Retreat! Retreat! Run away! Run Away – at least for a day. I, gasp!, took another day off. In the balancing of life and money, bare necessities necessitate working seven days a week. I’m known for my endurance (marathons, cross-continent bicycle rides, etc.) but I am also human. Logic dictates working every day until my finances have recovered sufficiently to take regular days off. I’m not there yet, but the realities of being human mean eventually needing to step back, even to the point of running away. I ran away to my mountains for a day and a night. And learned a lot about my fears, anxieties, and joys. Thank you, Valhalla.
Like many people I know, I work every day. It isn’t through choice. Working every day is required to pay every bill, even for someone with fewer and smaller bills as my frugal self. This year is far better than the last two years. I have just enough work to pay all of my regular bills thanks to four main clients, several short-term projects, and my regular classes, books, and photos. Add them all up and they just make enough to pay for the essentials, except taxes. Got to find a way to pay the government too.
The irony is that I am a strong proponent of balancing work and life. The universe presents us with lessons, sometimes rather forcefully, that expose our assumptions. Balancing work and life in today’s society is something that we’re only beginning to accept within social circles. Many people are working hard to keep the right job and the right car and the right house while doing the right things, except that they weren’t the ones that defined what was right. Tackle that, identify your personal values, live to them, and challenge convention with a life much better lived.
The reality for many people in situations like mine exposes the limits of that assumption. Implicit within the idea of balancing work with life is the assumption that work is producing more money than necessary. With 1/6th of Americans in poverty, there is sufficient proof that many people’s jobs aren’t producing more than enough money. Working every day isn’t a choice made to afford luxuries. Working every day is a necessity measured in balancing necessities.
As much as some think they’ve heard my litany of bodily aches, I can assure you that no one has heard the complete list. I only dare myself to list it to myself every few months. One reason I don’t concentrate on my aches is that I know that most of them are stress-related. The pain in my neck will be relieved when I relieve the ache in my assets.
Three days ago the aches ganged up. Sleep went away. My ability to concentrate pulled back from hours to dozens of minutes. I needed a break. With a little warning, but not much, I told all of my current clients that I was taking a day off. Nice folks all, they were encouraging.
The weather was right. My deck and fence were finally fixed. I had a slight backlog in hours. I committed myself to going on an overnight hike.
Taking a day off to go hiking sounds frugal, but it is expensive. As us work-everyday people know, a day off is not like what regular employees experience. A day off is a day without pay. The hike would cost me a day or more that must be made up with more work some other time. A hike also costs gas (~$40), food (~$20), ferry tickets for us islanders (~$20), trail pass (~$10), and the inevitable gear replacement (~$15 for a lost lens cap + ~ $15 in replacing snacks that became rodent chow). Even if I wasn’t losing a day’s pay, the hike would cost more than a day’s wages. And yet I knew I must go.
The cost and my anxieties were on my mind from the start. The price of gas, the age of my truck and its shocks and tires, encouraged me to drive slowly and carefully; ignoring the rest of mainland frenetic traffic. The trailhead is up a logging road, that was in the worst shape I’ve ever seen it. I know it well because I used it frequently when I was writing Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla. As I pointed out in the book, when stresses and anxieties arise, familiarity soothes. I was heading back to a familiar place.
Everything was fine. No breakdowns. As I got out of the truck I prepared myself for the inevitable climb with the sweating and heavy breathing. Yes, I love Nature. But, I was worried. I spend so much time in front of the computer that I was sure I was out of shape. My heart hasn’t felt happy on the days with contentious negotiations. If I didn’t keep my concentration up, my body might fall down. The wilderness is a bad place for bad things to happen. I know; I’ve had to assist in a few search and rescues just because I was in the vicinity.
Skip ahead to the top of the climb and meet my surprise. I wasn’t even sweating. My breathing was better than usual. My chest felt relaxed. My hips and back weren’t complaining. My headache was gone. I felt light, happy, and content.
I was in wilderness. I was in the wild, where even the trail crews can’t use powertools. I was in the wild where there are lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Or, at least there are bears (probably black), cougar (which have stalked me), and the most dangerous of all – rodents who pester and eat camp food. I was in the wild where there are rockslides, forest fires, falling trees, and hazards enough to limit human expansion until the last few thousand years. I was in wilderness and felt better than I’d felt in years, since the last time I went on a hike.
I carried my basics: shelter, clothing, food, medical supplies, and assorted gadgets; all of which fit in a pack I carried on my back. The anxieties were gone. The aches and pains and anxieties that fatigued me to the point of escape were the result of trying to meet society’s basics of a house, its systems, taxes, utilities, transportation, and the list of bills most of us are familiar with. We’ve made an unbalanced trade some time ago. Originally, we left the wilderness and developed technologies to civilize our world and ease our lives, but which separated us from nature. Yet, we also developed expectations within that society, while reducing wilderness to pockets that must be legally preserved and only visited temporarily.
Fantasies of living in a cabin in the woods or on an isolated island remain fantasies because those lifestyles cost money for the land at least. Of course, maybe I’ll win the lottery.
Realties exist though, that I am reminded are healthy. I lived a life that had me backpacking three weekends out of every four, while maintaining a regular job, while maintaining a house. I know now that this retreat has run me back into something I want and need to do. I have a refreshed goal of finding that balance, financially, mentally, and emotionally. I’m glad I ran away.