Embracing Somewhere That is “Off the Grid”
These days we are almost always “connected”. We stand in line at the grocery or on the train platform and check our phones to see who has emailed, texted, or posted something. We are “available” for “work” no matter where we are or what time of day. We are constantly checking the news and weather to find out what is going on in the world and what will likely happen next. We take pictures and selfies not just for ourselves, but hoping to capture the moment so that we can share it with our communities. The connected world lets us stay in closer contact with people we may not see often but can also distance us from actually making human connections.
One of the greatest things about camping to me is that it is so far from my day-to-day life. My “regular” life is incredibly busy with commuting and days packed with meetings, with hobbies and home maintenance and activism and self-care. I struggle in regular life to find the time and make space to sit back, to think, to just embrace the sunshine and listen to the birds. Camping can be busy too, but with our style of camping, we try to keep things low key enough to make it distinctly different from the hustle and bustle of our usual life. Camping can force you to take time and be mindful— even making coffee in the morning with boiling the water on the one burner and using a pour-over method is a more deliberate and mindful method than what I use at home day-to-day.
At this point, we have gotten used to camping in places that are relatively connected. It is maybe not a great or fast cellular signal and there are definitely very few places with wifi hotspots in state campgrounds, but usually, we have some level of connectivity. In a lot of ways, it has changed our camping for the better. It allows us to check the weather and plan things more appropriately. It means we have maps with satellite images to see where we are going and are able to capture maps to use for hiking so we don’t get lost as often or as easily as we used to. It allows us to research things on the fly— “Where should we go for lunch?” “Let me check what is near!” It is enormously different and easier going (and less frustrating) than it was back in the day when I had to plan EVERYTHING before we got on the road. It has really helped camping feel like more of an adventure and less of yet another set of chores.
But some of the best places to camp, like our favorite spot in the Catskills (Kenneth Wilson between Woodstock and Phoenicia), are completely “off the grid”. There is no cellular signal here with any service. There is no wifi hotspot. Occasionally, you’ll get out a device and see a dot or a bar and get excited, but it is a ruse and you will be disappointed. You have to both plan for and accept being offline here, at least while you are at camp. You can drive 25 minutes in a couple of directions if connectivity is “necessary”. And there have been a couple of times when we were here that it was— once we were here when a project from work needed addressing and we drove into town and I finished it in the car and called into the office to coordinate. Another time we were here was when we were finalizing the contract on our house and we had to drive into town to find out if it had been counter-signed. But one of the best reasons to come here is to forcibly detach for at least a little bit.
It can be hard to accept when you are off the grid. OMG— adorable photo! Must post! Nope, most postpone and wait to see if that is really the one when that moment comes at some point later that you can check-in. Need to send a quick text to check in on a friend— nope. That will have to wait. Need to figure out if this rain is going to pick up and become a storm or not— nope. Going to have to wing it and just be prepared. Want to post a blog post— nope. That too can only be drafted and must wait until later to share with the world.
Being off the grid while camping forces you to slow down and be more present. It forces you to read— books and magazines you mindfully brought along to immerse yourself in. To take pictures and just enjoy them for yourself. To sit and breathe and smell the fire smoke and the pine needles. To lay in a hammock and enjoy being outside. To watch the people and creatures around you at the camp. To curl up in the camper on a rainy afternoon and share remembrances and nap. To mindfully prepare meals and savor the flavors of simple foods. To play a simple game of cards or toss a frisbee. To sit by a fire and watch the flames. To be quiet and listen to the sounds of nature. To let go of the outside world and just be.
These are all things we could do more often in the “connected” world. It’s nice once in a while to have this time to practice those things without distraction so we can remember them when we are surrounded with so many distractions that can easily pull us into their orbits.