Self-Care in the Wild & Back to the Basics of Being


Memorial Day weekend has just passed and I'm back at work. Everything is roughly the same as it was last week, except for me. I'm more human than I've been in months and I have a transformative backpacking trip in the wilderness to thank for it.

This past weekend, friends and I drove east of Santa Barbara to Los Padres National Forest. We packed our giant backpacks with the essential components for a weekend camping trip in the wild, including water for four days in the high desert.  

Before we set off on the rugged ten mile trail that led to the Manzana Schoolhouse campsite, we agreed as a group that we would "eat before we were hungry, drink before we were thirsty and rest before we were tired." This pact, along with the cumulative benefits of physical fitness, proved to be the key to ensuring this trip was enjoyed by all.

Our packs were enormous and filled to the brim with vital cargo. It had been years since I carried my pack for more than a mile. By mile three I was secretly summoning my inner strength and yogic mindset to make it to mile ten. 

In between sweeping views of mountains, valleys and dried up creek beds, we saw bright wild flowers, reptile buddies and birds of prey. We heard the wind say "shhh" through the valleys and trees. It cooled our sweat and helped us along the trail in the midday sun. We walked up and down over rocks and the roots of old trees, along sheer hillsides and golden grasses that left tiny spears in our socks so that we'd remember them awhile.

I recalled an experience I had of severe dehydration and its consequences from another outdoor mission years before.  I ran out of water while kayaking against the wind across Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua. I was sick and faint for days. Nature has a way of humbling us with reality checks: respect the elements; enter at your own risk; be ill-prepared to your own detriment.

By mile seven, just about every step hurt somewhere in my body. While I knew that I could and would go on, I imagined what would happen if I couldn't. After briefly calculating the possible outcomes, I figured that if I fell ill under the weight of my pack and the sun, my friends wouldn't leave me to die, so I'd be ok. My next thought was very clearly this: "be ok; do what you must do to be ok; don't leave your well-being to the last minute in the hands of others; take care of yourself now."

So, I made myself "be ok", as did my crew.  We took off our packs and rested in the shade before we were exhausted; we ate high-nutrient snacks and drank more than enough water along the way.

We ran into an enthusiastic group of volunteer forest rangers who advised us against a particular trail we intended to brave the next day. Two people had died there earlier in the season from heat stroke on the dry, confusing route of the mountains above. I thought I was going to die just standing there with my pack on, so I ate a ShotBlock and pounded some water.

At last we made it to mile ten and were pleased to find that we were, understandably, the only people there. Two crossfitters, a yogi and a beach volleyball player, all of whom felt the physical toll of our weighted trek.  When I took off my pack, I felt like I might float into the air. My limbs felt bizarre, like those of a foal taking its first steps.

We ate two servings each of a prepped meal our friend Molly (aka Superwoman) made for us. She and her hubby Chris eat like Paleo gourmands and made the most amazing camp superfoods you can imagine. By the end of the weekend, these foods had me feeling like a superhuman, and may forever change my eating habits.

Once our tent was up, I felt like I had been totaled. My honey B and I took a two hour nap in the early evening and listened to the bugs and the birds. We emerged from our tent to say hey to Mr. and Mrs. Superman, who had just gotten back from another two hour excursion. Athletes. We dove back into our sleeping bags and slept for ten more hours.

We awoke the next morning to a day with no agenda whatsoever. Our bodies ached, so I led us through a deep, stretchy flow of grounded yoga postures. While the SuperPeople ran the trail to fetch water from the nearest creek, I read a few chapters by Cheryl Strayed while lying in a hammock.

We spent the day at a liesurely pace, not needing to do anything too bold or daring. We followed the moves of a beetle and a gopher. We kicked around rocks and high-tailed out of a place that looked exactly like the rattlesnake enclosure at the San Diego Zoo. We turned fallen branches into Wizard staffs and hiked with them at sunset. We took photos of the landscape and each other in our wild element.

Once we were tucked into our tents for our last night, we were startled by the freakish cry of an injured animal. We heard a scuffle in the dry rockbed alongside our camp and stopped breathing as a group, our hearts pounding. The animal kept calling out with the strangest sounds I've ever heard from a creature. Then, it's cries were answered by a pack of demonic sounding canines that we heard gathering speed down the canyon, headed towards our camp. Our adrenaline was pumping as we grabbed our headlamps, lanters and wizard staffs and held down our place in the canyon. The noises ceased for good when we made a bold proclamation into the darkness to "stay the f*** away from our camp!" The noise and lights were likely enough to scare away whatever coyote party wanted to crash our picnic, but setting our boundaries out loud to the nocturnal animal kingdom made us feel like we were back at the top of the food chain. 

I sent distant Reiki to protect us from the beasts and fell asleep, while the next tent over slept with their boots on.  I woke up every so often thinking there was a mountain lion or a bear outside. If there was, it didn't want anything from us, which was all I needed to know. 

We arose from our tents mid-morning, packed up our camp, and headed back down the 10 mile trail to where this excursion began. Our packs were significantly lighter from having eaten our food and consumed our weight in water. We charged the trail at 2.5 miles per hour, a .5mph increase in speed from the way in.  This time at mile seven, I felt like I could handle another several miles. My body felt strong, capable and well-fueled by our superfoods, rest and hydration.

More than once on this trip, I asked myself why we we didn't just check into some bed and breakfast for Memorial Day weekend, or why we weren't at Lightning in a Bottle with friends and artists whom I love. Either would have provided inspiration and a respite from daily life, but our group needed a greater departure from our normal associations. We, like so many of us, have been so in the zone of work, entrepreneurship and our social lives that we hadn't had a reason to do nothing at all, or to simply be.

Being plugged into the grid of life in the city is awesome, especially when you have good reason for being there. Firing on all cylinders is like being in the flow of something much bigger than we are, making new connections and creating something out of nothing. But if we stay plugged in for too long, we'll blow a fuse. There's an excess of energy out there and too little time to process it all without burning out. Sometimes, a proper reboot of your machine requires a sharp tug of the chord from the socket.

That's what we did for ourselves this weekend. We pulled ourselves way out of our normal environment to plug back into the source: Nature. Plants. Animals. The food chain. Survival. 

I'm back at work and back to my groove, but I feel like a human again and less like a machine with a screw loose. I'm a little softer around the edges, given the relative beating I took while backpacking.  It's taken my sense of urgency down a notch, which makes me easier to be around. I'm more intentional with my time this week, hustling when it's important and slowing down in between things, conserving my energy so I can shine when I need to. 

I'm choosing to be a brighter light on this urban grid by not getting so caught up in it that I forget to take care of my basic needs. I'm eating before I'm hangry (hungry and angry), hydrating before I'm thirsty and going to sleep before I'm so tired my eyes hurt. I even look younger than I did last week. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us that the practice of Yoga is to still the patterning of our consciousness.  The practice itself involves removing ourselves from the normal patterns of life for a time to re-center, re-focus and return to our vital essence and needs as human beings.  Whether that time is taken on a yoga mat, on an outdoor adventure or on a lunch break, it is absolutely in our power to care for ourselves and stay human. Our survival depends on it.