Last summer, I set off to reconnect to nature. It had been 6 years since I moved to New York City from the west coast and I had slowly grown separated from the woods and my close connection to the outdoors. Growing up in a small town in Oregon, my whole life was outside. Then I choose a career in fashion, moved to NYC and unwillingly ended up as disconnected from nature as I could be.
In the spring of last year, I decided to buy a car. I was excited after many years to finally be able to get out of the city and explore the surrounding nature. I made some camping reservations throughout the summer and planned on exploring different parts of the east coast. A month into the summer, my girlfriend and I broke up followed by a falling out with two of my best friends. I couldn’t believe what was happening all at once, and during my fave time of the year no less. It was like the universe had picked me up, thrown me around and then put me right back to sort it all out. I guess one thing was for sure, it was time for a change.
While I ended up going on some camping trips with my then girlfriend and said friends, I had times ranging from enjoyable to deplorable. I felt alone in my enthusiasm for nature and wasn’t finding the same priority from them for taking every opportunity possible to camp that summer. I continued and went on a few more trips with others but my thirst hadn’t begun to be quenched. Something in me was calling for more, something deeper. Even though it felt like I had lost everything that summer, I knew I hadn’t. But the universe sure as hell was making room for more in my life. I felt this open hole from loss but no longer had anything or anyone holding me back. I had only one choice but to trust that it was all for a reason. Something hadn’t been right for a while, and that summer the veil was ripped off and a mirror was placed in front of me. I felt myself rapidly expanding, ready to face fears, and eager to grow.
The weather in the Adirondacks was better than in the city in June, and the water in Lake George was perfect. I wandered off alone, away from the group to skinny dip in the still water while they focused on socializing. I took in glimpses of fairies in my periphery, tiny fish politely swimming around my toes, the moon vibrating off the lake and the stars beginning to come out. I closed my eyes and felt my body re-alkalize and my heart beginning to renew.
I’ve always been a believer in self work and self care but somehow I had managed to slip into a comfort zone during my time in the city. Perhaps, the new habitat was too stressful and intimidating? I had grown accustomed to a constrained city life, a fast paced work routine, and a distracted emotional state with little emphasis on nurturing myself. Thankfully the newfound loss and newfound freedom brought this all to the surface. It gave me an idea. I decided it was time to face a childhood fear of going camping alone. It was the end of August and I still had time. Going for more than a weekend trip, I took a week off and made plans to go to 3 different locations. As soon as I had decided, I was booked to go.
In just 6 days, I think I went through every feeling imaginable. I left after a couple weeks of back to back work and I was ready to relax into the sounds of crickets, the crackle of campfires and the breeze through birch trees. But when I arrived in the early evening, the family camped across from me was blasting top 40 on a speaker while another two camps were competing with their own stations. Looking to desperately escape the city, this was not the vibe I was looking for. I took a deep breath and walked over and politely asked if they would turn it down and fortunately they obliged with ease. I felt relief. After enjoying the first camp meal and the first campfire, I retreated to bed with the hum of people in the distance.
Later I was awoken loudly by multiple camps a few drinks in and with their voices and music reaching peak level. Being outnumbered with no ranger in site, I sucked it up, put in earplugs and meditated myself back to sleep. Much later I woke to a full bladder and complete silence. Everyone had finally passed out but the silence was calling upon my imagination. Suddenly I wished for all the noise back. My mind could not escape the potential of bears sniffing around my tent, or an encounter with a perpetrator who had seen me camping alone. I was still decompressing from city life and readjusting into nature and couldn’t quite get myself back to sleep. I slinked out of my tent and slept in the car. I woke again at sunrise and the sun brought me enough comfort to get up to go to the restroom. On my walk back, the sunrise over the lake was especially beautiful and beckoned me to sit by it. I meditated to the crickets and the breeze through birch trees and felt myself slowly settle back into nature’s arms.
About day 5 into the trip, something happened. I was driving north into New Hampshire, starting to see the first (real) mountains that I had seen in years, with a playlist aligned perfectly, and started to cry. I then proceeded to cry for 2 hours straight and have a complete and utter breakdown on my way to the last campground. I cried for all the fears I had felt on that trip and subsequently the things they echoed in my life. I cried for my ex and the loss of another relationship. I cried for the loss of my friendships. I cried for the joyous return to nature that I was finally making. I cried for the fact that I hadn’t been around mountains for years after growing up in them, I cried for the parts of myself that I was starting to remember, for the sadness of the slow loss of myself over the years. I cried for the wide eyed 7 year old girl that went camping for the first time, learning why nature was important. I cried for the sake that I was crying in the car, about having a car, and about being on that trip. What must have been the buildup of enough time alone in nature, my body mind and spirit had had enough, and I just let it all go.
Afterwards, I felt completely alive for the first time in years. I wasn’t expecting it or planning on those feelings to come but something must have known it was needed. Without that deep need, I probably wouldn’t have planned that trip. After so many years, I was finally coming back to myself.
On the last day, I was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire camped along the Appalachian Trail. I took a tram to the top of one of the mountains and begun what ended up being the scariest hike I have ever done alone. Crawling down boulders on my hands and knees trying to not break my ankles, whistling outloud for 3 hours to repel bears, and trying to not get lost with no one else in site to help. It took everything in me to stay focused and calm and try to enjoy the sites. When I made it to the bottom, I finally saw another person in the distance. With a t-shirt soaked in hours of fear, I approached what ended up being an older woman with a lazy eye and a cane. When I stopped to confirm I was on the right path, she laughed at the idea of using a map and informed me that she had gone down the mountain on the other trail which was steeper than my own. I suddenly felt like the biggest wuss on the planet. Nonetheless, I felt like a wuss who had conquered the world (or at least that trail).
It’s hard to summarize the experiences I had during that trip. I had intentions of finally doing something I had always wanted but was too scared to do. I had intentions of becoming more self sufficient, and intentions of squeezing in more nature before summer ended. And what I gained was much more.
The trip made me realize how far you can get from yourself without even knowing it. It took both loud and eerily quiet campgrounds to highlight my fears of being alone as a woman or of running into a bear at night. It took hours of reading and listening to self help books, journaling, meditating at sunrise – hours of feeling numb and bored – feeling the ecstasy of nature, disappointment with august weather – seeing spectacular starry skies, getting crawled on all over by spiders, shivering though 40 degree nights – cooking bachelor camping meals, reading gossip mags, swimming in cold lakes, singing in the car – and terrifying hikes. Thanks to a (hybrid) car and the universe putting it’s foot down, I finally felt re-connected with nature and with the person who’s been patiently waiting on the back burner.
A day before the trip I had the idea to bring a few of my city clothes as well as my camping clothes and take some self portraits. Being in the fashion industry with a heart for nature, my creative mind called for an exercise. I took a portrait everyday in the morning of each campground. I didn’t know why I wanted to do it – perhaps to document my city half and my nature half trying to find a balance. I had no intentions of sharing them beyond social media but something told me that it might be worth it to pass them along. They undoubtedly capture the fleeting states of my mental wellbeing during that trip. They are a momento remembering to truly live, to face my fears and embrace all parts of myself with utter love and compassion. As I share this with you, I invite you to please do the same <3
Text and photography: Ryen Blaschke