Digital Detox Desert Thoughts

Dawn at Mesa Arch. One of life’s true high-five moments. It never disappoints. Regardless of season.

The sun, as it crests the La Sal Mountains, ignites the arch’s underside like the coil on a stovetop burner turning it from brick red to pumpkin orange. It’s Mom Nature’s version of desert psychedelia. Pure zow.

I shared the moment with approximately 20 strangers. Mostly camera buffs equipped with high-powered cameras and multiple lenses. Nature paparazzi.

On the hike back to my car I conversed with a lady from Connecticut who shared that her husband called her crazy for getting up before dawn and then had the audacity to suggest that he would experience the sunrise, from the comfort of his hotel bed, through her Instagram post.

It made me think of the seminal Apple ad from the 1980s that said, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers, The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. ”

Here’s to the crazy ones, indeed.

Crazy, of course, is a matter of perspective. But in this day of screen obsessions, when we, on average, now spend almost two hours per day on social media, which, over the course of one year, shockingly equates to almost a full month squandered to mindless distraction, we need to ask ourselves: What stripe of crazy do we want to be?

The one who dares to hit a desert trail before dawn in hope of recharging life? Or the one in constant search of an electrical outlet for recharging a phone?

The one who pursues new experiences? Or the one who pursues new Twitter followers?

The one who sits wrapped in a down sleeping bag atop a mountain pondering the night sky’s infinite mysteries? Or the one who sits atop a recliner staring at apps with all the answers?

The one who embraces getting lost in a forest? Or the one who feels lost when without WiFi?

The one who spends an afternoon in cold, pouring rain reading a trout stream? Or the one who spends an afternoon in Starbucks reading Facebook posts?

The one who understands that every overturned canoe, every leaky tent, every three-mile portage, every busted surfboard, every snapped bicycle chain on a remote mountain single track, every lost ski in backcountry powder is but a temporary inconvenience that will evolve into a life-long, hell-yeah memory? Or the one who doesn’t understand that every hour spent mindlessly scrolling through Facebook is time being taken away from pursuing kick-ass experiences and fire-in-the-belly aspirations.

The one who understands life begins outside the comfort zone? Or the one who who wishes there was an expand-your-comfort zone app?

Get crazy. Get outside. Get inconvenienced. Get muddy. Get lost. Get sunburned. Get hungry. Get cut. Get bit. Get wet. Get chased. Get curious. Get thirsty. Get cold. Get bewildered. Get astonished. Get living. Or, in other words, get off your phone.

Best Not to Describe Camping

While lying on the Utah desert floor cinching the sleeping bag’s hood so only my nostrils were left exposed to the sleep-denying cold, I concluded that it’s a good thing we have words for outdoor recreation otherwise we’d lose interest if we had to describe our favorite activities.

Take camping for example. The word itself conjures happy images of pitching tents along forested edges of gin-clear lakes, conversations around campfires, and monarch butterflies landing on the foreheads of small children.

If someone asks, “Want to go camping?” the outdoor-minded don’t think twice. It sounds fun. Yet, if we didn’t have a word for camping getting people outdoors would take convincing.

I would give second thought if some of my backpacking friends instead of asking “Want to go camping?” asked “Want to spend the weekend without furniture and focus every waking second to avoiding mosquitos, ticks, bears, and mountains lions?

And then at night sit around a campfire attempting to escape camp smoke that regardless of wind direction somehow defies all logic and follows your every step? And then when it comes time to call it a night sleep on wafer-thin air mattresses filled with our own foul breaths. But don’t worry about sleeping. We’ll be too bug-eyed awake from the comforting realization that even though all of our food is dangling from a sturdy branch inside a bear bag, bears also like meat, we’re the meat, and we’re on the ground.

After limited sleep we’ll rise at dawn and eat freeze-dried cheese omelettes from a foil pouch. Just before you’re about to compliment the deliciousness of the meal you or someone else will realize we forgot to remove the oxygen absorption packet from the pouch. We’ll then become obsessed with food poisoning concerns, distracting our attentions, leaving us vulnerable against mosquitoes, ticks, bears, and mountain lions.

Out of necessity we’ll then spend the afternoon collecting firewood like hapless medieval peasants. Just so we can repeat last night, with all of its discomforts and fears, all over again.

So what do you say? You in?”

I’d hesitate, but I’d be in. For what sounds like discomfort is actually the entranceway to experiences and memories. A weekend spent camping – good or bad – will perpetually bloom in the brain as a king-wow memory, forever fueling a sustaining sense of being alive.

Try saying that about a weekend spent indoors watching TV. No memories, only guilt for squandering time that can never be recovered.