At 0550 this morning I woke up to a squirrel chattering at me. It was light, but the sun wasn’t close to penetrating the old growth larch I was tucked in to, so I threw my quilt over my head and went back to sleep. Next it was 0730, and still seductively cool for what has been a scorching summer of cloudless and calm days. Any thoughts of fishing or making breakfast were dashed against the allure of hiking through chill forest. I threw my gear in my pack, pulled down my bear bag, put a sesame bar in my pocket, and got moving. A few hours later I was nearing the river, the temperature still pleasant thanks to dense, tall firs, but in spite of that I felt sluggish and pervasively lachrymose. I spent 20 minutes wondering what the hell was wrong with me until I remembered: I hadn’t yet had any coffee.


Caffeine is almost unique amongst the common modern drugs in that it is extremely addictive, and that said addiction has virtually no social consequences. My malaise, and any coffeeshop elbow-throwing which may result, are about the extent of them. There don’t seem to be any consequential health effects either, presuming you can consume caffeine in a civilized manner; which is to say as black coffee or espresso. This being the case, I have for the most recent half of my life embraced caffeine addiction with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It helps get shit done, and the two dollars I spend on a mid-afternoon triple espresso is usually the best use of cash all week. Addiction is one thing; the point of diminishing returns another. If my tolerance became such that I’d need half a dozen espressos to get moving each morning, that would be a nuisance.

There may well be similar concerns with excessively bacchanalian outdoor pursuits. The last three months, and frankly the last three years, have given me such consistent quality of scenery and wild experience that I worry I’m loosing my edge. It’s not that I lack in ideas, or even in enthusiasm once out there, it’s that I worry about a lack of ability to appreciate little trips, and might miss more and more little things out on big ones.

To that end I throw a few little trips in occasionally, like yesterday. Harrison Lake doesn’t get many visitors. The campground is halfway up the fjord-like lake, 4.8 deadend miles and on the other side of an often-unfordable river from an obscure trailhead. It’s one of those lines on the map many eyes probably pass right over. There are compensations for this. One is that even in the height of summer you can pretty much guarantee that it will be empty. Another is that the trail up, while good, is often faint and grown over with brush and moss. No dust here, nor other folks to over-run the three-day old bear tracks. A third is that if can get out on to the lake, you get a clean view of the 5k+ rise up to the Continental Divide. Compare the above photo, from a packraft, with this photo from January.

The little things are important, and some times it take some holding back to see it.

2 responses to “Tolerance”

  1. Worrying that you’ll begin to overlook the small stuff has become somewhat of a theme for you. I would suggest that if you’re constantly thinking about it, it’s a pretty safe bet you aren’t in much danger of taking little things for granted.

    I have a strange relationship with caffeine. I enjoy it (via tea), but I will sometimes just stop for a week or two with no discernable ill effect. I can tell the difference between the states of caffeinated and not, but that’s about it.


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