Last week, I went on my first backpacking (called tramping in New Zealand) trip. It was on a track that the New Zealand Department of Conservation deems is the “most beautiful track in the world,” the Milford Track. I have no way to determine that, but I can say that it was absolutely amazing.
All sorts of things could have gone wrong. Along the track, you sleep in huts with anywhere from 8-20 other people in a room with you. The region, Fiordland, gets around 200 days of rain per year, snow can appear on Christmas Day (the middle of the summer in New Zealand), and when it rains, it can really, really rain. I heard stories of people trudging through water up to their chests, having to be taken off the track in a helicopter, and having to spend several hours in non-sleeping huts because it was too unsafe to leave. And to add to my fears, my ankle is still sore from a year-old injury, and based upon a 10-hour hike my friend and I did two days before we set out for the tramp, my knee was not loving me either.
But I refused to allow the fear and concern to control my thoughts. Instead, I have been “practicing” for this track all year long. I have gone out in the rain without being upset about it. I have done long hikes up beautiful mountain passes. I have been sleeping in dorm rooms in hostels. And I have been meditating and doing yoga, mentally preparing to look on the bright side and just go with whatever happens.
We had amazing weather. The other hikers were awesome. And I even did not get too badly attacked by the sandflies (think mosquitoes but even more annoying). For four glorious days, I let the vacation responder answer my emails. I told my family and friends where I would be. I went offline . . . for real.
And I was rewarded with this:
The final point on the track. We made it!
Tree Pose at the top of the pass!
Mountains and bush and fields. It was absolutely amazing!
I got off the track and wanted nothing to do with my email, and nothing to do with facebook. I had over 800 unread items in my Google Reader, but I did not care. The world did not fall apart while I was not paying attention. Certainly things happened, and there was news that interested me upon my return to civilization, but I finally found the perspective to completely turn off.
It felt amazing.
There is no question that people are asked and expected to be constantly connected. We liken our phones to addictive drugs (crackberries). It is no secret that I struggle with this. I have struggled with my addictionto the news (and let’s be honest, to facebook as well), and my fear of going offline. I was so worried about being disconnected that I gave my parents specific instructions on how to get in touch with me if something went drastically wrong.
But as I finished the last few miles of the track, I found myself not even concerned about what my inbox held. Of course, I opened it up and found all sorts of junk mail and a few great emails. I learned about the news I had “missed.” I even signed into facebook and saw that one of my friends had a baby.
Interestingly, I am still traveling. I am now in Auckland and attending the New Zealand Family Law Conference beginning on Sunday. I will be traveling quite a bit after that. I’m less concerned now with how I will stay connected. Instead, I’m searching for hikes and ways to get away. I leave New Zealand in just over three weeks, and I will be back to work before the end of 2011. But thinking about that takes away from my enjoyment of today.
On the track, I had to constantly remind myself to be there and not in my head about conferences, child abuse, and international travel. There is no doubt that my mind wandered away from the New Zealand bush and mountains, but being completely offline and totally away gave me some perspective on the addictive lives we lead. Surprisingly, my shoulders have never felt as relaxed as they felt carrying a 40-pound pack over 3,000 feet over a mountain pass in gale-force winds.
How often do you turn off? How often do you get away? Do you let yourself? What have you learned when you have?
© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.