Nothing puts you in your place quite like being outwitted by a couple of chipmunks.I know; I spent 48 hours battling them for the modest rations of food meant to sustain me and my husband, AJ Pettway, during a two-week hike in southwest Colorado. I’m relieved to report that after two destroyed ditty bags and the loss of ten packets of oatmeal, we rigged a system of ropes that looked much like a giant spider web and finally defeated the little rascals.

I can’t complain too much, though; those furry fiends are part of the reason we chose to go to Colorado when we realized our June departure for the Peace Corps had been delayed until the end of September. We got the disheartening news only four days before we were scheduled to board the plane for Mauritania. We had sold the car and house, and both of us had quit our jobs. Faced with three months of downtime, we decided to play like we were college kids again. We threw our backpacks into my grandmother’s minivan and headed west to the trails of Colorado to hike out our frustrations.

Backpacking has always recharged my batteries. For years, I attributed its rejuvenating effects to the spectacular scenery, the daily exercise, the sounds of wildlife. These things are wonderful, but I think there is something more fundamental at work. Backpacking makes you get up close and personal with the foundation of our existence. It’s impossible to worry about your next big job promotion when you’re hunched over a pile of sticks making a fire so you can eat dinner. I promise: Growling stomach trumps career ambition every time.


AJ and me by a fire we made.


I think we sometimes forget what luxuries our daily concerns really are. Backpacking reminds me. If I’m worrying about having to learn another language or which pair of pants to pack for Peace Corps, it means I’m not worrying about putting dinner on the table or keeping my family healthy. I, like a lot of people in our society, have come to expect so much from both those around me and myself that I often forget to recognize the abundance of good in my life.

I don’t know what challenges we will face as Peace Corps volunteers in Mozambique, but I can almost guarantee they will be smaller than those faced by the people we hope to help. If backpacking is a primer in perspective, Peace Corps will be an advanced course.

Alice Pettway’s chapbook, Barbed Wire and Bedclothes, is forthcoming from Spire Press, Inc. later this year. Her work has also appeared in The Bitter Oleander, The Connecticut Review, Crab Creek Review, Lullwater Review, The Mid-America Poetry Review, and others. Alice holds an M.F.A. in creative writing. She and AJ will be volunteering as teachers with the Peace Corps in Mozambique until December 2011.

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  • …And Then There Were Ninjas « The Direction of My Dreams September 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    […] forks of the Ute converge. Upon arrival, we encountered what can only be described as a band of ninja chipmunks. Few have seen them; fewer have lived to tell the tale. After one nearly chewed through my pants to […]

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