Accept Wet Feet

September 2016

Denali National Park in Alaska has no trails, just one main road that takes about four hours to drive end to end. The only way to travel said road is on the park bus, and it can take much longer than four hours if you run into wildlife along the way, as the bus drivers seem to be selected for their ability to match their passengers’ childlike wonder upon their first moose sighting, even though after 30 years driving that road they’ve probably seen, and possibly adopted, several moose. Yet they’re happy to stop for as long as people seem interested.

You can, however, get off this perfectly functional bus at any point in the park you like, and go traipsing off on your own into the mosquito and bear infested wilderness. Before you do, you have to meet with a park ranger to discuss things like what to do if you see a bear, your general mental health, and your planned route through the park. Denali is divided into sections that each have a quota for the number of people who can camp there overnight, to prevent trails from forming and the place becoming overrun with people. The quotas are low enough that you probably won’t see another soul during an overnight backpacking trip after the bus drives off.

The park rangers are a friendly but stern bunch, given their charge of potentially being the last person to have seen someone alive. They collect information like the color of your pack, helpful for spotting you at the bottom of a crevasse or identifying who, exactly, has just been mauled by a bear. They give you general advice about your planned itinerary but are deliberately reticent to divulge anything resembling a Foursquare tip - they are the progenitors of the “just the facts, ma’am” style of review.

One piece of advice they do give you is to “accept wet feet”. As you find your own way through the park, you invariably end up crossing rivers without the help of an invention you immediately gain respect for - the bridge. Looking around for a place to cross that’s shallow enough to rock hop is somewhere between foolish and useless. Your options are to stay on this side of the river or get your feet wet.

You could fight this by choosing places to hike that have fewer rivers and swamps. Or by bringing shoes specifically for the river crossings and changing in and out of them each time. You could extensively research what others have done to solve this problem and be determined to use the best solution that anyone has come up with in human history, since why reinvent the wheel or suffer needlessly?

Or you could just show up, go for it, and accept wet feet.

At some point the search for the optimal overtakes the thing you’re actually doing. If you spend weeks trying to determine the “best” solution for something, the entire time you’re implementing and testing said solution will be spent constantly evaluating its validity. Maybe that’s fine if you’re the type of person who likes to solve problems (*raises hand*), and you’re self-aware enough to realize that you’ve just been nerd sniped (*puts hand down*) into solving another one instead of focusing on what you’re supposedly enjoying - the midnight sun on the summer solstice, not how well you handled the “dry feet always” challenge.

This ability to accept wet feet, metaphorically, is not something that comes naturally to me, but I believe it’s like any other muscle (let’s call it your Dorsal Gluteus Anterior Floccus, or your DGAF muscle for short) and that you can develop it like any other with practice.