Learning to go at a Horse’s Pace

For a long weekend in August, architect Sten Witmer’s pace was distilled to that of a horse as he saddled up and ventured into the Bob Marshall Wilderness for his MTQBatical. Reaching camp after covering 15 miles with 4 hours in the saddle, the remoteness sank in. It would be a long way out if something went sideways. Many people used to live with that reality, some still do – the camp cook lives here for weeks at a time, alone. This specific camp got its start as a CCC camp in the 30’s, it did time as a forest service outpost, and now it serves duty for an outfitter. It is well appointed with six wall-tents for guests with plywood sleeping platforms and wood stoves. Camp is complete with a firepit and timber benches, a mess tent, a couple of tented pit-toilets, supply caches, staff tents, hitching posts for short-stay guests, and a corral for the long-timers. It makes your mind wander toward notions of necessity and nice-to-haves. It only requires a few essentials to create a comfortable existence.

Sten’s Route (Green)

Absent from the sensory overload of daily life, senses were heightened. Throughout the weekend Sten kept coming back to “pace”. Pace of living – each day had a rhythm. In that remote place it was easy and natural to wind down as the sun went down after dinner. You naturally awake when the tent illuminates with morning light. Pace of the trail – on horseback, the movement through a landscape is similar to walking, but your attention can drift. Your body falls into the rhythm of the hoof-falls. You can travel some serious distance without becoming too tired, but you also are going slow enough to notice fresh grizzly tracks on the trail.

Pace is intrinsically tied to the processing of information. This was most evident when the trail neared a waterfall. Before any other signs, you smell the dampness of the woods, it’s hard to place, but it’s different than it was minutes ago. Shortly thereafter, you feel a drop in the ambient air temperature, it feels slightly cooler. Eventually you hear a noise that becomes recognizable as the rush of water. Finally, you see the color white, through gaps in the dense trees. It was a fascinating realization, and more powerful memory, to have this waterfall slowly revealed through clues.

Thinking this trip was about other things, it turned out to be about Horse Pace. Or general speed of experience, speed of information intake. It was a lesson in reveal and its power in the understanding a particular environment. It was a lesson in creating memorable spatial experience.