REI’s #OptOutside campaign is brilliant. It’s brilliant because regardless of how individuals ultimately decide to spend Black Friday, it aims a spotlight on the value of the natural world to our well-being, both personally and as a collective. It’s brilliant because it’s authentic. I know this because I used to work at #REI. I know this because I found my ‘people’ there–friends of all ages who spent their free time hiking, skiing, and cycling, any activity that brought them outside. I know this because our adventures in the outdoors were supported by the corporate mothership.
I’m a firm believer in the power of the outdoors in replenishing me in order to give my best self personally and personally. One of the beautiful benefits of working for myself is an ability to visit outdoor places on week days to avoid crowds. I’m a seeker of solitude, quiet, and the lovely sound of wind whistling through trees, the first site of light at dawn, and I’m enraptured by full moon walks without headlamps. I have a longing, or a dream, that our nation would have one night a month where all artificial light was eliminated so that every human being could look up and see the night sky without light pollution. There is something magnificent about remembering how small we are, how while we are significant in our unique existence, it’s not all about us.
My fiancé and I decided to celebrate the cool months of fall in Colorado with a four-day camping trip to Moab, camping just outside Canyonlands. We were there to mountain bike during the day and enjoy the full moon in the evening. I was going to experience the White Rim for a day – something I had been pestering Rob to do since I met him. It was our first camping trip together and I won’t lie, the preparation for the trip was pretty darn exciting too as we rediscovered our cool gadgets and gear from GSI Outdoors, REI and Goal Zero and tested our iconic Coleman stove.
The trip was fantastic, but we learned something: Camping has changed significantly. And I’m conflicted.
The quiet of our campsite was disrupted by the generators of motor homes and campers. There was the glare of a television inside a camper a few sites away. We chose a more secluded spot in the campground, which had many empty spots, but new arrivals invariably chose the spot next to us and I wondered if it was because our human company provided comfort? One young couple broke the branches of Juniper trees for firewood and our moonlit walk across slick rock just outside of our campground was interrupted by a drone hovering in the distance. We declared that if we had a bebe gun we would shoot it down without apology.
I was disappointed. I was angry at all the other campers who seemed unable to appreciate solitude and leave behind the comforts of home for a few days and just exist in the serenity of this beautiful place. And then I thought, was this fair? Is it perhaps possible that our campmates were spending time outside that they might not have precisely because of these creature comfort?
I’m as conflicted as Edward Abbey was in his evergreen essays in Desert Solitaire.Essays that I believe are even more relevant today.
“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” ~ Edward Abbey
The soul of me wants everyone to understand how it feels to hear nothing at all, nothing but the natural world or how it feels to eat a simple meal next to a campfire and have it taste better than any damn five-star restaurant or how calming it feels to be disconnected from all our technological addictions. And the other side of me wants to be more generous and appreciative of those that are afraid or uncertain of our natural world and without judgment embrace their experience in whatever way it manifests itself.
But I am conflicted. I am selfish in my search for solitude and simplicity. I am selfish in my need for escape.
Leaving Canyonlands on our final day we spied a campground that said the magical words “no trailers,” and we decided our next camping trip would seek this spot.
Maybe we can coexist. But I’m still conflicted.