10 Things Wilderness Taught Me in 4 Days - Sage Hill Counseling

Recently, I organized an adventure trip for male leaders through Wilderness Collective . In four days, we covered more than 275 miles from Sequoia National Forest to Yosemite National Park. We traversed rugged terrain on enduro motorcycles that lead us over mountain passes—some more than 10,000 ft. in elevation. At night, we sat around the campfire having honest, vulnerable, and courageous conversations.

In all, there were eleven of us. (Ten from Middle Tennessee and one from Louisiana.) Most of us were in our mid-forties, but our ages ranged from late 20s to early 50s. A few of us got injured. All of us got our butts kicked. And all of us had an incredible time.

On the adventure, I learned some important things that I thought writing and sharing about may help me better incorporate into my regular life. Here they are:

1) Ounces = Pounds & Pounds = Pain (You need much less than you think.)
2) Ride your own ride.
3) When you get in a rut, ride it out.
4) “I don’t know. Maybe” is a great answer to many questions.
5) Worry about the essentials and !@#$ the rest.
6) Stay on the path and when you get lost, stay put and wait.
7) Disconnect from email, phone, and everything else.
8) The very best things can never be posted on social media.
9) Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
10) Wilderness Makes You Better.

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing a series of blogs about each lesson learned. I hope you find them a blessing and an encouragement. Below is the first one.

Keep Heart and Live Fully!

Lesson 1: Ounces = Pounds & Pounds = Pain (You need much less than you think.)

We rode 3.5 hours from LA through Fresno and into the dry California farm country. On one side of highway were endless orange orchards. On the other side were grape vineyards. Each crop stretched toward the dusty hills on the horizon in perfectly organized rows.

We finally stopped at a small one-story cinderblock church. Over time, the congregation had added a couple of additions—a new sanctuary to one side and a fellowship hall to the other. A ring of yellow-green grass surrounded the church before abruptly becoming dirt and scrub. The small church was an island in a see of rough beauty. For a second, I thought of Tom Joad and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

As we unloaded from the van, next to us was a 24’ enclosed trailer and fourteen Honda dirt bikes lined up in two rows of seven.

First we were told to fit whatever belongings we needed into a military-style daypack that Wilderness provided. Our leader, Steve, directed us to “Put your sleeping bag and ground pad by the van. Everything else you are going to need will fit into your pack.”

To me, Steve was a combination of a scruffy Tom Cruise, young Han Solo, and a spiritual Evel Knievel. Cool doesn’t even begin to describe him.

As we each unpacked our luggage trying to decide what we could keep and what we needed to leave behind, Steve assured us that we needed less than we thought we did. “I’m only taking what I have on and a jacket. That’s all you will need.” Then he quipped, “Remember, ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.” No one responded. We all just kind of looked at each other trying to decide what to pack.

In the end I took the pants, t-shirt, socks, and underwear I was wearing. Additionally I packed:

-a pair of shorts (never wore them)

-two extra moisture-wicking t-shirts (only needed one)

-an extra pair of riding socks (didn’t really need them)

-an extra pair of Smart Wool underwear (nice but not essential)

-a puffy jacket

-a couple of bandanas (only ever used one)

-stocking cap

-ball cap


-journal (forgot a pen)

-toiletries (pack of wet wipes, half roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, contact lenses, and deodorant)

Not too much, but for sure, Steve and our other two guides, Martin (pronounced Mar-teen) and John, took decidedly less.

“When you are all packed up, put your phone in the lock box. You will get them back in four days when we get to Yosemite.” (More in this extraordinary gift in #8: Disconnect from email, phone, and everything else.)

To be honest, I couldn’t conceive of carrying anything less than I did. Now, having done the adventure, I would have done just fine with what I had on, plus;

-long-sleeve shirt

-puffy jacket

-stocking cap


-journal and pen

-slightly fewer toiletries (2 pack of wet wipes and contact lenses)

During the adventure, I kept wondering about all the things I really don’t need. Not just in my daypack, but the stuff in my basement. The things crammed in drawers. The closet of clothes I might wear one day.

Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.

I became aware of the extra weight I carry around my midsection and how that puts painful pressure on by low back and how it causes me to snore which keeps Heather and I both awake.

I started becoming aware of some of the emotional and spiritual baggage I still carry and how heavy that must be.

Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.

What resentments, do I need to let go of?

What pretenses do I need to lay down?

What shame and regrets do I still strap on my back each day?

What co-dependent commitments do I need to unravel?

Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.

God have mercy.

*On November 1, we will release the dates of the 2019 Sage Hill/Wilderness Collective Leadership Rejuvenation Adventures. I can’t wait to go back to the Wilderness. I hope you join me.




If you need help laying down some of the heavy things that you carry, Sage Hill Counseling is here to help. Email or call us to set up an appointment.

If you are a successful entrepreneur, executive, or professional and want to lead with more heart at home and work, Sage Hill Consulting is here to help. Apply to our Leading With Heart Program today.



Stephen James, MA, LPC-MHSP, NCC, is the Executive Director of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. He is also a best-selling author of five books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. He is active in training other mental health professionals as well as to speaking to audiences around the country on the topics of living fully, servant leadership, family relationships, and spiritual authenticity.

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