5 Things I Learned in the Wild

A treasure brought back to Austin from the Upper Moody River in Alaska

A week ago today, I was back home in Austin after 8 days in Alaska. The highlight being helicoptered with my friend/guide Mike Green out of the Upper Moody area near Denali, AK. After 20 miles of backpacking over two days, I had injured my hip and couldn’t continue. Although I journaled about it privately and shared a recap with my inner circle, I intentionally waited a week to write a Medium post about it. I wanted to see what had stayed with me — and what returned that I thought I’d left out there.

My #1 intention for going was not just to get away or go off the grid. It was to see what I was made of; to voluntarily put myself in an uncomfortable place that required me to dig deep and stretch far. I accomplished that absolutely — despite the change of plans.

A week later, I’m seeing the permanent shifts in me. Here’s my best attempt at a top 5 list of takeaways from the experience …

  1. I accepted (finally) my physical limits. I’ve always had the construct in my mind of what I wanted to be as a physical being. I remember early in adulthood, cutting out a picture of Dallas Cowboy Defense Tackle Chad Henning and saying “I want to look like that”. Part of this construct is that my mind would help me overcome any physical limitations. That I just needed to try harder. But then I did my very best physically and mentally and I still couldn’t continue. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. But now I’m grateful that I know my limits. I accept that my body has physical limits. And I’m grateful that my body broke before my mind did.
  2. Never stop moving other than to rest. If life boils down to just one step at a time forward, that’s still progress. I will never forget the sound of the bear bell jingling as a reminder that, although slow, I was still moving. One of the things I’ve learned this year is that there is always a path forward but it is often revealed a step at a time — which requires active faith. Related to this, I overcame my fear of rest. I know that sounds strange, but I’ve often attached shame to a need for rest. There was no shame in sitting and recovering in order to continue.
  3. Disconnection is Highly Over-Rated. A lot of people said they were envious that I was going off the grid. I was isolated from the people I love and the rest of the world for 4 1/2 days plus large portions of other days. I hated it, to be honest. It was miserable but it made me realize how much I have to be grateful for. I felt my little tribe in my heart even out in the Wild. That was comforting, but not nearly as much as hearing their voices — then the sweet bliss of seeing their faces and being in their presence.
  4. Trusting a Man. I don’t generally trust men. There are many I respect and admire but something in my conditioning made me distrusting of men — especially alpha males. Prior to and during the adventure, I had to place 100% trust in Mike. I had to trust him with his guidance on what to pack, his guidance on where we were going and eventually his guidance on the best way to get out of our predicament. I had to trust him with my weakness and feelings of failure.
  5. Nature purifies the Soul. Purification means returning something to its original state. Being in the Wild and seeing its relentless existence and perfect harmony was a crucible for removing old constructs and imagined limits. And putting me face to face with reality: real limits, real fears. Unlike us humans, nature is not dichotomous. It just is. This singleness of being makes nature only temporarily bendable. Preparation, planning and prioritization also become very real and present. I was not prepared and nature made sure to let me know that. In the purging of constructs I found that I am happy, whole and have extraordinary life for which to be grateful for.

Returning to “civilization” was rather jarring. I found myself flooded with agitation and irritation at the trivial pursuits, taken for granted privileges and thin conversations. We humans are less civilized people and more domesticated creatures; pack animals loaded down with attachments, expectations and the unnecessary. This is why we must return to nature again and again — to be reminded of our own fragile wild.

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