What I Learned From Camping Alone for 48 Hours

By Justin Adams

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Every year my family goes camping to the same place: Washington Lake. It’s the same lake where my Dad used to camp as a Boy Scout, but it now boasts an organized campground with tables, fire pits, tent pads and outhouses that actually don’t make you dry-heave. This place has grown much more popular since these additions, but in my opinion, it’s still one of Utah’s best-kept secrets.

This year, my family couldn’t make it up to the lake until Thursday, and when you get there that late in the week, you risk not being able to get a camp site. I volunteered to go up on Tuesday to claim a spot and then stay there alone until my family could join me.

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Being an ardent introvert, I didn’t foresee having any problems with being alone for two days. So to make my time more interesting, I decided to also go without the use of electronics (except for a camera to help record the experience). As someone who spends a lot of time online, I thought it would be interesting to see how I would react to a complete disconnect from all things digital.

I ended up being very surprised by what I missed the most. It wasn’t my laptop and internet that keep me informed. It wasn’t my iPod or my TV that keep me entertained. It wasn’t my phone that keeps me connected. It was one of the most under-appreciated electronic features that permeates every aspect of society and dictates our lives every day: a clock.

“What time is it?” is one of the most common questions we ask. What time do you work? When does his plane come in? What time is the game on? How late does your class go? We don’t realize how dependent we are on this artificial construct called time until we have to go without it.

Even though I was camping in the middle of the Uintas, with no responsibilities, meetings or deadlines, I still felt a need to know what time it was. You would think that it might be liberating to spend a few days in a vacuum where time doesn’t exist, but you’d be wrong. It’s really bizarre, and I don’t recommend it.

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One of the days was overcast and rainy. Without even the position of the sun to help, I had no idea what time it was when I rolled out of my sleeping bag. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been seven o’clock or 11 o’clock. So for the rest of the day I wasn’t sure if I was tired because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep or because I had slept way too much. I took a nap at one point. Afterwards I couldn’t have told you if I had slept twenty minutes or four hours. I felt like I was in some kind of purgatory that was at once both fleeting and unending.

Luckily for me, there was at least one day where the sun was shining, which makes it possible to at least estimate the time. On this day, I decided to hike Haystack Mountain. There is no designated trail to the top of Haystack Mountain. You just have to bush-whack your way up the side. This is great, because it discourages most people from doing it, so I had the whole mountain to myself for several hours.

The contents of the geo-cache.

The contents of the geo-cache.

As I walked along the ridge, I didn’t see any litter left from previous hikers. The only sign of human activity I saw was a bright red water bottle that was serving as a geo-cache. The cache’s log book only had four or five signatures in it. Clearly this wasn’t a very highly-trafficked location. As I started exploring less-accessible portions of the ridge, I started to consider the possibility that I was the first human being to ever set foot on a particular rock or patch of dirt. Then I imagined myself as an American Indian, sitting atop this same mountain a millennia ago, before the man-made lakes and before half the forest had died from a beetle infestation. I thought about the relentless passage of time and how all of our personal geo-caches, our record of who we are and where we’ve been, will inevitably be lost.

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Yet despite the fact that everything we do to be remembered will one day be forgotten, our drive to leave something behind seems tied to human nature itself. And in our modern society, that drive to record us doing a thing often precedes the drive to do the thing itself. For example, I’m not sure I would have volunteered to go camping by myself for two days if I hadn’t intended to write an essay about the experience. Did I climb that mountain because I wanted to, or because I thought maybe it would make a good Instagram post?

All of our experiences have inherent value, but they are slowly becoming just a means to an end, that end being some form of media for others to consume. Why? Because the value of media, unlike an experience, is easily quantifiable. Whether it’s a picture on Instagram, a video on YouTube, or an essay on this website, you can measure the worth of your experiences in views, likes, and comments. Is that a good way of measuring our lives? Absolutely not. But we do it anyways. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else.

So I’m going to challenge myself (and you, if you’d like) to live in the moment. To do something for the sake of the thing itself. To climb a mountain without a camera. To enjoy the world without worrying about our place in it.

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