Going unplugged can be really hard, but it’s really worth it! Today Dan shares his recent experience going off the grid and enjoying time in nature with family.
I’m no different than seemingly everyone else on this planet. I have a job / life which is heavily reliant on my use of electronic devices. Electronics have made doing my job, church calling, soccer scheduling, banking, communicating with my kids and grocery shopping so much easier and convenient. Perhaps far too convenient. Being unplugged is no easy feat.
If I check my phone less than 60 times per day, I would be surprised. I have unwittingly become addicted to it. For work, I have often referred to my phone as my “leash” and my hands-free device as my “collar”. I constantly clean up my work emails, check the news, look for social media updates, make certain I haven’t missed any texts or calls, and sometimes, though with less frequency than before, play games. My head always seems to be looking down at my phone. It’s no wonder that I have recently developed a pain in my neck, one that I directly attribute to my phone and electronic device usage. I can’t seem to break away from the siren song of electronic media.
I calculate that it has been 7 years since I have been truly “off the grid” for longer than 24 hours. Even when I went to Italy with my wife 4 years ago, I would check my inbox at least twice a day to make certain I wasn’t getting too behind with work. Sadly, there are just truly too few places left in the world where we are no longer easily connected to our electronic lives.
My status of being constantly “plugged in” changed this last week. My father in law, after many years of trying, was finally able to convince our family to find a break in our schedule – not an easy task – to accompany him on a backpack trip into the Uintah Mountains. So we took a 3 day, 2 night venture out into the wilderness. To a place where electronic service of any kind was unavailable. There was a sense of satisfaction when I put my vacation response on my email settings as not having any access to my phone or email during my time away.
True to form, right up until we entered the dead zone, I was checking my email and other statuses. Then at 10:45 am this last Thursday, as we climbed higher into the mountains towards the trail head, my phone received its final transmission for the next 3 days. I know this because, while I was not using the phone for work purposes, it does have a fantastic camera on it which I used to document our adventure.
Every time I fired up my phone to take pictures (I would turn it off to conserve the battery), no matter what time of day it actually was, the screen displayed the time of 10:45 am. Not a single ping, chime, or vibration emitted from my phone to remind me of a task I needed to accomplish or person I needed to respond to. However, I was a bit annoyed with myself as initially I would still check my phone periodically to see if by chance we had entered into a service zone. Thankfully we never did.
The next 3 days I found that, paradoxically, being unplugged had a recharging effect. It was interesting to me that somehow placing a 40+ pound pack on my back, hiking into thin air, battling mosquitos, eating Top Ramen and trout (fantastic combo when you’re hungry) and sleeping outdoors in a tiny tent was, somehow, invigorating. My phone morphed from being a symbol of work into a tool of documenting our beautiful experience in the stunning scenery of the Uintahs.
Each time I pulled out the phone to take a picture or short video, I looked forward to seeing that no time had passed, the hour remained 10:45 am. It was appropriate that time appeared to stand still, for other than an agenda to eat when we were hungry, we had no official schedule. We did day hikes, we fished, we built campfires, we learned how to orient a map, we watched hundreds of trout spawn up a stream so small that it appeared there was barely enough water to keep them damp, my sons raced boats made of leaves and twigs down a small meandering brook near our camp, we stayed up late so we could watch the brilliant stars emerge, and we slept until the chatter of forest birds acted as our alarm clocks. There was no relevance to time, so it might as well have stopped. At one point I had to sit and calculate exactly what day it was and during the hike out, when a man passing in the opposite direction on the trail asked my wife what time it was, she responded that she wasn’t exactly certain what day it was, let alone the hour.
We finished the excursion, hot, sweaty, tired and reeking of a mix of campfire and BO. Yet somehow we all felt recharged and more focused. As our vehicle slowly snaked down the dirt road of the canyon towards civilization, I felt a slight pang of regret that we hadn’t extended our hike by at least another day or two. Especially when we finally came into service and my phone began to ping with all of the alerts and notices of what I had missed over the last few days. When I picked up the Samsung Galaxy to survey the damage, I was more saddened to see that the time had finally corrected, than I was to realize I now had to dig myself clear of hundreds of emails and dozens of texts. Time, schedules and responsibilities had once again become relevant.
Though I refuse to sit here and rail on electronics and how connected we have become as a society, as there are truly so many good aspects to the advancement of technology, I will lend my supportive voice to those who have sagely recommended taking specific times to completely go off the grid. There are probably hundreds of ways to make this possible, it shouldn’t require a trip into deep recesses of the wilderness to accomplish. We all need a holiday from our electronic lives.
I am thankful I had that opportunity to steal away from technology. I am thankful that I had my wife, father in law and children by my side as we did this. I anxiously look forward to the next time when we can break away, unwind, and yet again, make time stand still.