Andrew Powers backpacking

Most of us know what it means to be kind.  We think of things like being polite, using manners, treating others with respect, and being generous and considerate.  I think there is another form of kindness that isn’t quite so obvious.

Last spring, I backpacked the Devil’s Path, in the Catskills of New York.  It’s a 24-mile trek that consists of steep, rocky, terrain that persists as you hike up and down six different mountains. It’s regarded as one of the most difficult hiking trails in New York.  I was way overpacked and underprepared for the trip before it even began.

The second day of hiking was brutal (rainy, cold, traversing downhill over frozen creek beds, dealing with constant elevation change).  Late in the afternoon, as we hiked on top of Plateau Mountain, it started thunderstorming and was getting dark. The situation quickly became dangerous, and we hightailed it down.  Hiking as fast as I could down Plateau Mountain, I slipped and fell and was in a rotten mood and physically in pain when we finally found a place to set up camp for the night at the bottom.

My friend (Watson) and I quickly pitched our tents and rested while waiting out the rain before dinner.  Everything I had was soaked, including the things inside my tent.  I had bought a new tent for this trip and didn’t have a lot of experience setting it up, which resulted in a small, but persistent flow of water flowing into it.  Making matters worse, the flask of whiskey I brought didn’t seal.  The whisky I looked forward to drinking was gone!  Eventually, I realized the rain was here to stay and decided to go to bed hungry.  I knew I’d never get dry that night.

Watson was in much better spirits than I was (and had a dry and functional tent).  He proceeded to cook himself dinner under the canopy of his tent.  Once finished, he asked if I wanted to cook dinner, and I told him “no.”  This was concerning because we had just hiked for 10 brutal hours.  Instead of accepting my answer, he got out of his dry, warm tent, brought over the cooking supplies, and insisted I eat dinner. He then proceeded to sit in the dark, cold, rainy woods outside my tent while I prepared my freeze-dried backpacking meal.  Afterward, I was still cold and wet, but I was much happier and content because of my friends’ actions.  It also distracted me from how miserable I felt.

The lesson is that Watson could have taken the easier option and gone to bed, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.  Instead, he knew what I needed (even when I didn’t!) and inconvenienced himself to put himself in an objectively uncomfortable situation to improve my experience because he’s a kind person and a good friend.  Thanks, Watson, you are a real class act, and I will pay it forward!