A few years ago, for the first time, I consciously limited my packing for a trip to single carry-on backpack. By the time I’d passed through security and was strolling through the airport, my feeling of liberation was palpable. I felt able to absorb delays, change plans, and move freely upon arrival. I had minimized my baggage. Since then, I try to be thoughtful about the items I carry with me, particularly when traveling long distances. Related to that, I attach more value to freedom and to the stimulation of exercising it.
I’m spending part of this summer in Jackson, WY for the second consecutive year, thanks to my wife’s job. For about a month, we are living in small cabin on a ranch next to the Hoback River, which joins the Snake River a few miles away. Downtown Jackson is 12 miles north of that confluence, and you’re treated to a view of the Tetons peeking over smaller hills as you approach. My job, which I can do virtually, requires a high-speed internet connection, so I commute into the downtown area while I’m here.
Jackson appears homogenous at the first and even second glance: affluent, outdoorsy, white. Art galleries, gear shops and ice cream parlors proliferate, with a streak of cowboy sensibility to remind everyone that they’re in Jackson instead of Vail. But under the money and outside downtown, a working-class and Hispanic population helps keep it all running. Without a car, that’s the group I tend to travel with to pick up groceries on the free town shuttle, and ride beside on the commuter bus in and out of town.
I catch that bus from Hoback Junction after a four-mile bike ride from the ranch, astride the ranch cook’s old Rock Hopper. The mornings are early and cold, but the days are long, with enough light to read by until nearly 10pm. While having a car here would simplify logistics, it would keep me at arm’s length from the place. It would also involve traveling with something large and expensive, eroding the kind of freedom that I’ve come to value so much.
My pleasure in this freedom seems almost absurd. With some research, a bit of planning, and a few small sacrifices, I can get where I need to go and do what I need to do minimally, without adding another car to the road, spending a lot of money, or asking for favors. In a place like this, where I am still new and distances are large, living with a light touch is intensely satisfying. Just as I traveled here with only a carry-on bag, I hope that this lesson will continue to stay with me.