Yup, you read that right. I spent close to six weeks living in a tent this past summer. To some of you that might sound like heaven. While others probably think I’m completely crazy. But that’s not important. What’s important are the lessons I learned from this incredible experience.
Before I jump into the lessons I learned, let me tell you what I was up to and why. Due to a series of events in my husband’s family, I was WAY overdue for an epic vacation. The gypsy in me was starting to get restless and I’ve been getting a bit whiney.
My husband, Jer, has been encouraging me to go somewhere on my own. But I never mustered up the courage. Plus I really love to share my experiences with my spouse. I talk more about that in this post.
As I thought about heading out on a solo adventure, I realized that as we’ve been working to get to the next set of life goals, I had neglected to enjoy where I am right now. I talk more about that here.
These two thoughts were all I need to decide to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I decided it was time to visit every state park in Minnesota.
In a tent.
I had never camped alone and I felt terrified. But this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I still have more than 20 parks to visit that I’ll finish in 2018. Here’s what I learned so far.
1 – I need very little to be happy.
For me, happiness doesn’t come from material possessions. It comes from experiences.
We all need some basic necessities to be comfortable. And I can fit all of those necessities into the back of my Outback.
At no point did I miss any of my possessions back at home. My plastic plate and bowl were just as good as fine china. My sleeping pad and bag were just as comfortable as 1000 thread count sheets.
I love the freedom that comes from living with less.
2 – The best things in life are free.
After wrapping up the 2017 portion of my trip, I was telling some friends about the North Shore of Lake Superior. I said, “there’s nothing like finding that perfect spot on the rocky shoreline. Then spending the morning listening to the waves, drinking coffee, and reading a book.”
There is no paid experience that gives me the same feeling I get sitting on the shore of the greatest Great Lake.
3 – Life is perfect just where you are.
Jer and I love to travel. We’ve had a great time exploring Latin America, Europe, and Hawaii. But other than the North Shore, we never spent much time exploring our own state.
Let me tell you, Minnesota is absolutely stunning. Lakes, rivers, forests, waterfalls, and wildlife around every corner.
Until you are able to see the beauty of where you are right now, you’ll never fully appreciate the beauty you’re chasing. Everything is amazing just where you are. Take time to appreciate and enjoy it.
4 – Everything seems more daunting until you start.
I’ve been traveling alone for close to twenty years but I’ve never camped alone. If I’m being honest, the idea scared the crap out of me. I did it anyway and each night I felt more and more comfortable.
The same goes for the activities I did while traveling. Some of the lakes I kayaked seemed huge and overwhelming. But once I finally got on the water and started moving, their size became less overwhelming.
All you have to do is find the courage to take the first step.
5 – Don’t wait for conditions to be right.
I wish I had an unlimited amount of time to wander from park to park and spend as much time as I wanted at each park. Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to camp indefinitely so I had to stick to a schedule.
During some of my visits, it rained almost the entire time. The deal I made with myself is that I had to do something (hike, bike, kayak) in each park to count it as a visit. This meant that sometimes I had to hike in the rain. And I’m so glad I did.
On one of my hikes, I captured the most beautiful photographs of raindrops on wildflowers. On another, I hiked to the top of a peak that was covered in clouds. Although it was cool, damp, and not great for pictures, hiking through the clouds was an amazing experience.
6 – Time is a precious gift, don’t waste it.
When I set out on this journey, I fully intended to document my adventure with Facebook live videos. I wanted to share these lessons along the way. My wireless provider had other plans. I was basically off the grid the entire time.
At least once a day I would trek up to the park office and log into their Wi-Fi to check the weather, email, upload workouts to Strava, and pictures to Instagram. I stuck to the bare minimum since I was usually sitting outside, sometimes in the rain.
One day after returning from a hiking adventure I took note of when I logged in and logged out. I spent 70 minutes on my phone doing a handful of basic tasks. Then I thought about how many times each day I do that at home when I have a signal. I thought about how much time I was wasting staring at a screen instead of experiencing life.
Social media is a wonderful way to stay informed and connected, but if we’re not careful, it can consume huge chunks of our time. I turned off the notifications on my phone about five years ago because it was impossible for me to see a new email come in and not check it. More recently I’ve taken it a step further and completely deleted most social media apps from my phone. It’s too easy to pick it up when I have a minute of downtime and get sucked in for an hour.
Life is short. I’m not trying to simply get through it. I’m trying to find joy in each day. And I rarely find joy staring at a screen.
7 – When the going gets tough and you want to quit, sleep on it.
Have you ever felt so frustrated you wanted to give up and quit? I feel like that sometimes and I felt like that once during my trip.
I woke up one morning to pouring rain that wasn’t going to stop. I had no choice but to break down my tent in the storm. My plan was to visit one park then stay at another for one night before continuing on to another park for the weekend. I decided it would be better to head to the park I was going to for the weekend so I could dry out for a few days.
That meant that I had to visit 3 parks, get groceries, and spend more than five hours in the car before arriving at my final destination. It was doable but I needed to stick to a schedule. I wrote a schedule that would get me to the park a couple of hours before sunset and give me more than enough time to set up and dry out.
I stuck to that schedule and everything was going great until … Google Maps had me turn one turn too early. I spent close to two hours lost on forest roads. I had no signal so I couldn’t use my GPS and the roads weren’t on the map. On top of that, all the roads seemed to end with No Trespassing signs.
I knew I needed to head west so all I could do was try to follow the setting sun. I eventually pull into the parking area for my walk-in campsite as the sun was setting over the lake. The darkening sky and glare of the sun made it difficult to see and I backed my new car into a tree.
I still had to carry everything in and set up my tent to dry out. My tent looked like I pulled it out of a swamp. It was soaking wet and covered in sand and pine needles. I hung up the fly and set up the tent. I then went through the painstaking task of wiping it out over and over again, trying to get it dry enough that I could sleep in it that night.
Once I did all I could do, I went back to my car to get the rest of my stuff. Dinner that night consisted of almonds and a beer in my car. I was so frustrated, I wanted to cry. I thought to myself, I just want to go home. But home was 335 miles and 6 hours away.
I went back to my campsite and sat in the dark, reading and waiting for my tent to be dry enough to sleep in. I eventually fell asleep and woke up to a perfect day. I went for a nice long hike and felt a lot better. Although the previous day was as frustrating as it could get, I’m glad I stuck with it.
I can’t wait to get back out there and finish getting to know my home state better. It’s been a scary, challenging, and rewarding adventure.
I hope this inspires you to get out there, step out of your comfort zone, and learn something new.