Well the car almost didn’t make it back to the main road. The way was very steep, and very rutty, and went over a bunch of non-flat, foliage-covered terrain. Going down was hard and slow enough, but going up, the car nearly decided it didn’t want to be our friend any longer. It strained to pull with just one or two wheels at a time through all of that.
When we did finally make it back to the road, I got out and inspected the undercarriage just to be sure that everything was still intact. The air dam was pulled off, but I can get that reattached. Other than that, all seems to be well, and when we finally got back on real pavement, I could swear that the car actually enjoyed the easy race down the long, winding road. It revved and ran and didn’t complain a bit—as opposed to our experience trying to get back to the main road up a very steep and uneven grade, during which it shuddered and choked a lot.
— § —
Being entirely off the grid works a kind of magic.
It’s been many years since I was completely disconnected. Disconnected from everything in society. These days, the general tendency seems to be to introduce one or two reassuring artifacts of civilization even into “roughing it” situations.
Safety nets. I get it. Things to ensure that there is zero risk and so on. Things to let you know that you are still a part of society, and that if you disappear, society will come looking for you.
But we were off the grid entirely. Out of visual contact of any roads whatsoever. Unmarked area on maps—it just looks like flat “wilderness” on every map. No cell service. No electricity. No water. No structures. No vault toilet. No evidence of humans whatsoever. Just us.
I didn’t think you could experience anything important in the space of an evening and a morning, much less with two kids in tow, but we did. At the very least, I did.
Coming back to the main road was like a strange dream. And when we finally reached the lower part of the loop and emerged into Sundance and had cell service again, it was like being that person in the movies who is brought forward from the past into the future. It was all amazing again.
Being off the grid, you, just you, a tiny handful of humans on your own, changes your perspective on living. It reminds you both of how small you are and of how powerful you are, you the human with the big brain who can march around a natural area and do things for yourself, make fires, clear paths, erect shelters—yet who is also helpless in the face of nature’s larger picture—in the sheer scale of it all.
It’s been a long time since I had that feeling of stepping back from society, of stepping back from the bullshit and understanding something deeper about being, and about myself.
— § —
I think the last time I really felt it was when I drove highway 101 by myself more than a decade ago—just myself, my car, and beaches for hundreds of miles.
I also remember feeling it years ago when C—, D—, and myself got lost in the Moab deserts, ran out of water, and thought we were about to die (we nearly did, but a ranger happened by and found us unconscious).
I felt it again this morning, coming back from the mountain. The big picture:
- Most everything in day-to-day life is pointless, and a lie.
- We all have our priorities wrong.
- The truth is hidden from almost everyone.
- Underneath it all we are naked and alone, and we will be that way in death—sooner rather than later.
- It is worth it to enjoy the little things for that reason.
I have always been a bit of a monk, disconnected from social norms, not because I am dysfunctional (as some have imagined) but because I honestly believe that they are a bit like lipstick on a pig, as the proverb goes.
They are about modern man (and woman) lying to themselves about mortality and the meaning of life.
— § —
One thing that strikes me as interesting as I reflect on last night’s experience and on my life of the years since I last had a similar experience is the degree to which people want to change your mind about all of this.
Every time I make a new friend or get into a relationship or whatever other similar event might share characteristics with these things, there is, over time, a great desire to talk me out of them. To get me to “buy in” to the illusion, to the American Idols and Facebooks and real estate and organic food and manners about wine when arriving and parties and so on and so forth.
I’m told over and over again how important they are, sometimes in humor, sometimes with anger.
And over and over again in my life, I’ve slipped. I do start to listen. I bow to the pressure. I begin to buy in. I lose sight of what I’ve learned.
And then I have an experience that reminds me.
No, no, it really is all bullshit. It multiplies like the colors in a rainbow, each social milieu graced with its own brand of lies and bullshit. But in fact they are—for the most part—all equally embarrassingly full of it.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016
Only here and there do you spot enlightened individuals that actually know the score. And you can always pick them out in a second. They aren’t antagonistic, but they’re not onboard with the program, either. They’re good-natured. They’re amused.
And, big picture, they’re doing something entirely different from everyone else around them.
— § —
After we got back, the kids were dying to do something. The adrenaline hadn’t worn off. They wanted back out into nature, something fierce.
So we hopped back in the car and drove to Red Butte Garden and Arboretum where we had one of the loveliest visits I’ve ever had there. It was different, largely because of the moment in which it occurred.
It was leisurely, unhurried and without urgency. We wandered, played, relaxed. We dug for a very long time in the sandbox in the Children’s Garden. We fed a squirrel by hand. We looked out over the water.
And then we came home.
And here we are.
— § —
Once you decide there’s nothing for you in something, there’s nothing for it but to leave that something behind.
Life is short, and lying to yourself serves no good purpose. Most people believe otherwise.