Zero Day: A term coined by through-hikers, a zero day is a day where you cover zero miles. Camp stays up, pack stays down. It’s a rest and recharge day.
The difference between a backpacker’s zero day and a regular ol’ day off is the isolation, the simplicity, the lack of filters or distractions present in civilization.
A true day off in ‘civilization’ requires some level of discipline. There are Facebook updates, phone calls to make, laundry to do, errands to run, work to catch up on. Sure, it’s not the daily grind, but these are immediate and reactionary demands on your time and focus. They’re things that just need to be done. Trust me, I get it! It seems like the second you’ve got one thing done another essential crops up in its place. It’s a vicious cycle that we’ll never escape. Unless you walk away from it, even for just one day.
. . .we have to value the requirements of being human at least as much as the results of our human efforts.
Short of urgent situations, nothing is going to implode. Promise. I’m not saying ditch the kids, the dogs, the bills and urgent work deadlines. I’m saying that, sometimes, we’ve gotta figure out what is truly important and what’s just busywork and let that busywork go for a moment. Sometimes we have to tell people to handle their own for one day and we’ll be back tomorrow.
I’m a serious type A person, someone who ‘needs’ to be productive at all times. Half of it is how I naturally am, half of it is habit from years of depression. I believed I wasn’t worth anything and I had to justify my existence by getting stuff done. If I wasn’t productive, I might as well take a long walk off a short pier.
I think we all experience that, to some degree or another. Our corporate culture permeates damn near everything, and corporate culture puts the bottom line above all else. Results at the expense of physical, emotional and psychological health. Then you add in social media, where people can curate their lives to a damn near narcissistic degree and make the ‘results’ of their social, parental, academic and work efforts seem effortless. Not everyone does this, but enough people do, and the deluge of results-oriented thinking can grind a person down to mere motion and no meaning. Needing or engaging in self-care is seen as a weakness, laziness or selfishness outside of a proper ‘vacation’. The kind of vacation you schedule once a year with our paltry accumulated days off and, lately, must be chronicled with appropriate filters and hashtagged up the ass because we’re so #blessed to be on such an #epic #adventure.
Let’s be real, here: Once a year isn’t enough. Consider the demands placed on your every resource – mental, physical, emotional. The demands are constant and endless. It’s just foolishness to think that once a year is enough.
It’s inherently at odds with the fact that we’re human and humans come with limited resources if we can’t take a freaking second and recharge. The great irony is that we are inherently more creative, more personable, more productive if we can get some rest and reset time. In private without giving a damn who sees what we’re doing.
To do that, though, we have to value the requirements of being human at least as much as the results of our human efforts.
When you’re on the trail the requirements of being human are front and center. If you need a zero day, you need it. That’s pretty much it. Sure, you’ll come across an individual or two who push themselves past the breaking point and get hurt in the process, but that’s the exception, not the rule. If your feet are rubbed raw and you can’t feel your legs anymore you really can’t do anything about it other than rest. Maybe do a few camp chores that take no more than half an hour, max. The mental challenges of being on the trail need just as much care. If that climb seems insurmountable or that next stretch of trail seems endless, it’s time to rest and reset.
The sad thing is, it’s so easy to write about it. It’s not easy to actually do it. It isn’t. Work schedules are more and more irrational and familial responsibilities do not end.
That’s why when the opportunity presents itself, jump at it. Tell the busywork it can wait. The dishes can wait, your timesheet due in three days can wait, your cramming for next week’s exam can wait, those non-urgent e-mails can wait. 24 hours. 12 hours. Nothing is going to implode. Promise.
Why? Because we are human, we are finite, and we are inherently entitled (yes, I said entitled) to a zero day. We are entitled to one because we cannot keep going without being refueled. It’s just basic logic, basic give and take, basic subtraction and addition sans units of measurement. Just because we cannot quantify the psychological and emotional doesn’t mean it’s any less real.
We have to take a moment to value being human just as much as the things we can do as human beings.
When I say the ‘creative’ value, I don’t mean strictly art. Every individual is creative. Creativity is what allowed us to evolve from hunter-gatherers to complex societies. The creativity of utilizing fire instead of fearing it allowed us to go from foraging omnivores to creatures capable of ingesting the proteins and amino acids required for higher brain development without the massive, energy-draining digestive system otherwise needed. Cooking with fire was, essentially, the first step in an external digestive process that allowed us to evolve into intelligent creatures (I know, that can be debatable, let’s just speak in generalities).
Consider the impact our mere presence is in our environment. Consider how physically pathetic we are compared to everything else. We’re physically demanding without much in the way of physical make-up to meet those demands. We need too much fuel, too much water; we have no real inherent way to keep ourselves warm, our eyesight sucks, our sense of smell sucks, our hearing sucks, we don’t have any significant weaponry or defensive capabilities if we enter a conflict empty-handed.
The only thing we bring to the table, the one powerful thing, is our ability to be creative, to make something out of raw, uncoordinated parts, to consider the ‘what ifs’ and see possibility.
Creativity is inherent in our very genetic composition. Problem-solving is an essential and creative endeavor that we do every day, whether you’re an accountant or an artist. If creativity is part of who we are and how we succeed as a species, it’s pure foolishness to not take care of it in whatever way that works for us. Our contemporary social structure, however, is at odds with taking care of the one freakin’ card we’ve got up our sleeve in the great scheme of the planet. It’s a helluva powerful card, yes, but without it? We’d be a food source for more physically adept predators.
That’s why I say we all need a zero day, and I’m not being cute about it. I mean it with every fiber of my being.
A backpacker’s zero day is filled with rest, with anticipation for what’s to come, with simple joys such as painting, playing cards, taking photos, journaling, eating. It’s selfish in the best way possible. It’s selfless in the sense that you must be immersed in your environment. You have no other choice.
You’re forced to notice the world around you in detail and through pretty much every moment. To interpret your environment through the unique filter of your own mind. You’re forced to stretch those senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. You’re forced to fire those unique neuronal pathways and indulge in the way you see the world without the stress of doing something about it or with it or to it. When we do this, when we allow ourselves to just be and observe in the moment, our perceptions evolve. Our awareness is heightened. Our creativity is refueled, and more, our creativity has gained a new paradigm. One observation and moment at a time.