What’s the best thing you can Do in the outdoors? Absolutely nothing.
This was an odd spring. It snowed and rained so much that even hardcore skiers like me started to wonder when it would end. And I couldn’t even get out and after the ski mountaineering lines that were calling to me because I was buried with work. Likewise, my wife was transitioning jobs and working extra hours. My daughter was stressed out over the pressures of high school finals. And my son felt the (way too early) crush of his first year at an academically focused middle school.
We needed an escape. So we planned to camp in the San Rafael Swell over Memorial Day weekend. Just packing the car for the trip (and digging out camping equipment we hadn’t used since fall) was a monumental effort. But we did it. The new Vampire Weekend album fueled the drive, and we rolled into a desert packed with other families. It didn’t take us too long to find a spot far from the crowds out on double-track road with a sweeping view of emptiness.
We set up around an old, dignified juniper and then did—nothing. No phones. No stress. No broken refrigerator. No plans. No weeds overtaking the yard. No commitments. Nothing. We just listened to the wind, laughed with each other, and spent some time in silence. And we realized just how much we needed it.
It reminded me just how important wilderness is to our survival. I saw the comedian Eddie Izzard last week and he gave a brief, brilliant summation of human history, from the Big Bang to J.R.R. Tolkien. His main point was that humans have these gifts of langauge and creativity, that most of us just want to be good to each other, but some humans are “fuckwitty.” While there were some fuckwits out in the desert that weekend—the ones who were teaching 8-year-olds how to shoot a shotgun in the midst of a campground stand out in particular—the wilderness seems to bring out the best in people away from all the demands and distractions of our increasingly digital life. Out here, we reconnect. We breathe.
From his retreat on Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”
Those often quoted words still ring true. I kept thinking of that quote when we were away, of how it explains our essential need to do just this. Phones, Instagram, test scores, work, we get lost in all of it. The cure is easy—and appropriate for this the Road Trip issue of Elevation Outdoors. Just get in your vehicle. Drive. Find nothing. Do nothing.