A woman and a Baxter Bear go tent camping across the American South from East to West. We started in Baltimore. The destination is the journey. We're starting over.

Beautifully Unexpected

My travel reflects my need to change things up- it’s how I keep my mind and body spiritually, physically, intellectually and sensually active.

The unexpected brings us joy and makes us laugh. It keeps us on our toes and causes us to think. Even during exercise, it’s a preferred method for optimal muscle training and weight loss advancement because we don’t grow used to the routine and hit plateaus as quickly. The body must constantly readjust.

The same is true for our mental development and learning. And there’s a world of literature about our need for change and the unexpected in our pleasure seeking and sex lives - even with a beloved, long-term partner.

Not everyone wants this sort of unexpected and exciting stimulation on a frequent basis because it’s an opportunity for growth but it’s tiring. Our capacity for change and the unexpected differs from person-to person- to be sure. But in times of necessary change - I relish the opportunity for growth and personal testing.

The joy / fear and learning / excitement and creativity of trying new things is unsurpassable at certain, very specific times in life…..I love it. I try to live a series of unexpected challenges I set up for myself when I’m stumped and confused to revive my senses and I’m almost always more appreciative and stronger for the effort in the end.

The sight of something strange or beautiful, ugly and interesting, unpleasant and weird…makes us respond in new and unexpected ways. Whether we hope for the challenge or not. We are forced to think and respond in the moment because we can’t rely on habit .

I’ve skied better in a snowstorm. I learned this at the top of a mountain in Switzerland. I didn’t know the hill and it was getting dark. It wasn’t a full blown storm but the snowfall and clouds were enough to obscure my long distance view. I had to think and use all my faculties. I was hyper-focussed on my short- range view. I was super-alive and a better skier on moguls than ever before because I had to respond in the moment and use every reflex I had instead of over-thinking the situation - which in skiing- can cause you to fall. I learned to trust everything I could do and think - not reflect too hard on the past or wish that I was something I was not. Everything I could do at that moment was optimised.

And then …there was the other night…I got myself a little lost in Arizona’s red rocks and all my preparation and skill proved to be essential. I was hiking on my own to see the sunset on Cathedral Rock in Sedona with Baxter Bear. I arrived at the top of the rock in time to see the sun go down, though the hike was longer than I thought. The uphill climb was also steeper than I was expecting on this visit to the Valley for the day from Flagstaff and took me longer than I thought it would.

The view from the top of Cathedral’s red rocks was more beautiful than I expected. I stayed longer than I’d planned because I wanted to savour the smells, the view and my feelings of elation. I wanted to take photos, hug my dog and drink a sip of hard cold cider.

As I made way way down the mountain after all was said and done, I had to stop and pull my headlamp from my backpack and strap it to my hat. The starlight was strong but not enough to light the poorly marked path at nighttime. I was grateful for my hat - not only for warmth- but because the lamp attracted bugs and the rim created a barrier to my face. I’d suffered face bites before on a camping trip in the Peruvian jungles and the headlamp, though essential then too- served as a beacon to the bugs of the forrest.

To return to my car in the parking lot at Butler’s Hill, I needed to remember and locate the position of the creek, the towering rocks and symbols on the dirt paths that would get me back in the dark. I listened for water, faint sounds of cars and squinted to see the shapes that revealed my way. I asked my dog to do the same and he responded to requests for a “people path” and to “find the car”. He even responded to a request “to “go back”” when I realised that he’d taken me to water when he needed to drink / but in doing so- we had lost the faint path all together. He took me to the path and stared heading toward Cathedral Rock’s shadow again in the distance and I was able to turn us around from there

I briefly considered what sleeping under a tree would be like with Baxter Bear (without a tent or sleeping bag) if we never found our way. But I trusted my senses to get us through and I relied on Baxter Bear’s senses as well. I demanded more of our skills than we’d both used so far and the sound of my stern requests to him straightened me out too. We both knew what we had to do to get back and there were moments in a field- completely off path- when I made a request and my dog seemed to stare at me blankly - as if to say ” I don’t know this time- you need to lead please- I’m growing tired” and I took charge of sniffing my way back to the path- but not before giving him some food and pulling out an apple and some water for myself as well.

We took at least twice as long to get back to our car in the parking lot as we took to get to the top of the rock to see the sunset and it was hard not to berate myself for letting my GPS/IPHONE batteries go dead. But I practiced mind control and reminded myself I had done right by bringing enough water and food for both of us. I had a headlamp after all and extra clothes for warmth. I had trained my dog to respond clearly to my wishes and commands. I didn’t make as many mistakes as I could have.

We returned to my friend’s house in Flagstaff - and I loved the stars I saw on the road home- I hugged my dog and told him what aaa good boy he is. Even if I had slept under a tree/ alone with my dog- I would have been ok that night in that Sedona Canyon. We knew what to do to make shelter and stay warm. We knew how to find extra water and we trusted ourselves.

I, for one, felt alive and I laughed and kissed my dog when I saw the car- and again when we reached the house in Flagstaff. I was content when I settled into bed with my Mexican hot chocolate.

There was no real danger on our adventure but we were alone, unsure and our faculties were tested. Our hearts beat a little faster and we passed the test- all the humor, creativity and muscle agility we had during those unexpected moments rose to their optimal performance and I felt secure and happy to be me with a dog I love.

  • 30 September 2013
  • 1