I’ve always loved the outdoors. I’ve spent a lot of my life running around in the woods by my house, camping with my dad and brother, or even better, off on river adventures through muddy canyons or pristine mountain rivers. For so long I viewed the outdoors solely as a beautiful place to get away from the hectic maelstrom of daily life, but recently I found a new reason to spend time outside.Last summer I drove out West, car packed full of gear, with Dad, my brother Tennyson, and two of my uncles to do some whitewater kayaking.
We took a three-day trip down the Colorado River, just downriver from Gore Canyon, one of the more dangerous stretches of water in the West. The first night, we camped out on the dusty riverbank and ate freshly caught rainbow trout — ”a feast any day, but especially after paddling all day at altitude in the brilliant Colorado sun.Not too long after the sun dropped behind the canyon wall, I settled into my sleeping bag without hesitation. Our campsite was directly adjacent to the railroad tracks.
We had seen one or two trains wind through earlier when we were getting on the river, but I hadn’t thought much of it. I guess it was around three a.m. when I awoke to a dull rumbling in the distance.
The noise became louder and louder until the ground beneath me began to vibrate. When it finally came around the bend, the train shook everyone else awake. A hundred and fifty or so cars later, the noise faded slowly into the distance and the silence crept back upon the campsite.
Despite the silence, I was definitely awake. My mind had been jumpstarted and no matter how tired my body was, I couldn’t turn off my relentless thought process. Eventually, I gave in to my senses and got dressed, then left the tent as quietly as possible.
The sun had not yet begun to rise, and an indigo hue filled the sky. The stars were out by the thousands, and it was hard to keep my eyes off them. I started to walk away from the campsite, as if by default.
It didn’t seem like there was much else to do.I wandered around the canyon for the next four hours, completely alone. There were no other people for miles around. At some point I realized that I had never been alone like that.
I had walked by myself for up to fifteen minutes on the way back and forth to the bus stop. I had been in my room by myself, but usually there was someone else in the house, or at least a neighbor was home. But on that clear blue night, I had wandered 3-5 miles away from the campsite along the railroad tracks.For me, this felt like so much more than just being surprisingly alone for a few hours.
I had a sacred experience of sorts, a commune with nature, an epiphany. What I did was not extraordinary. I was not meditating or attempting to have a spiritual experience. It just happened: I felt grounded and whole, I felt truth, and I felt parts of my brain working that hadn’t fired for a long time. I happily waited for the sun to crest the canyon wall, and even though I had only slept 4 hours, I was ready for the day ahead. When I got back to camp, Dad and my Uncle Quick were drinking coffee just watching the sun rise. ‘Where ya’ been?’ Dad asked. The right words to explain ‘where I’d been’ didn’t make themselves available to me. I wanted to share, but the experience was too new and strange to express. I could only respond, ‘I just went for a walk.’
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