As someone raised in the Age of Instant Gratification, I hate waiting for things. I don’t like waiting for water to boil, and slow internet drives me to the brink of insanity. Having to wait months for the newest season of my favorite TV series to debut absolutely kills me, as does almost any other kind of long wait, for that matter. Do you remember when we used to have to wait 12+ months for a movie to come out on VHS? *Shudder* And while I’m certainly capable of saving money, you can bet that I’ll complain about it 100% of the way to my savings goal.
While I don’t necessarily love this fact about myself, I have no shame in admitting it because hey! I’m merely a product of a society that not only breeds this “here, now, gimme” mentality, but blatantly encourages and praises it. You want food? Drive thru. Need money? Credit card. Want to read a book? Kindle. Want a kiwi in the dead of winter? Grocery store! It’s all here for you the second you want it. Many of these things come at a hidden and detrimental cost to the environment, your finances, and/or sanity, but we’re so caught up in this instant gratification mindset, and the consequent lives that cater to it and perpetuate it for generations to come, that we often fail to consider the impact it has on our happiness and on the earth.
Enter: hiking and camping
It’s a marvel that I even enjoy these things at all when you consider the patience involved. You drive, sometimes for hours or days, to a trailhead or campground. Carefully plan and pack a backpack or car with well-thought out items. Spend hours walking and walking, sometimes in rain, snow or heat. Putz around with setting up a tent when I have a perfectly nice bed at home. Take an hour to prepare a camp dinner it’d normally take 5 minutes to microwave in my kitchen. Dig a hole to poop in, when – you get it. I should freakin’ hate these things! But they’re actually some of my absolute favorite pastimes.
So what gives?
When I’m hiking or camping, I find that I actually reach my *peak* enjoyment level when I intentionally practice slowing down and being patient. When I’m staring into a campfire instead of my phone screen, or at the dusty trail stretching out ahead of me, I’m truly present and able to bask in a rare feeling of perfect contentedness. I don’t want or need anything in moments like these (except maybe a view of the trailhead if my feet ache and I’m nearing the end of a long hike – let’s be real). When I’m out on a trail, my headspace is clear enough to realize that life should always be a little slower. The memories from these experiences feel richer and more vivid. You can breathe deeper, and you miss less when you let yourself wait or take the pace down a few notches. Look, a deer! Or the most magical photo op! Or the tastiest camp dinner you’ve ever had!
This past summer, when I drove Iceland’s Golden Circle, I remember feeling pretty bummed about just how easy it was to walk up to all of these magnificent natural wonders. We’d pull our little rental car into parking lot after parking lot, joining hoards of other tourists rolling out of luxury tour buses and adventure mobiles. Then, we’d stroll down paved walkways, right up to the misty faces of the most magnificent waterfalls I’d ever laid eyes on. But guys, this was NOT what I had in mind when I imagined witnessing Iceland’s majesty for the first time. While the sights I saw were no doubt breathtaking, and I felt incredibly lucky to be there, the experience of slowing down and really feeling alive and present in that moment was totally gone. Where were the sore feet? Where was the anticipation, or that magical moment of hearing the sound of the falls before rounding that last corner? Yes, waterfalls were delivered to us, one after the other, an Instant Gratification Baby’s dream. There was a lovely gift shop and a restroom facility across the street from some geysers, and I didn’t even need hiking boots! Yet there I was, on nature overload, feeling as rushed and disconnected as ever. I felt annoyed by the slow walkers in front of me, unnaturalness of the pavement under my feet, and line of people waiting to get to the best vantage point. The sights I saw were special, but the experience of seeing them was decidedly not.
It was that trip that taught me that slowness and nature go hand in hand. Waiting, while typically my nemesis in life, turns out to be a pretty critical part of my outdoor experience. Who knew?! Without the work, the presence, the patience, and the wait, an integral piece of that pleasure puzzle is missing for me. And it makes complete sense! We always get what we want, when we want it these days. Yes, that’s really convenient and even life-saving in some instances, and I’m not complaining about my super fast wifi. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Not when it comes to nature, my friends. Nature and Time exist in a perfect simpatico that has been billions, if not trillions of years in the making. It takes its sweet time for the blossoms to bloom, and patience is as much a part of the natural order of things as waterfalls are to Iceland’s landscape.