Two Days, 20 Miles: Off-The-Grid Consciousness

The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness made me think. It made me think about things I don’t have to think about every day. And it made me wish more people had to think about them, too, more often than they do.

It also allowed me to not think about things I have to think about every day. This desert wilderness, which grants just 50 permits each day across its 19,000 acres, is away. And you feel its away-ness.

There is no cell service. There is no designated trail. No set campsite. No drinking water. No toilets. There’s nothing but everything else – wildlife, stars, a flowing creek in the desert, canyons to explore, trees to cross, a rainbow of rocks and fewer humans than critters.

I didn’t have to hear about Trump. I didn’t have to respond to emails, or even know if they were coming in. I didn’t have to spend a single dollar while we were down there. We just got to be.

Our only concerns were exploring, finding clean drinking water, eating all of the food we open, and minimizing trash. Really. Those were the big burdens.

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Those, and the weight of my pack, which had to have somehow snuck a few dumbbells or small, invisible humans in after I closed it up.  It was at least half my body weight, according to the anger pulsing from my shoulders. And, I swear I only packed undies, water and a few snacks. And…a few other things (jetboil, my caffeinated-carbonated addiction, band-aids, sweatpants and socks).

It is fair to say we as a society take clean drinking water for granted. We just have it. If we don’t have it, we buy it, too often in plastic bottles, but still. We buy it. Down in Aravaipa? We had to filter it from the creek. And it was super easy. If only everyone who needed clean water could have one of these handy filters, that kills bacteria and filters out sediment (both of which we needed).

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Ron filtering water inside Hell Hole Canyon.
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A spring we hiked to inside Hell Hole Canyon, where we filled our water packs.



As for trash, we had to pack it out. Every little bit. What if everyone had to always pack out trash?  Like, everywhere? We’d probably make less if we had to do that. If we had to carry the trash we made? For sure. That would fix our packaging problem.

I had the eye-opening experience of visiting the landfill recently and about died.  So. Much. Shit. I also heard about a woman who fit a year’s worth of her own trash in a mason jar. What if we could all live somewhere between landfill-level trash-making and mason-jar-lady-level trash-making?

Once we had trash, we had to tie it up into a tree, too. Because, there were bears and mountain lions and coatimundi (little raccoon-like fellas) who would LOVE to snack on our leftovers. And, that’s why we had no leftovers.

Our bear-resistant container was no waste. And a string holding our food from a tree.

We ate what we opened. All of it. Can you imagine if we always thought that way?  We usually do, but the kids?

So. Much. Food. Waste.

Their lunchboxes are prime examples. Experts estimate that 30-40 percent of our food supply is wasted. Lordy. That’s a big number to swallow when people are going hungry. To be fair, we were avoiding food waste in order to ration and to avoid visits from bears, but if you apply the principle to every day life, that’s a big number that would be easily impacted if people were more aware.

And then there’s my pack. It was heavy. I didn’t need the band-aids. We never used the corkscrew. I didn’t need all the socks, and never used one whole outfit. We came home with some unused food, which we’ll just use next time. And, I had more than enough water.

Convinced an invisible human crawled into my pack.

Point is: we don’t need everything we think we do. Some of it falls into being prepared – for sure. Band-aids are pretty clutch in the wilderness. As is the bug spray I packed and did use. But in life, do we really NEED all the stuff we think we need?

No. The answer is no. Which is why Marie Kondo is so hot right now. We don’t know how to not have so much stuff.

We kind of just need enough to be, really. And that’s where backcountry camping, like the kind in Aravaipa, comes in. You just need to be for a bit. Live off of what you have. Know it’s enough. Focus on the basics.

That way you have room in your life for places like Aravaipa – where you can bump into a couple deer while hiking, stare down neon green eyeballs from afar in the night without knowing what is staring back at you, make a tiny campfire on the edge of a creek in the desert and explore a few canyons.

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You’ll even have time to spend a good 15 minutes trying to get a fun photo on a wobbly tree inside a cool little alcove.

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I’m telling you. It’s what everybody needs. For real.