Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Going Rogue

I tried camping once. My husband and I registered for a tent and camping gear when we got married, with high hopes of romantic camping trips – on his part. I’m not a camper. We set up the summer we were married in my parents’ back yard like a couple kids at a slumber party. When the first creepy crawly bug joined us I fled the tent for the safety and comfort of AC and a bed in my parents’ guestroom. I don’t remember what ever happened to the tent.

I’m headed now on an assignment to camp in southwest Oregon. For five days I’ll raft the Rogue River, and spend my nights with nothing between me and the wild outdoors but a sleeping bag and a tent. I’ll have no internet, cell, electric, or shower from Monday morning to Saturday night. My job is to write a candid account of the experience for the outfitter’s catalog. O.A.R.S. is an adventure company that guides travelers on adventures around the world. They wanted a travel writer with no camping experience for this assignment, and I definitely fit the bill!

With almost no time to think about it – I got the assignment the night before I left for a writing conference in San Francisco – I threw some things in a backpack, and tossed and turned all night with excitement and apprehension about both trips (I’d be heading straight to Oregon from San Francisco). What had I committed to? I require three pillows, a fan, and a 68-degree room in utter darkness – preferably on a pillowtop mattress with 100% cotton 600 thread count sheets — to sleep. I smooth Dior skin cream on my face daily, don’t leave the house without mascara, and I’m addicted to social media. And I’m seriously headed accoutrement-free into a river that runs through Hellgate Canyon, so named for its resemblance to the gates of hell during flood season? I’m going to pitch a tent at night? Bathe, such as it is, in the river?

It seems I am! A frenzied shopping expedition online with my order shipped to San Francisco has outfitted me with hiking shoes, a rainjacket and a headlamp (which I’m given to understand will come in handy when I need to leave my tent at night to step behind the bushes). I’m taking a great book to read, a notebook and pens, and a mind most curious to discover how I’ll react to this altogether new and unusual world I’ll inhabit this week.

Two years ago I don’t think I’d have had the nerve; wouldn’t have trusted in my own gumption to stick it out. I’ve learned though, that I can do whatever I decide to do. Nevertheless, wonder is tinged with a fear I try to suppress. What if my back hurts jouncing along on a multiple-day whitewater rafting expedition, or is even re-injured? Then there’s the toe I learned a week ago has arthritis and a bone spur. I was limping painfully before I left. A steroid shot and some prescription anti-inflammatories are helping a bit, but what will happen when I hike for hours along a rough trail? What if I get a migraine? Or sick? And I’ll miss my husband terribly.

But behind all those worries is determination, and an urgent need to live the life I want to live, not the one that worry consigns me to. The media detox will do me good. Five days in the wilderness with fellow adventurers, endless trees, blue sky, sunshine, wildlife, and a rushing river my companions is a beautiful respite to the many hours a week I spend eyes trained on a computer. Time in the evening to just think – free of distractions like glowing screens and piped in entertainment – may lead to any sort of revelation. Or none at all, which is ok, too. Just clearing my mind may be quite enough. I might work out, but I’m not to stressed about keeping to a program or a schedule. I’ll eat what’s in front of me, not fretting if it’s white carbs or an extra helping of dessert. Even without my presence on Facebook or this blog, the world will keep on spinning. And will be waiting, just where I left it, when I emerge from Rogue River.

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