Living an Inconvenient Life

I asked a friend why she hated camping, wondering if there was something in the equation I am missing. She said it wasn’t just having to deal with the weather and the bugs, though she didn’t like them at all. It was more the inconvenience of the experience. Nothing was . . . well, nothing was convenient.

cleanWe live in a society of convenience. Most of us live in solid structures, with roofs and walls that keep out the weather. We can adjust the inside temperature, our personal “weather,” however we wish, no matter what is going on outside our walls. Body wastes are quickly dealt with by the push of a button, so we never have to consider how our bodies work — the in and out of the various substances we call “food.” We neither toil nor spin (most of today’s “work” is far from backbreaking, taking place in front of various machines that remove one sort of toiling out of the equation, and add in another sort of toil — toil by tedium).

We don’t even have to entertain ourselves — there are televisions and computers, movies and shows, books, music. All available to us at the touch of a button without having to crack a single drop of mental sweat.

I am certainly not adverse to convenience. I have lived a life that while not exactly luxurious, has certainly been one of comfort. Not financial comfort because I’ve never had much, but physical comfort. Warm beds, even when they were simply mattresses on the floor. Piles of comforters to snuggle under. Stacks of books ready for perusal. Good food made from scratch.

And yet . . .

There is more to life than comfort and convenience. Or at least, that’s what I surmise. I am still in the zone of comfort, though I am preparing to step out into the raw world to see what it has to offer. Maybe nothing. Maybe I will hate the inconvenience of it all, the struggle to stay warm without electricity or heat, the attempt at living a more wild life. But the truth is, I love the idea of it, and I especially love the preparation and how it makes me look at everything from a different angle.

When preparing for an extended road/camping/hiking/backpacking trip, you have to look beyond the daily conveniences and find other ways of doing simple things. Some people take to RVing, but that is not for me. RVing seems like more of the same — convenience and comfort, though in a mobile setting. I’m more interested in the basics. What I need for survival. What comfort I can’t do without. What is important, and more importantly, what can be left by the wayside. (Figuratively speaking, of course. In a “leave no trace” philosophy, one leaves nothing by the wayside.)

It seems silly to have amassed a carload of gear in what is supposed to be a trip into simplicity, but there are vast numbers of goods to make things even simpler. Tents. Sleeping bags, pads, and quilts. Ready made food. Tiny but functional stoves. Emergency equipment and rations. Although I have a vision of myself as another Peace Pilgrim, setting out with nothing but a comb, toothbrush, map, and pen, I am smart enough to know that I don’t have the faith such a venture demands.

Someday, perhaps.

At the moment, doing a more traditional trip is still plenty wild for me, especially considering my lack of experience. I do know how to use most of the gear I have, though. I know how to walk. Know how to be by myself.

Oddly, the thing that worries me the most about living an inconvenient life is what to do with all the time freed up by the simplicity of it all. I don’t intend to drive more than a couple of hours a day. Can’t sleep more than eight hours. Am unable to walk more than three or four hours. (Even less if I am carrying extra water and a few items in case of emergency.) Assuming the inconvenience of setting up a home every day takes up another hour or even two, there is a whole lot of time leftover. A minimum of eight hours.

What does one do with such a surfeit of time? No movies, no books, no music to fill it. No dance classes. No housework (not that I do much of it now). No errands. I will have pencil and paper, of course, but still, there will be one heck of a lot of time for . . . I don’t know what.

I guess I’ll find out.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Seeing the World on Foot

A friend asked me if I’ve gotten adventuring out of my system, and the answer is no. The truth is, I’m getting addicted. I love seeing the world on foot. I love being part of a relatively untamed environment. And I feel as if, in some strange way, I belong out there. Before I got out of the car the other day to begin a seven-mile, no-turning-back hike, I had to steel myself against trepidation, but as soon as I stepped on the trail, I felt as if I’d come home.

That feeling of coming home was as momentary as the trepidation, though the joy of the walk remained until the excruciating last hour. But the hardship is part of the adventure, too. Coming to the end of one’s skill, coming to the end — or almost the end — of one’s strength and continuing anyway is as much a mental adventure as it is physical. During that grueling downhill slide on loose dirt and rock, I just wanted to be done with it all, but before, during the long golden part of the hike, I wished the trail went on forever. Wished I could just keep walking.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do long backpacking trips, or any sort of backpacking trip — the hard parts of hiking are hard enough without the extra weight of a pack and the easy parts would no longer be easy — but I have the whole rest of my life to train for such a trip.

