Within one hour of arriving at our campsite a bear decided to stop in for a visit. We had heard the stories, knew the likelihood of an encounter, and even saw the “you are now entering bear country” sign at the trailhead. No amount of preparation makes it any less scary when you’re staring a 500-pound bear in the face.
The bear was running towards us, and we didn’t notice until it was forty yards away. When we realized what was happening, our reaction scared the bear away. I think it was more interested in the food we were preparing than mauling us. Even still, the image stayed seared in our mind the whole trip, and falling asleep that night wasn’t the easiest.
Yellowstone was my first endeavor with backcountry camping in bear country. It was unlike anything I’ve done in terms of wilderness. It’s truly a massive and beautiful park, and there were moments, much like I described about being in Ireland, where I had to remind myself this is real.
My phone was useless, other than the camera, for most of the trip. Once I knew the “No Service” indicator wasn’t going away, I switched to airplane mode, and with that all of the constant stimuli of phone calls, text messages, emails, notifications, and social media went silent.
We were fortunate enough to be camping within forty yards or so of a river, but even with that convenience every single ounce of water we drank had to be filtered. Firewood had to be constantly gathered. The next meal always involved bringing bear bags down from the trees. Nothing was as easy as being at home.
I realized throughout most of the day we did two things. We spent time on necessities: food, water, fire. We spent time together as friends. It was that simple. And you know what I realized? Time didn’t fly by. The day never got away from me. In fact, there were multiple times I thought it was 2pm, only to realize it was barely 10:30am.
I don’t think we realize what our busy schedules and technology do to our brains. They’re creating a self-induced, anxiety-laden time warp where we miss the simplest and richest aspects of our existence. I’m grateful I’m not at risk of dying from the common cold like the early settlers, but I also think we’ve acquired a new sickness they weren’t at risk of.
We weren’t built to maintain the pace many of us keep, and you don’t realize how ridiculous the whole system is until you’re outside of it. Maybe I’m just nature-drunk and sound like I read Walden recently, but I truly think my conviction is legitimate here.
The last night we were there we stepped away from the fire into a nearby opening to look at the stars. With zero light pollution, the stars were clearer than ever before. We could see the faint light of the Milky Way and could easily pick out constellations. It was a moment of awe I’ll carry with me always.
I can’t fly across the country to a national park every weekend, but I can turn my phone off and drive one mile to Moss Rock Preserve. Disconnecting, seeking moments of wonder and awe, returning to the simplest parts of life—it’s the antidote to this busy-sickness we’re creating. I know I need it, and I would venture to say you probably do, too.