We spend every waking moment of our lives engaging in mindless busy work, swiping away on over-priced tech devices, staring at LCD panels stationed at our desks, and slowly wasting away evenings, staring at dazzling black mirrors from the comforts of our couches and lazy boys. Time quickly passes us by while the night slowly creeps in. We look back in remembrance of the morning sunrise and ask, “How did I get here?” Far too often, our most valuable resource is drained from us. Our accounts are slowly hemorrhaging, and although we don’t know how many days we have until they finally run out, we know that we will never be able to make a deposit. I mention this because all too often our culture tends to neglect the physical world, while exalting the ever-encompassing cyberspace around us. Far too often our minds are not at rest, and far too often we forget to set them at ease.
There are only a few things in this world capable of making me feel truly at peace with the chaos around me. A few come readily to mind: lying stretched out in the sun on a hot day, sometimes with a book, and sometimes without; watching the heat lightning streak across Florida’s evening sky, the smell of burning glades far from civilization; but perhaps the thing that calms my soul more than any other, is connecting with the natural world: hiking and climbing nature’s obstacles, conquering the challenges she lays before me, and respecting the journey that she allowed me to embark on.
Earlier in the year, some young men of similar body and mind, made a choice to travel across the country and spend the day hiking in one of nature’s most spectacular natural wonders.
A quick pit stop at Walmart for some supplies, and we were off. As we approached Red Rock National Park, the mountains rose to meet us. We were all still wracked with exhaustion, having all flown in from the East Coast and arriving late in the evening, scarcely having three hours of sleep between us. We would have never predicted that by the end of that day we would have trekked across 12 miles of the Mojave Desert before The Sun had set.
By this time, we had all only known each other from our interactions online, never did we think we would all be crammed in a rental car hurtling down the 159. When we finally came to a stop, we all got out and stretched our legs, a much needed exercise after a night of flying. We stuffed our bags with several liters of water, trail mix, and a Costco’s worth of granola bars. As we set out on the trail, we stopped frequently to examine the native flora and fauna.
As we examined this alien world, we rambled on about every topic imaginable all the while, bickering amongst each other like old friends. As the sun rose higher in the sky, we shed some layers and carried on as the brisk morning air was supplanted by The Sun’s warm embrace.
There is something unusually primal and foreign to scrambling across the rocky terrain: all four limbs connected to the earth in some form or another; nothing separating one’s person from a potentially deadly fall as a result of a poor handhold or uncoordinated foot placement. I am reminded of ancient people, for whom so much of their lives revolved around surviving, the most basic of our natural instincts. When I am at one with nature, I am reminded how little time has really passed in the history of mankind, and how little much of that has under the conditions of what we call “civil society.”
As we trekked across the desert terrain, we decided to take a detour up to the Calico Tanks, adding a few miles to our already lengthy journey. The trail led us up hill and over boulders at a considerable incline. It was a beautiful day, and unsurprisingly there were many hikers out and about. Everyone we met along the way was friendly and accommodating, occasionally stopping to talk with passersby and share in the experience, even if only for a moment. It felt weird flying all the way across the country and hiking in the wilderness, to finally have an authentic conversation with a stranger.
Every time we passed a stranger that was making their way back out of the canyon, they would remind us that we were almost there, almost to the top. After the fifth time we heard this, our destination was finally at hand. The ground gave way to massive basin, flanked on both sides by sheer rock faces. Just beyond the canyon opened up to a stunning vista: ruddy terrain as far as the eye could see. Mountains disappearing on the horizon in a haze of fog, and the city of Las Vegas sprawling across the desert floor out into the distance.
We all sat here for a long while. We refueled on trail mix and water, and talked amongst ourselves. Had I gone alone, this would have been the perfect spot to crack open a book and get lost in its pages. Although the sun was directly overhead, the cool air from the canyon washed over us down to the valley floor below. Unfortunately, the would-be silence was periodically shattered by a group of young adults making TikToks on the other side of the basin— the shape of which carried the sound to every corner. They were making crude sex noises while families with children just had to sit there and endure. I admit, it took a lot of effort on our part not intervene and let it spoil the moment, but it did, however, shatter the illusion.
For a few hours we were able to slowly unwind and decouple from the modern world, leaving all of its distractions behind as we slowly forgot about our day-to-day struggles and hardships. No work, no cell phones, no politics, and no unwarranted distractions. But this was only a temporary respite, one that couldn’t last forever. The party was ready to make the trek back to the car, but I must admit, no amount of blisters on my feet could have made me okay with returning to modernity. I think it says something profound about our way of life, that so many of us search for a way out of the noise, and that so many end up finding irreversible solutions.
When my girlfriend got the pictures I sent her, she told me how she couldn’t remember the last time she saw me that happy. As I sit here in my office writing this piece, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, and think about what she told me, I still don’t know how to feel about it.
As I look back on this trip, I am reminded of a quote by Pythagoras: “Leave the road, take the trails.”