accidently splash boiling water on your wife’s leg (well, maybe not that one). When comfort comes it’s a welcomed embrace. Well-earned and well needed, a cup of living water for the thirsty.
I’m still not a morning person when backpacking, but I get up. Often grudgingly, but I get up.
From October to May, Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain sees the first sunrise in the continental US. There’s a type of pilgrimage that happens, rows of winding cars making their way up the switchbacks in a pre-dawn pursuit. But there’s also a trail. My parents took us up it when my brother and I were little. We hiked the mountain trail up to blustery cliffs and scrambled around the rocks up top. It would have been nearly impossible and downright irresponsible to wrangle two elementary schoolers for a pre-dawn hike sunset hike, but I’d like to go back. Climbing out of sleeping bags at the trailhead and brewing coffee and following a string of headlamps and frozen gusts of breath to the peak, just in time to see the cresting hues of dawn over the horizon. Content in the comfort that it was both fully earned and a gift of infinite proportion.
Matt Medendorp (’14) graduated with a writing degree held together by duct tape and a few trips abroad. Currently he lives in Grand Rapids, works for Chaco, and claims to be producing a book of writing and photography from his time in Alaska.