Dance classes have helped with my strength and stamina, so I’m planning to be back in class for most of September and October. And then? Who knows. More dancing perhaps. Or maybe Louisiana. I have an online friend I’ve planned to meet for many years, and going to a swampy area is better suited to cooler temperatures.

Meantime, I can hardly wait for the next adventure, to see what I can see, to see what I can be.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Is Researching a Type of Planning?

People keep telling me I need to plan, that a person can’t go blithely into the future with no idea of what she is going to do, especially if she expects to undertake an epic adventure. Seems to me that not making plans guarantees adventure, but maybe I’m being too blithe.

Does research constitute planning? If so, then I am constantly planning.

I research the Pacific Crest Trail in case I want to through-hike the most challenging of all the USA national trails. (Well, second most challenging. The Continental Divide Trail is supposed to be even more daunting.) And I research other national trails, such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or even the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail in Hawaii in case I want to go where I’ve never gone before. I research types of backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, food, water purifiers to find the best and lightest for my needs. There is no way I can or would ever want to carry 30 pounds for long distances. And yet, and yet . . . despite the drawbacks and physical challenges, the idea of a through-hike still lingers.

angelI research the state coastal trails of California, Oregon, Washington in case I want to walk along the edge of the world. I even have a friend who will help me dip my toe into such an adventure by taking me a ways up the coast from her house so I can walk back. She has even offered to keep me supplied so I won’t starve or dehydrate. My own personal trail angel!

I research walking across the USA in case I want to follow the roads. (This would have the advantage of maybe not needing to carry a lot of water. It seems to me that carrying a sign AUTHOR WALKING ACROSS USA. NEEDS WATER would be a heck of a lot easier to carry than gallons of water, and maybe as effective.) People who have taken such a walk leave with nothing and trust to the journey, but I can’t see me mustering that kind of trust. Or they push/pull a cart to make sure they have the water and food they need for the long dry stretches, and I cannot see myself doing that either. Still, the lure is there. Walking across the country is not a rare occurrence, but I sure don’t know anyone who has done it.

I research rooms for rent, apartments, and extended stay motel/hotels so I can stay in this area to continue taking dance classes.

I research freighters to New Zealand. Even though they are not that expensive ($100 to $150 a night) what adds to the cost is the medical and travel insurance ($400 to $500 per trip) and a whole panoply of red tape — doctor certificate of health, passport, shots (depending on where the freighter stops). I research distances. New Zealand is 6,000 miles from the USA. Australia is 1324 miles from New Zealand. If I go to New Zealand, would it make sense to extend the journey to include Australia? If I did go to Australia, should I go walkabout? (I found a two week walkabout trip for about $3500. But is that figure Australian dollars? One Australian dollar is worth $.78 American dollars, so would the walkabout be $2954 American dollars? Still a lot of money for such a trek.)

I research cars and other vehicles for a possible extended tour of the USA, the national parks, and all my online friends. Do I want to find a small camper that fits in my budget, and so have to deal with another aged vehicle with a lot of miles? Do I want to get a small van such as a Ford Transport Connect and build my own nest inside? Do I want to get a small SUV-type, such as a Kia Soul, which has plenty of room to sleep when the back seat is folded down, or a Honda Fit, which gets about the same highway mileage as a Prius? Do I want to get a junker, and let it take me as far as it can before it breaks down?

But oh! I already have such a car. Today is my bug’s birthday. I got it new 43 years ago today. I checked with my insurance agent about insuring it if I restored it, and apparently, unless I can get it classified as an antique, which allows but 2000 miles of travel a year, then all I would get if anything happened to the car is the blue book value of nil.

See? Research.

You’d think I’d be wasting my time by researching instead of actually doing something or even planning to do something, but the odd thing is, as I research, the impossible adventure becomes . . . possible.

One of the hardest things to do to make an adventure come true is to overcome the status quo of one’s life, but luckily, my status quo is going to overcome itself without any help from me once my father’s house is sold and I am . . . wherever I will be.

So, back to researching . . .

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.