If everyone knew and felt what we do about being in the outdoors, the experience would probably be something akin to backpacking on a mountain top freeway.
You Americans are incrediably lucky to have all that grandiose space. Here in Japan the mountains literally are very often highways. It isn't uncommon to be trudging up a trail and have groups of 50 to 100 (Japanese love traveling in big groups) come juggernauting down the opposite way, forcing you to stop every twenty minutes to wait for them to pass and, get this, because of the tradition here of always greeting mountain walkers, having to cheerfully sound out "Good morning!" or "Good afternoon!" to EVERY one of the individuals in the groups! Last summer, descending from the peaks early one morning to catch the bus at the bottom, I passed over 20 such groups. By the time the 15th group appeared in front of me and they didn't even stop to let me pass, I lost my temper with the leader, telling him that after having to wait for over 500 people to pass me my generosity was wearing very thin. Of course the leader and the group were completely amenable and stood aside to let me pass... after all they were up in the here because they love the mountains, too.
In spite of the people, and very often because of the people, I nevertheless love backpacking even in Japan. For myself it is as others have written here, when I get up there and out there it feels as if the bungee cords that strap me to the complications of city life snap away and only the things that life really asks of you remain. The lighter the pack and simpler the gear the more engrossed in a place you become. Like the simplicity of animals, who are literally completely immersed in their surroundings. When I am out in the mountains I always feel that the reasons we are alive all click into place... the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects all in one, without discrepancy or hypocrisy.
As for meeting other people, there is something about the mountains or being out in wild, demanding places that forces people to become humbler and more interdependant. The close-mouthed, often stoically private Japanese of the cities suddenly turn into the friendliest, most generous, kindest people you can imagine. Countless times I've had food shared with me. On several occasions, especially when I was new to backpacking, I've had individuals literally save me in dangerous situations. And I never hesitate to do the same in return. I like who these people and I become. It's the way people are supposed to take care of one another. The Earth demands generosity and consideration for survival; something that so often is lost in cities until some big disaster happens.
The trick is how to make backpacking happen more often in my life. I dream about it all the time, literally every day, but can never get out as much as I need to.