I just got home from a twelve day road trip adventure, and I drafted this post while on the road. I spent four nights/five days camping down the coast of California, and it was lovely. It was also the first time I’d ever gone camping by myself, which ultimately felt really empowering.
The following is an only lightly edited version of what I drafted last week.
4.26.22 – I’m sitting by the campfire on my third night of solo camping, dearly hoping the wind has finally picked a direction and feeling only mildly ridiculous sitting in a camp chair with my laptop on my lap. I just can’t write as quickly by hand, and I want to record my thoughts for posterity – in a way that I might actually revisit. Journaling is lovely, but it’s not the same as getting my thoughts down in a blog post. I occasionally revisit my blogs of Cates past.
So how did I get here? Well, I recently discovered that camping is awesome. This was one of a series of revelations in early 2022 – a key one being that I’m entirely capable of being uncomfortable. That revelation came around mile 7 of the Zion half marathon, when I was running up a giant hill and it started to hail. Long distance running as a hobby is not about being comfortable.
And the ability to tolerate discomfort, I believe, is both a key to long term sobriety (something I’m prone to point out with some frequency now that I’m more than a decade in) and also a fundamental prerequisite for camping. Camping is not comfortable. It’s smelly, for one thing, and somewhat labor intensive. And you don’t sleep well. No matter how great your pad or air mattress or cot, sleeping while camping is not good or easy. (Not when you’re rapidly approaching forty and have all sorts of bodily aches and pains, anyway).
Nevertheless, camping is awesome. So is hiking, and the two are interlinked for me. But camping is relatively new to me, at least as a solo adult. My lovely father took me a few times here and there in my teens and early twenties, which I’m really grateful for even if I failed to properly appreciate it at the time. But it planted a seed that I’m now finally getting around to tending.
For me, I think what I’m most happy about is the way in which camping entails a break from screens. As someone who works from home, at my computer all day, it’s been deeply liberating not to have service for three days. It has been so deeply relaxing to not have access to all the stressors and distractions that a phone provides. To not be available to others. To take time to truly connect with myself and with nature and the universe. Frankly, it’s been hella restorative.
I’d like to say this kind of digital hiatus is something I can carry over into my regular life – actually turning off my phone sometimes or leaving it at home. But I’m not one to kid myself. Maybe it’ll happen, but I’m not holding my breath.
When I’m out in a state park, however, too far from civilization for the phone to function as anything but a mediocre digital camera – I feel free. I feel deeply present with myself and my surroundings. Time is no longer something I’m so perpetually attuned to (i.e. dominated by). And with that liberation of nowhere in particular to be and nothing in particular to do, I’m so much more free to find surprises or take unexpected detours.
This morning, I went on a hike I normally wouldn’t have. It was a few miles along the coastline, and normally I steadfastly avoid being in direct sun. But the friendly camp host recommended it and said there’d be a lot of wildflowers in bloom. And after three days of redwoods (much as I love redwoods), a change of scenery appealed. So, I hiked along the coast, and it was lovely. Windy as all get out, and cold, but lovely. And I got to get up close and personal with an unkindness of ravens (and then later enjoy looking up the collective noun!). And while I was scoping them out, I happened to look down at the cove I was standing on the edge of, and I noticed movement in the water. It turned out to be seals! Surprise seals! So, I took out my good camera (that I thankfully didn’t leave at home), and I snapped some pics (none of which ultimately turned out well). And I enjoyed the delightful surprise that nature offered up to me.
(For more photos from the trip, check out my Instagram feed)
Now, I should probably admit/remind my future self that it took more than a day for me to really unwind and get present. My head was still spinning from work and life and the future for most of the first day. But once I got all that over-thinking out of the way, and once I realized how hard I was pushing myself to accomplish all the hikes!, I’ve been able to chill.
A big realization of the last two days – which wasn’t actually a surprise but I think it’s finally sinking in – is the way that I tend to feel like I’m “wasting time” if I’m not moving. I have SUCH a hard time being still. And I tend to run myself ragged as a result. It’s not really FOMO in the way I would traditionally think of it. I think it’s just… an insatiable appetite for experience?
There are so many things I want to do and so many places I want to go. But in trying to do and see all of it, I often miss the quieter moments. Like the crazy croaking sound that a raven makes (which I am totally looking up when I get back to the internet). Or the sound of the hummingbird’s wings when it’s buzzing nearby. The dance of flames in a campfire. (Okay, that one I kind of do always have time for – but learning to start my own campfire has felt like quite the accomplishment after several false starts. Thank god for YouTube and the fact that I watched a video pre-departure).
As I know so many of us did, I found the first two years of the pandemic deeply isolating. But in a confined sort of way. Blame it on my Sagittarius sun sign or my ADHD or whatever you like, but I am not a homebody. And the inability to travel and visit people and places really limited my capacity for joy. While I’d certainly prefer to be on this trip with someone special, the fact that I’m taking it solo nevertheless feels deeply nourishing. I’m good at being alone. But I’m better at being alone and on the move.
I also got to listen to a lot of really thought-provoking and insightful audiobooks on this trip. And I want to record that here. I may get around to writing posts about them, or maybe I’ll finally start using Goodreads at some point. But for the moment, I just want to note that the following books are absolutely worth reading:
- Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown
- Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross
- Think Again by Adam Grant
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkman