Finding true solitude within the forest of the 906

Lydia Wade

On Oct. 1, while most students were carrying on with the mundane happenings of a typical Saturday morning sleeping in, working or nursing a hangover (perhaps all three) the students of  RE 251: Adventure Activities, Facilitation and Group Behavior were venturing into the woods to complete their Solo Experience.

re-soloexperienceThe instructions were fairly simple: spend 24 hours completely alone in a pre-designated campsite chosen by the course instructor. All phones, music and exterior entertainment (including books) of any sort were strictly prohibited, along with camping stoves or fires. Only journals were allowed.

We were given tarps to build our own shelters, and food and clothing were matters of our own discretion.

When course instructor Peter Bosma initially began briefing the experience to the class, emphasis was placed on the idea that this was not an attempt to “survive” out in the “wilderness.” This was, rather, a controlled opportunity to experience true solitude in the natural environment, to focus on personal reflection, awareness and observation.

The solo sites were located on County Road 510 off the NOQUE 510 Trailhead. This area is open to public recreation but not a significant amount of traffic is seen on this old logging land, making for a perfect place to find some silence in the woods. Two instructors and 12 students made their way with packs into the late morning sun. Bosma guided each of us to our personal campsites, nodded his head, and walked off to his base camp.

I was alone. After perfecting my tarp shelter (all that I had was time) and hanging my hammock nearby, there was nothing left to do but just be—something. Which I would realize in the next several hours was a simple idea yet harder than ever to carry out.

Time passed slowly, and I finally buried my watch in my bag in order to neglect keeping track of it anymore. My attention jumped between stream-of-consciousness journaling (in retrospect, the solitude and environment influenced some abstract entries) and eating handfuls of trail mix while sipping lukewarm coffee from a thermos that wasn’t quite doing its job.

Human connection, glowing screens and anything that resembled obligation whatsoever temporarily became part of an alternate reality that may as well have been a dream.

I found myself doing things that I wouldn’t normally do; normal didn’t exist in the woods. I tracked the traffic patterns of chipmunks from my hammock haven and I sought out the muddiest places to walk in my bare feet purely to experience that feeling of mud between toes.

I spent a solid 45 minutes on my hands and knees excavating a stone that I was beyond convinced needed to be added to the wall I started building.

I was filthy. Life was weird. The leaves were dying.

Getting lost in thought was an ongoing process that accompanied me all day and night, with nothing to break the continuous stream of contemplation and memory. Certainly this was an expected outcome of the escapade, but I had never faced that intensity of dealing with true, uninterrupted solitude before and it took some getting used to.

I fell asleep listening to the rain tap against my tarp shelter, buried in my down sleeping bag trying to put recent horror films out of memory. Eventually it was morning and two short blasts of a fog horn called us back to base camp. We gathered in the clearing, and the silence was broken. We climbed in cars and headed home.

Did we come out of the woods entirely different people? Probably not. Were our experiences transcendental? It’s truly impossible to say. Maybe a bit. I can only speak simply for myself when I say that this was a much-needed hiatus from the relentless life of being a student, if only for a moment.

I learned to be present, to appreciate simplicity and stillness. I practiced letting go of the anxiety that always trails me, telling me what I “should” be doing at any given moment.

I wrote 20 pages of nonsensical journaling. I have begun to appreciate woodpeckers. There is life beyond your hashtags.  I am telling my friends and all of you, dear readers, that you should go find yourself in the woods.